Joe DiMaggio spent 13 years making baseball history from center field in the Bronx and earning plaudits as an American hero.
He left behind quite a legacy when he died of lung cancer at 84 in 1999, and that legacy is brought back to life with “Dinner with DiMaggio,” written by Dr. Rock Positano, the foot doctor and close friend of the Yankee Clipper during DiMaggio’s later years.
The book, released by Simon & Schuster last week, comes 18 years after DiMaggio’s death and the timing of the release is not a mistake.
“I think the most important thing is that this memoir has the unique opportunity to introduce a whole new group of people to Joe DiMaggio,” Positano, who grew up in Bensonhurst and graduated from Xaverian High School in Bay Ridge, said. “You have a lot of kids and millennials who don’t really know who Joe DiMaggio was. So I wanted to reintroduce to this new generation of people who might not know about him.”
A notoriously private man, DiMaggio let Positano into his circle of trust, and the author offers incredible, rare insight into Joltin’ Joe’s life through stories heard over dinner and at other places the two traveld including Yankee Stadium.
Positano, who was 42 years younger than DiMaggio, first met the legendary outfielder in 1990, when an old baseball injury brought the unlikely pair together. A mutual friend recommended Positano, then an up-and-coming foot doctor at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, to DiMaggio and the two made a connection that would last the remainder of his years, giving Positano a chance to get inside the mind of living legend, who he says was more than just a baseball player.
“The man was able to understand so many other things besides sports. He understood business, movie-making, the arts, pretty much everything,” said Positano. “He was sharp as a knife and it was very rare that he missed anything; he was that perceptive and intuitive.”
The stories Positano, who wrote the memoir with his brother John, relates illustrate just how sharp the Hall of Famer was. DiMaggio had an answer for everything, he says, set a high standard on how to act both privately and socially, and always made sure he looked the part when out in public — and made sure everyone he was involved with did the same.
He tells the tale of how DiMaggio made him leave a dinner date with the slugger’s granddaughters — coming up with an intricate plot to have Positano’s beeper go off — because the doctor showed up without a tie.
“Didn’t anyone ever teach you about how to dress in the company of ladies?” DiMaggio asked Positano, giving the doctor a chance to leave the scene only to return later wearing a tie. “Women — especially my granddaughters — deserve more respect.”
The nine-time World Series champ always believed in treating women with respect, Positano posited, and also valued having positive relationships with children. Joe D. would always go out of his way to make children happy, whether it was signing a baseball or making a surprise appearance at a birthday party.
DiMaggio loved children because they “will never hurt you or betray you — only grown-ups will do that,” Positano writes.
The memoir also dives into DiMaggio’s love life and marriages to Dorothy Arnold and Marilyn Monroe. But the main focus of the book centers on the doctor’s personal experiences Positano with DiMaggio.
“What makes this book a little different is that it’s not a book about baseball. It’s more about human relationships, about life, about living,” Positano said. “What we wanted to be able to do was show that he was an iconic American who people didn’t really have access to and show how he was just an everyday person who liked everyday things.”