DiMaggio’s Death and Will
By Dennis Gaffney
On September 27, 1998, DiMaggio made his last appearance at Yankee Stadium, when former teammate Phil Rizzuto presented him with replacements for the World Series rings that had been stolen from DiMaggio’s hotel room in 1960.
DiMaggio struggled to make another appearance in Yankee Stadium. A sign on DiMaggio’s sickbed read, "April 9, Yankee Stadium or Bust." The reference was to opening day for the Yankees, the place where DiMaggio hoped to throw out the first ball of the season. DiMaggio didn’t live that long. He died on March 8, after a five-month battle with lung cancer, in Hollywood, Florida. Quite appropriately, he died wanting to walk out one more time on to the green grass that was the center stage of his life: Yankee Stadium.
San Francisco hung its flags at half-staff, as did Martinez, California, DiMaggio’s birthplace. The funeral services were held at Saints Peter and Paul Church in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, where DiMaggio grew up. Keeping with one of the threads that typified DiMaggio’s life, the event was private.
"It was very dignified," said Father Armand Oliveri, 78, who presided at the service. "The idea was that Joe had achieved a good life and that he had now gone home to his parents."
His brother Dominic, 82, gave the eulogy. Included were a few boyhood reminiscences, but the central message, Oliveri said, was "Joe’s attachment to the family all through his life, as well as an appreciation for his friends." Interestingly enough, Dominic spoke little about his brother’s stellar baseball career.
In his will, DiMaggio took care of his family. He set up trusts for his grandchildren Katherine and Paula. He gave $1.5 million to his great-grandchildren. DiMaggio also left $100,000 to his nephew Joseph, the son of his deceased brother Mike. DiMaggio’s only son, who was estranged from the elder DiMaggio, was willed a trust fund of $20,000 per year. However, Joe Jr. never got to use most of the inheritance as he died only months later.
Upon learning of DiMaggio’s death, Tommy Lasorda, the great Dodgers’ manager said: "If you said to God, ‘Create someone who was what a baseball player should be,’ God would have created Joe DiMaggio. And He did."