Mondays With Murray: DiMag Shuns Sainthood, Becomes Mortal Again

Today (Nov. 25) would have been Joe DiMaggio’s 105th birthday. In honor of Joltin’ Joe’s birthday, we bring you not only a Jim Murray column from Sept. 1, 1968, but also an excerpt from Jim Murray’s autobiography about the first time he met DiMaggio.

JIM MURRAY: Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe

Excerpt from JIM MURRAY: An Autobiography (Pages 19, 21-22)

   “I was, as it happened, the cinema correspondent for Time magazine at the time. This was a highly prized assignment in the company that was about as movie-struck as a high school sorority. You couldn’t walk the corridors of Time, Inc., at the time without tripping over 10 people who were sure they were going to be the next great film directors.

   “My job was to keep the cinema section apprised of the movements of the film industry and to pick out three or four cover stories a year — that is, pick a movie star, hopefully female, to put on the magazine’s cover and break up the monotony of the series of grim-visaged secretaries of state and military men who ordinarily glowered off its page and sold precious few copies on the newsstands. . . .

   “I pitched a story on Marilyn to the Magazine. They agreed. The studio saw a Time magazine story as an entrée to a bigger, picture story in the big-brother Life magazine, one of the most highly prized publicity plugs a film or film star could get.

   “My assignment was to do a story on her and explore her as a cover possibility later on. I took her to dinner on the Sunset Strip, to one of those mob-owned restaurants — Alan Dale, I believe, ran it — along the boulevard, after picking her up at her residential hotel on Olympic Boulevard.

   “As we dined and talked, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a famous former athlete come into the restaurant by a side door. He was escorted to a private dining area by the owner and a screen was placed around the table.

   “I knew the great Joe DiMaggio when I saw him and, later in the evening, when Marilyn leaned over and breathed, “Do you mind if you don’t take me home but I go home with a friend of mine?” I was ready. “Only if you introduce me to Joe DiMaggio first!”

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SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 1968, SPORTS

Copyright 1968/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

DiMag Shuns Sainthood, Becomes Mortal Again

  It was the sportswriter Bob Broeg who first surveyed Joe DiMaggio in the chorus-girl livery of Charley Finley’s Athletics — white shoes, green sleeves, gold stripes, white hat — and allowed dryly, “Seeing Joe in that is like seeing Santa Claus in a purple bikini.”

  The writer Charlie Einstein suggested the team be re-christened “Charley’s Aunts.” Another columnist suggested they dust off the old line, “What’s a nice girl like you doing mondaysmurray2in a place like this?” and apply it to Joe in the Oakland locker room. The implication was, Joe was playing the piano downstairs in the waterfront dance hall.

  He was even the subject of the leering Simon and Garfunkel lyrics for “The Graduate” mockingly linked with the infamous Mrs. Robinson. “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio/A nation turns its lonely eyes to you/Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!” And, later, “Jolting Joe has left and gone away/Hey!Hey!Hey!”

  For the baseball purist, this is like stoning a saint, painting black eyes on the Mona Lisa, putting cigarette ads over the Sistine Chapel, wrapping fish in a Vermeer. Like catching a statue in the park smoking or the Queen Mother playing darts in a pub in Soho.

  I don’t suppose anybody ever played the game of baseball with the pure grace and style of Joseph Paul DiMaggio. He excelled at the game with the kind of bored, disdainful perfection of a fencing master beset by clods, almost as if he were good in spite of himself. “He was like a dowager distributing baskets to the poor,” the late Tom Meany once told me. “He never looked like he was even SWEATING.”

  He was aristocracy on and off the field. He not only never got gravy on his tie, he never even got dirt on his uniform. They wrote songs about Joe DiMaggio for real in those days — not the sneering type but the genuine flag-wavers. He was an idol of the day of the magnitude of Charles Lindbergh — aloof, godlike. He never caught fly balls like a guy falling through a skylight. He was THERE when the ball came down. He stood at the plate as easily and naturally as a guy watching a sunset. Historians swear he went five years once without hitting anything but a line drive. Some of his hits went through the infield but many went through the infielders. Joe DiMaggio played baseball the way a fish swims, a bird flies or a lion bites. If anybody seemed suited to his environment it was J.P. DiMaggio.

  And yet Joe DiMaggio had ulcers. Joe DiMaggio got gray before he was 35. The pressure he never let anyone see would have broken windows for miles around if he ever let it out. He would get the bends if he left the locker room too early, if he didn’t adjust to different pressures on his way back to the street or Toots Shor’s.

  All New York expected of him was an annual Triple Crown, a pennant, world’s championship, impeccable behaviour on and off the field. He was a captive of his genius like all geniuses — the gift of God had a “Return in 60 days if not satisfied” clause.

  Joe left Baseball like a guy getting a parole. No one ever yelled “Ya, bum, ya!” at Joe DiMaggio. That was the trouble. He was untouchable, a holy man. As a result, he couldn’t wait to leave and he fled to where he could be “Hey, you” or “You’re away, you hacker” or even “Mr. DiMaggio.”

  Baseball dismissed him as “too aloof.” They took loudmouthed banjo hitters for managers, sweet-talking salesmen for the front office. They left Joe in his plaster cast with pigeons perched on his shoulders.

  Joe DiMaggio came to a personal decision this year. The statue left the pedestal, the portrait climbed down from the frame. He put the halo on backwards. He is sick of being an institution, the prisoner of his reputation.

  Charley O. Finley asked him to join the Oakland A’s and all baseball protested. Finley is a brawling, shoot-from-the-hip type of front office competitor, the kind of guy who realizes even the Emperor goes to the bathroom. And then there were, of course — ugh! — THOSE UNIFORMS! Joe DiMaggio would NEVER climb into one of those!

  Well, Joe fooled everybody with a nice neat bunt along the third-base line. He accepted Finley’s offer and, instead of climbing into the kind of uniform you can put a carnation in every day, he put on Finley’s circus suit and started to teach kids how to bat. Joe resigned as saint. And, if Simon and Garfunkel really want to find him, they might try Anaheim Stadium today or the opening of the World Series regional roundups next season. That just might be Joe carrying the lineup up to home plate if you can make him out through the glare of that suit.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116

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What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation? 

  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

Like us on Facebook, and visit the JMMF website, www.jimmurrayfoundation.org.

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A dozen years ago, Linda McCoy-Murray compiled a book of Jim Murray’s columns on female athletes (1961-1998). While the book is idle waiting for an interested publisher, the JMMF thinks this is an appropriate year to get the book on the shelves, i.e., Jim Murray’s 100th birthday, 1919-2019.  

Our mission is to empower women of all ages to succeed and prosper — in and out of sports — while entertaining the reader with Jim Murray’s wit and hyperbole.  An excellent teaching tool for Women’s Studies.

Proceeds from book sales will benefit the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization providing sports journalism scholarships at universities across the country.

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