Joe DiMaggio and my father
Joe DiMaggio and my father
I was not a baseball star when I was young.
Given when I was born, I never had the opportunity to watch Joe DiMaggio play baseball live in Yankee Stadium.
But I love the man. In fact, I have loved him for 21 years.
It was back in 1994, when my father suddenly discovered that his brother – and business partner at that time – had screwed our family out of at least $50,000. My mom was devastated by the betrayal, and the pile of debt we found stacked in front of us.
The moment is still fresh in my mind, because I witnessed my dad’s full head of black hair turn white almost overnight. To him, the fraud had set him back 10 years financially.
But my father is a fighter. So, instead of reaching for the easy solution and shooting his brother for the fraud he had committed, he decided to let it go and focus on what remained untouched and unharmed in his life: his family. He knew he could still work hard to ensure we had everything we needed. And as an added bonus, he also showered us in love.
When I was a teenager, I spent my time daydreaming about running my own business one day. I found that school just dragged on for far too long – not because I was a bad student (I wasn’t), but more because I was eager to set out and start living my real life.
I told my dad: I know your business with my uncle was a financial disaster, but I still want to run my own business in the future. Can you share your best advice? He told me to find a role model, someone I could look up to. He said: pick this person, but take your time and choose wisely. He also said: choose a high-profile leader. If you do, he will never let you down.
Finally, he finished with this: watch how he handles his success, how he deals with adversity, and emulate his behavior as best you can. If your choice is not the right one, you will learn from that too, just as I did with your uncle.
About that time, our professional baseball team in Montreal (the Expos) was the best in the East Division and the favorite to win the World Series. Everywhere you looked in the city, the focus was baseball and nothing else. It was by far the #1 topic of conversation in the news every day and night. My father, brother and I spent lots of time that summer watching almost every game on TV.
And every Sunday we could, my dad and I would be right there at the stadium, watching our favorite team in the flesh while eating jumbo hot dogs, pretzels, peanuts, hamburgers and—yes—super-sized sodas. Seriously, it was the one of best summers ever. I personally think baseball stadiums are the best place to party on Earth.
In fact, I was so deeply tucked inside my baseball fever in that summer of 1994 that when I spotted an article in a baseball magazine, it immediately caught my attention. It was about the life of legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio. His story caught my interest due to his very humble beginnings.
Joe was born in Martinez, California in 1914, the eighth of nine children of Italian immigrant parents. His dad, Giuseppe, was a fisherman, as were generations of DiMaggios before him. Giuseppe hoped that his five sons would become fishermen too. But meanwhile, Joe was telling anybody he could that he would do anything to get out of cleaning his father’s boat, as the smell nauseated him. As a result, his father called him lazy and good for nothing.
Years later, Joe knew he was in fact amazingly good at what he did when, in 1933, he set a new record by hitting safely in 61 consecutive games for the San Francisco Seals of the semi-pro Pacific Coast League (PLC).
DiMaggio made his Major League Baseball debut in 1936 for the New York Yankees, a team that had not been to the World Series since 1932. They would go on to win the next four Fall Classics. In total, DiMaggio led his team to nine titles in 13 years. In 1939, DiMaggio was famously nicknamed the Yankee Clipper by the local stadium announcer. He was also the first baseball player to sign a $100,000 contract, a record-setter in 1949.
On that day in 1994, I knew I had found the perfect role model for my entire life. DiMaggio was still alive when I discovered him that year, but he died shortly afterwards in 1999 at the age of 84.
Nonetheless, after that, I always tried to research more and more info on DiMaggio, poring over books and articles on his life. Over the years, I gained enormous respect for the life lessons he taught. DiMaggio reinforced the lessons I’d learned from my father about integrity, hard work, loyalty, generosity, commitment and other higher characteristics. I highlighted many of those lessons in a book I wrote 2 years ago, The 50 Secrets of My Success.
Over the years, I studied his life and watched how DiMaggio reacted to both his successes and his setbacks. And my dad was right: he never let me down, even though I never met him in person. DiMaggio was also fiercely loyal—he spent his entire professional baseball career playing for the Yankees.
If he were alive today and I had the chance to meet him in person, I would have tons of questions to ask and so many things to tell him. But I would also sincerely thank him for the role he played in my life. He is the second best role model in my life, after my dad.
They say it takes all kinds to make a world, but I can’t help thinking how much better the world would be if there were more people like DiMaggio and my dad.