My interview with Dom DiMaggio

A few days ago, I alluded on here to an interview I did with Dom DiMaggio, calling it a story for another time. As fate would have it, the former Boston Red Sox center fielder and seven-time All Star died early yesterday morning at 92. Thus, I will now tell of the time I sought him out.

As I mentioned before, I did a research paper my junior year of college on the significant number of Italian-American baseball players from the San Francisco Bay Area. After turning my paper in, I spent several months trying to expand it into a magazine piece. Though I never ultimately submitted it for publication, I did a lot of research, making trips to the city and interviewing former major leaguers like Gino Cimoli, who had the first at-bat on the West Coast in 1958. Eventually, my research brought me to a place called Dom’s Dugout.

I had read in The Hero’s Life, by Richard Ben Cramer, that Joe DiMaggio once had a restaurant on the Embarcadero. On one of my trips to the city, in 2004, I ventured in search of it, near Pier 39, and found that the restaurant no longer existed. The top floor of its building had been converted into a different restaurant, and on the bottom, there now sat a memorabilla store– Dom’s Dugout. I learned it was owned by the former player– a savvy businessman in his own right– and that he occasionally made trips from the East Coast to check on his investment. At some point, I learned he would likely be visiting in September of that year.

Thus, I eventually found myself back in the store on a fall day, with a living legend sitting at a card table in front of me. At first, he was hesitant to give me any time, which made sense. His older brother Joe was famously reclusive, almost suing Simon & Garfunkel after they referenced him in their song “Mrs. Robinson,” and neither DiMaggio agreed to be interviewed for The Hero’s Life. Nevertheless, Dom acquiesced for me and allowed my request for ten minutes.

Somehow ten minutes became two hours of sitting with him while he signed autographs for customers and chatted with them. I’ve interviewed a number of ballplayers and I must say that next to Ozzie Smith, DiMaggio may have been the kindest. He autographed tirelessly, talked with fans about his life experiences and even called one guy’s son up via cell phone, after the man said it would make his day. DiMaggio also was nice to me. Diminutive and bespectacled and still lucid, he graciously answered my questions.

It’s been almost five years now, and I’ve always felt guilty for never writing of my experience, though it’s nice to relate it now.

On a final note, decades before, when the building was the DiMaggio family restaurant, it had a famous patron. Detroit Tigers great Ty Cobb helped Joe DiMaggio negotiate one of his early contracts with the New York Yankees, advising him on how to successfully hold out for more money, and as a thank you for this service, Cobb got to eat free for life at the restaurant. For all I know, Dom DiMaggio and I sat in the same spot where Cobb once dined.

(Postscript: For anyone who’d like to read more about Dom DiMaggio, Sports Illustrated published this nice story on him in 2001.)

7 Replies to “My interview with Dom DiMaggio”

  1. I just visited SF and the North Beach area of Joe DiMaggios neighborhood. Was looking for his boyhood home on Taylor and Valparaiso…Was trying to figure out which one was his home…did you have the exact address?

    I walked around the neighborhood accoring to Mr Cramers book…living history there. Is there a place that you published that interview? Thanks

  2. Forgot to mention that back in college my business fraternity was able to meet with Charlie Finley at his home in LaPorte, IN in the mid 80s for an afternoon…that was quite an experience, quite a guy.

    1. Hey Walter,
      Thanks for reading.
      To answer your question, I do have the exact address for DiMaggio’s boyhood home, but I wasn’t sure if I should post it or not. However, I believe it’s in a Sporting News article that I linked to in my initial post about the DiMaggio home (it’s one of my early posts.)
      That’s cool you got to meet Charlie Finley and go to his home. Sports Illustrated ran this great story in 1999 talking about how the Oakland A’s used to be required to go out there and meet Finley’s family and friends. The players apparently found it torturous, though I definitely would have liked to meet Finley myself.
      Anyhow, thanks again for reading. Have a good one.

  3. Graham, I found the article and address. I did take some pics of both sides of the street when I was there for reference…Thanks.

    Charlie O was interesting. He had a room above his horse stables in Indiana where he met with our college group…great guy. Met on a cold rainy day in February back in 1984. Talked about the struggles he overcame early in his life (illness, he was bedridden for one year), how he made his money (first to sell group health insurance to unions, mainly due to his own experience), how he ran both the A’s and the California Golden Seals hockey team at the same time, his relationship with Reggie Jackson and others.

    What I remember most was what he said leads to success…”be willing to put your own blood and sweat into your work and having the passion to sustain your motivation”. Also, it was very cool to see the three world championship trophies that he had on display. Very focused man.

    I am surprised that there are not more books written about him. With his Bay area presence, he might be a good subject for someone like you to write about given the success his teams had and his colorful personality!

    Also, I have a friend that grew up in Laporte, IN, and was friends with the Finley family. Told me about the parades that they had thru the downtown area after the championships…met all the players. Fun time for a 12 year old, not necessarily the players!

    Keep up the good work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *