In Tom Clavin's revelatory and surprisingly touching new book, “The DiMaggios,” there is a quote from a syndicated sports column of the 1940s:
“The old-time baseball writers used to refer affectionately to (19th century reporter and groundbreaking statistician) Henry Chadwick as the Father of Baseball. It would seem fitting to bestow this distinction today upon Mr. (Guiseppe) DiMaggio. ... We know of no other father who has contributed that many sons to the uplift and perpetuity of what is called the great national pastime.”
The irony, as readers of “The DiMaggios” will understand, is that the father of major-league players Vince, Joe and Dom DiMaggio for years hated baseball, according to Clavin, “thought it was a silly, unprofitable exercise,” discouraged his sons from playing it and in fact “didn't want his sons involved in any sports.”
“The DiMaggios” is worth reading on several levels, but with today's Father's Day theme, Guiseppe will be the focus. An important but nonetheless background character in the book, the head of the DiMaggio family emerges as a prime example of proud, loyal, hard-working, demanding, loving, humble, narrow-minded, money-worshipping, vain fatherhood. In other words, human.
Learned fans might think there can't be much new to say about the DiMaggios, especially Hall of Famer Joe, who transcended sports, married Marilyn Monroe, was a reclusive celebrity for nearly 50 years after his baseball career ended and has been the subject of countless biographies. But Clavin manages to cast the family in general and the baseball-playing brothers in particular in a fresh light, not shying away from personality conflicts and various character flaws and estrangements. He ultimately tells a compassionate story that, while unique to the DiMaggios, contains so much basic humanity, so much connectedness, that anyone with complex family relationships (are there any other kind?) can empathize.