I found an old notebook this weekend that reminded me of a cool story I haven’t written about before: About five years ago, I got to go inside Joe DiMaggio’s boyhood home. It happened like this:
Starting in middle school, I often wrote about baseball for term papers. First, in eighth grade, I decried Pete Rose’s banishment from the game and got an A-plus. For my high school senior project, I copiously researched the Sacramento Solons, a former Pacific Coast League team from my hometown. Then in my junior year of college, I wrote about the inordinately large number of Italian-American major leaguers who grew up in San Francisco. These players included New York Yankees stars Tony Lazzeri, Lefty Gomez and, most famously, Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio.
I received another A on the last paper, and afterward, I got this idea that I could expand it into a magazine story. It never went anywhere, though over the course of several months, I did a lot of research and interviewed a number of former major leaguers, including Joe’s brother Dom DiMaggio, a great player in his own right (that’s a story for another time.) I also made several trips to San Francisco, hoofing it around the Italian quarter, North Beach, and other parts of the city. Among the places I visited were a bar where I learned the staff kept Pabst Blue Ribbon on-hand for when Joe would visit– the bar didn’t sell it, though apparently it was the Yankee Clipper’s favorite beer. I also visited the DiMaggio family home on Taylor Street.
I had learned of the house from Richard Ben Cramer’s biography Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life, which showed a picture of DiMaggio as a toddler outside the dwelling, but didn’t provide its exact address. Instead, I went to the street on one of my trips to the city and had an elderly man point the house out to me. When I knocked on the door, I found three 24-year-old girls living inside. They let me in and were very friendly, with one of the girls, Katie, telling me the house had been in her family for three generations. There wasn’t any kind of marker or plaque outside, and Katie said her dad had told her of DiMaggio’s past residence when she moved in. It had been remodeled since DiMaggio’s time, with linoleum now on the floor, a marble counter and fluorescent lights. There were two tiny rooms and one big room, though I heard that one of the bedrooms had extended out to where the kitchen presently was. According to this article, nine DiMaggio children somehow lived inside.
Apparently, the city of San Francisco had never approached the owners about making the building a landmark, though I suggested the girls hold some kind of party to commemorate the Yankee great. To this, one of their neighbors who was visiting at the time remarked, “Oh dude, we’re having a Joe DiMaggio party.”
I just hope they had plenty of Pabst Blue Ribbon on-hand.