Joltin’ Joe Diaries Echo Shyness, Stress

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

NEW YORK – The diary entry is obscure: Befitting the famously guarded personality of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, it bears only tantalizing hints about his life as a baseball hero and husband of Marilyn Monroe.

April 28, 1989: “Up at 5 a.m. … Book people felt me out with questions pertaining to baseball. Some part of my private life but not too strong on that. Will not reveal anything in a negative way towards Marilyn _ only books that have come out on her might have not been truthful.”

It takes a good friend _ for instance, Hall of Famer Whitey Ford _ to help flesh out the man behind the words.

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The entry is part of a 2,000-page, 29-volume collection of the New York Yankees icon’s diaries, meticulously handwritten between 1982 and 1993, which are now being offered for sale. The pages, in plastic protective sheets, are contained in thick, black loose-leaf binders that were kept stacked in the closet of DiMaggio’s lawyer.

Other diary entries are also clipped and businesslike. DiMaggio was known for keeping his emotions to himself.

“I really liked Joe. I know he was shy. But I got to know him better after we got out of baseball,” said Ford, who was on hand Monday for the launch of the online auction.

Ford was only 11 when his parents took him to the Yankee Stadium bleacher seats in the 1930s. “I saw Joe DiMaggio for the first time and from then on he was my hero.”

Brought up from the farm league to pitch for the Yankees, Ford’s first game was July 1, 1950, at Fenway Park.

“I got on the mound and I looked out at center field and I couldn’t get over that this man I idolized was the center fielder,” said Ford, adding that Boston got seven runs off him in the first few innings.

“Mickey” _ yes, Mickey Mantle _ “and I were scared to death to speak to him,” Ford said. “Marilyn was a nice lady.”

Ford recalled that once, when they were playing in St. Petersburg, Fla., DiMaggio brought Marilyn onto the field. “I went over and shook hands with her. Mickey was too shy. He didn’t shake hands with her.”

That season the players and their families had beach bungalows together. Once word got out that Marilyn Monroe was on the beach, crowds appeared within minutes, surrounding the sunbathing couple.

“I never felt so sorry for anyone in my life. They had to leave the beach immediately,” recalled Ford.

Later, Ford and DiMaggio lived in Florida and frequently golfed together.

“He had a lot of class. He hung out with good people, was a great dresser and a little cheap,” Ford said. And if you ever won money off DiMaggio, “It was pretty tough to collect it.”

The diaries reflect the demands on the Yankee Clipper and some of the pressures of his 56-game hitting streak.

“If I thought this would be taking place,” Joe DiMaggio laments in a diary entry about the public relations frenzy, “I would have stopped the hitting streak at 40.”

“Traveling getting to be damn much,” he wrote in 1987. Noted another entry: “Plane food should be fed to pigs.”

But there was plenty of pomp and circumstance, including a White House dinner hosted by President Reagan for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

“After dinner, proceeded to another room to hear Van Cliburn play. Mrs. Gorbachev requested a song that Cliburn played and Mrs. Gorbachev sang along,” wrote DiMaggio.

“Had to buy a new shirt because neck size down to 15 1/2.”

On July 16, 1941, DiMaggio extended his hitting streak to 56 games as Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians 10-3. The Hall of Fame center fielder, who played for the Yankees from 1936 to 1951, died in 1999.

The bidding on the diaries is to begin at $1.5 million; the auction, by Steiner Sports Marketing, closes July 25.

How does Ford think DiMaggio would feel about his diaries being made public? “I don’t think he would be too tickled about it.”

A service of the Associated Press(AP)