We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

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.

Baseball, according to Dom, the youngest of Guiseppe and Rosalie's nine children, "violated Dad's code of life, which emphasized the work ethic."

In Clavin's telling of the DiMaggios' story, Guiseppe first inched toward acceptance of baseball in 1931 when Vince, the first son to rebel against his father's wishes and who forged his father's signature on his first pro contract, dumps his season's earnings, some $1,500 in cash, in front of him.

"Well, that's a different story," Guiseppe says. "Baseball, that's the game!"

By 1937, with Vince and Joe in the major leagues and Dom starring with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, "pictures of the three baseball players now shared wall space which previously had been reserved only for Christian saints in the DiMaggio home."

At the World Series that year, Guiseppe smokes a cigar given to him by former heavyweight boxing champion Jim Braddock and is viewed by the New York newspapers as "something of a wise old sage" (despite speaking little English) and "seemed to enjoy the attention."

By 1940, Guiseppe DiMaggio, an illiterate Sicilian fisherman who emigrated to the Bay Area in 1898 and for decades worked 12-16 hours a day, six days a week, had come around, not particularly liking baseball for its own sake but for what it had done — through Vince, Joe and Dom — for his family. The game had lifted the DiMaggios from poverty, provided the luxury of leisure time, a home in San Francisco's Marina District and the family's restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf, where San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi was a regular customer. All during the Great Depression, no less.

In 1941, when three DiMaggio brothers are playing in the major leagues, Guiseppe was asked: Who's the best?

With oldest son Tom undiplomatically translating from Sicilian, Guiseppe answers "Joe! He makes three times as much money as the other two!"

Perhaps the most disconcerting passage in "The DiMaggios" concerning Guiseppe has to do with San Francisco's paranoid post-Pearl Harbor atmosphere.

Clavin writes: "Authorities issued curfews and placed restrictions on foreign nationals, especially those from countries in the Axis. This included Guiseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio, who still were not U.S. citizens, mainly because even after 40 years they couldn't read and write English well enough to pass the test. It was especially frustrating for Guiseppe, who was essentially confined to his home."

The three baseball-playing DiMaggio brothers at first had to defy their strict Old World father to pursue their American dreams but eventually, through baseball, strengthened their bonds with Guiseppe.

When Joe, for example, hit in 61 consecutive games for the Seals in 1933, the PCL gave him a watch, but, Clavin writes: "There was a reward for the hitting streak that Joe valued even more — his father's approval." He would get it. Guiseppe's namesake "was making him proud."

Even without a famous last name, that's the common currency of almost any father-son connection.

Roberto Rubino can be reached at RobertoRubino@comcast.net.