Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigilby Jerome Charyn
As the New York Yankees' star centerfielder from 1936 to 1951, Joe DiMaggio is enshrined in America's memory as the epitome in sports of grace, dignity, and that ineffable quality called "class." But his career after retirement, starting with his nine-month marriage to Marilyn Monroe, was far less auspicious. Writers like Gay Talese and Richard Ben Cramer have… See more details below
As the New York Yankees' star centerfielder from 1936 to 1951, Joe DiMaggio is enshrined in America's memory as the epitome in sports of grace, dignity, and that ineffable quality called "class." But his career after retirement, starting with his nine-month marriage to Marilyn Monroe, was far less auspicious. Writers like Gay Talese and Richard Ben Cramer have painted the private DiMaggio as cruel or self-centered. Now, Jerome Charyn restores the image of this American icon, looking at DiMaggio's life in a more sympathetic light.
DiMaggio was a man of extremes, superbly talented on the field but privately insecure, passive, and dysfunctional. He never understood that for Monroe, on her own complex and tragic journey, marriage was a career move; he remained passionately committed to her throughout his life. He allowed himself to be turned into a sports memorabilia money machine. In the end, unable to define any role for himself other than "Greatest Living Ballplayer," he became trapped in "a horrible kind of minutia." But where others have seen little that was human behind that minutia, Charyn in Joe DiMaggio presents the tragedy of one of American sports' greatest figures.
The New York Times
A novelist's sympathetic meditation on the life of the legendary New York Yankee.
This latest in the publisher's Icons of Americaseries is, perhaps, best understood as a response to Richard Ben Cramer'sJoe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life(2000), a critical biography that, while acknowledging DiMaggio's preternatural gifts as a ballplayer, exposed the Yankee Clipper as an off-the-field nightmare of a person: friendless, greedy, and cheap. DiMaggio's mark on the game—three MVPs, 13-time All-Star, nine World Series championships, the untouchable 56-game hitting streak (see Kostya Kennedy's 56 for in-depth coverage)—and place in American cultural mythology endures. How was it that this splendid athlete lived a private life so appallingly at odds with his image? Charyn (The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel, 2010, etc.) never contradicts Cramer's unsavory facts, but instead puts a kinder spin on them, painting Joltin' Joe as a baseball idiot savant, defined and ennobled by his isolation in centerfield and the batter's box, comfortable only within the confines of a game he perfectly understood, where his fierce will, intensity and pride drove him to win and made him, if not loved, certainly revered by the fans. The author identifies DiMaggio's need to be watched and desire for approval as the secret weakness of this shy, insecure man. Indeed, argues Charyn, DiMaggio's flaws—his morbid sensitivity, inability to bear mistakes and utter humorlessness—made him abetterplayer. After baseball, this "legend without a purpose," whose only genuine language was "the lyricism of his own body," became a stilted spokesman and the central attraction of any memorabilia show lucky enough to secure the services of the Greatest Living Player. Otherwise, he spent his last four decades carrying a torch for the deceased Marilyn Monroe, once famously and briefly his wife, who baffled him completely.
Though sometimes over the top as he reimagines DiMaggio—"[Yankee] Stadium's suffering Christ"—Charyn supplies an intriguing, plausible take on this notoriously opaque hero.
Meet the Author
Jerome Charyn is the author of The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson and The Seventh Babe, a novel about a white third baseman on the Red Sox who also played in the Negro Leagues.
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