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Joe Dimaggio: The Hero's Life | Article

Giuseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio

By Dennis Gaffney


As a young man, Giuseppe DiMaggio, Joe DiMaggio's father, was a fisherman on a small island off the coast of Sicily. Like so many other immigrants coming into the United States, it was economic hardship that convinced him to leave his village and set sail for opportunity in the United States.

Like many other Sicilians, Giuseppe chose the San Francisco area, which offered good fishing possibilities and a climate roughly comparable to southern Italy. Giuseppe followed his father-in-law over, and worked for 10 cents an hour for the railroads. By 1904, he had saved enough money to bring his young wife Rosalie and their first child to America.

It was then that the Giuseppe got back into fishing, naming his first fishing boat the "Rosalie D," after his wife. After the birth of Joseph Paul DiMaggio on November 25, 1914 (the eighth of nine children), the DiMaggio family moved from Martinez to San Francisco’s North Beach, which was closer to Bay’s fishing grounds.

Giuseppe and Rosalie spoke Italian in the home. Like so many other immigrant children, the second generation DiMaggios spoke Italian at home and English outside their home.

At first Giuseppe frowned upon baseball, considering it a frivolous endeavor for his boys. "What the old man wanted, what he really wanted, was for Joe to get an education, to make something of himself, to make a living, to get away from the struggle, the poverty we had as kids," remembers Tom, the oldest DiMaggio brother. "That’s why he didn’t want him to play baseball. He didn’t think he could make any money at it."

Only as the DiMaggio brothers began to earn good money playing baseball (older brother Vince was the first to bring home serious money from the game) did the senior DiMaggio's view change. As Joe became a star playing ball for the San Francisco Seals, Giuseppe would wake his youngest son, Dominic (who would go on to play for the Boston Red Sox), before the sun rose to have him read the latest news about his brother — and decipher the game’s box score.

Although much more has been written about Giuseppe, son Dominic believes his mother was the force behind the family. While Giuseppe accepted his lot as a fisherman, Dominic says that Rosalie pushed for a better life, urging the move from Martinez to San Francisco, for example. She had been a teacher in the old country and led the search to find homes in neighborhoods with better schools.

Fishing may have been all right for her husband, but she wanted her boys to be more than fishermen. Rosalie very well may have been the moral backbone of the family too, telling Bible stories to her children and setting a high standard of conduct, according to Dominic.

Rosalie would sometimes take the train across the country to see Joe play. She gained some press herself when she complained that there was so little to do in New York City — she missed the traditional duties of cleaning and washing dishes, she said.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Giuseppe got caught in the xenophobic swell that swept his adopted nation. Giuseppe, who spoke only broken English, hadn’t bothered to become a citizen in his 40 years in the U.S. In the atmosphere of WW II, the elder DiMaggio, as an Italian citizen, was prohibited from going to the wharves where he made his living. Ironically enough, this restriction came barely six months after Joe had become an American hero by getting hits in 56 straight games.

Giuseppe died on May 3, 1949. Between the 1950 and 1951 baseball seasons, DiMaggio spent a good amount of time in San Francisco by the side of his mother, who was sick with cancer. In late June, 1951, Joe DiMaggio left the Yankees line-up to be with his mother when she fell into a coma. She never came out of it, dying shortly thereafter. As Joe DiMaggio approached the last chapter of his playing career, his parents were no longer there to watch.

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