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Monday, June 27, 2016

Adult Summer Reading Book Review: The DiMaggios

Book Title: The DiMaggios : Three Brothers, Their Passion for Baseball, Their Pursuit of the American Dream

Author: Thomas Clavin

Reviewed By: Thomas P.

The DiMaggios of San Francisco were a very special Italian-American family, producing three outstanding outfielders who played simultaneously for various major league teams. Most know of Joe DiMaggio, famous for his graceful fielding and outstanding batting (only major leaguer to hit more than 300 home runs and have less career strikeouts than home runs). Some know of his brother Dominic who played for the Red Sox and was widely acclaimed as being a better defensive player than his brother Joe. Few know anything at all about Vince who played in the National League but likely had the best arm of the three brothers and may have been the best defensive player of them all. Vince was held back by virtue of his high strikeout marks, setting the major league record for batting futility that stood for over 40 years before being broken in the mid-'70s. That said, no one ever tried more than once to take an extra base on Vince's arm. Also, he was blessed with tremendous power on those times he did connect.

This book is the story of these three brothers, their other family members, their wives and their own families, and how they lived in America once their baseball careers were over. Granted the huge popularity of Joe DiMaggio, you would expect the book to focus overwhelmingly on him. Instead, there is a very balanced approach, with the majority of the book devoted to Dominic, who comes across as a sort of Renaissance man. He single-handedly keeps the greater DiMaggio family together when conflicts arise; he plays baseball well enough to be invited to several All Star games and makes it to the World Series in 1946; he takes base hits away from his brother Joe during the latter's 56 game hitting streak in 1941; he gets along with Ted Williams (a very difficult task) during and after the baseball season; when his baseball career ends, he becomes a very successful businessman. Through it all, Dominic DiMaggio remains a humble, personable figure.

Brothers Joe and Vince develop differently through the book, with Vince withdrawing into himself, especially after missing out on a major league pension by an eyelash. Despite this, Vince maintains a good relationship with his daughter.

Most surprising of all is the depiction of Joe DiMaggio, always a loner, but now revealed as a man obsessed with himself, complaining during World War II about the amount of money he was missing out on because he was in the Army at $50 per month instead of earning his major league salary. Jolting Joe comes across as penurious, self-centered, and incredibly obtuse towards his own family when they suffer reverses or tragedies (the ultimate sin that can be committed by anyone of Italian ethnicity). His later life devolves into a business relationship wherein a non-family member dictates to him how to generate ever more money while his own son lives life estranged from the father who considers his son a bum.

Why I Picked it Up: On my mother's side, I have an almost pure Italian heritage. Growing up, the DiMaggios were almost revered by my mother's family as members of her ethnicity who had grown into heroes of American life. While Joe was always the hero, her family always pointed out that not only did Joe play baseball better than almost everyone else, so did his brothers Dominic and Vince. This book was my opportunity to learn more about the entire DiMaggio family.

Why I Finished It: I would have expected the book to rely heavily on baseball and baseball anecdotes. Of course, there are a lot of these, but a very substantial portion of the book concerns the off-field actions of the family and their relationships with one another. Raised in an environment where family was only slightly lower than one's relationship with God and believing that all Italian families exhibited these same characteristics, I was stunned to see how differently Dominic and Joe lived their lives within the greater context of their families. Dominic's life was similar to what I saw, with an overwhelming emphasis on intra-familial relationships and especially on the necessity of keeping those relationships alive and vibrant. Joe's life was almost completely the opposite, rarely having contact with his family before, during, and after his baseball career and his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. Vince fell somewhere in the middle, tending more towards Joe's style, at least as far as extra-familial relationships went. Within his own family, Vince seemed to be very open to his children, mirroring the life that Dominic showed but completely unlike Joe.

I’d Give this Book To: I would recommend this to anyone looking to learning more about the DiMaggio family or having more than a casual interest in baseball as played in America in the 1930s and 1940s. About half of the book concerns life outside of baseball and how elements of our everyday life affect all members of society, even at the major league baseball level. It reveals that even at that high level of life, we all share certain characteristics.

Find The DiMaggios in our catalog.

Summer Reading program participants! There's still time to submit a review of one of the books you read this summer. Your review will get you an entry into a special prize drawing in addition to the drawings that all program finishers are entered in. More prizes! Yay!
All you have to do is fill out our online form or email a short review (at least 5 thoughtful sentences - without giving away the ending!) to

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