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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Joe DiMaggio's Hometown Planning 100th Birthday Celebration — And It Ain't San Francisco

Posted By on Tue, Nov 11, 2014 at 1:11 PM

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Paul Simon's lament on the state of America — "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? — is easy to answer these days. At least literally. Joltin' Joe has left and gone away and is buried, where else, in Colma (his gravestone reads "Grace, Dignity and Elegance Personified).   

The Yankee Clipper would have been 100 this year, and his hometown is marking the occasion. And while DiMaggio is associated with this city, played his first professional ball in this city, resided for decades in this city, and, like virtually every city resident, ended up in Colma. But the DiMaggio clan traces its local origins back to Martinez. Which every Martinez resident will happily tell you. And they're throwing a party. 

The East Bay suburb will celebrate the centenary of its favorite son on Nov. 18, with a fete highlighted by the re-launching of a boat gifted to DiMaggio by the Yanks in 1948 — an expensive and laborious process to say the least.

It would appear DiMaggio's 100th will not receive similar notice in San Francisco this year. And, truth be told, the living legend did not endear himself to locals on his way out.  

San Franciscans can roll bocce balls and shoot baskets at Joe DiMaggio Playground in North Beach, site of the star's youthful sandlot home runs. It's doubtful DiMaggio, who died in 1999, would have appreciated this, however. Morris Engleberg, the attorney representing his estate, actually sued the city. He claimed a mere playground wasn't good enough for DiMaggio, who deserved a higher-profile landmark. This, he claims, was merely an attempt to inflate North Beach property values through DiMaggio's good name. 

All in all, it's hard to imagine a more simultaneously laughable and insulting move. Engleberg lost his suit and, for what it's worth, DiMaggio has a playground named after him. 

In recent years, San Franciscans and others have been forced to re-examine DiMaggio's legacy. Richard Ben Cramer's magisterial biography revealed him to be a deeply misanthropic man — who, among other strange deeds, wandered out of his damaged Marina home following the quake of '89 clutching a garbage bag stuffed with $600,000 in cash

In retrospect, perhaps "where have you gone?" wasn't the most pertinent question to ask. 

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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