An edited version of this
appeared in Sports Collectors
sub-front cover of the June 27th 2003 issue of Sports Collectors Digest shows an assortment of Joe DiMaggio memorabilia that reminded me of the Joe DiMaggio items I have. As a
bellman at the top golf resort hotel in Napa Valley the last sixteen years, I’ve had the unique opportunity of seeing and assisting more celebrities than I can easily recall. One I definitely recall however, was Joe DiMaggio. I assisted him two different times he stayed with us. I’ll recount the first for today’s column.
In August 1993, a celebrity golf tournament was held at our resort and DiMaggio came to play in it. Previously at an antiques show I had picked up what I thought was a pretty cool find, a 1939 Model Builder magazine with a photo of DiMaggio on the front cover playing with a train set. He looked really young and the portrayal of him on the floor wearing a white dress shirt and suspenders with a loosened tie was striking, and seemed to capture a personal moment. Not the usual DiMaggio photo. His classy image was intact. The photo made it seem he wore a tie even when playing with trains. Born November 25th 1914, he would have been 25 years old when the magazine was published in December 1939.
photo to enlarge
I brought the magazine to work optimistically hoping to get DiMaggio to sign it. If I got lucky and happened to assist him to his room, the chances of getting it signed were pretty good. Barring that, I’d need that optimism, as it wouldn’t be easy. First of all, even if I did happen into him around the property, as an employee in uniform, I couldn’t go walking up to him in front of other guests and ask for an autograph, you just don’t do that.
Plus, it wasn’t practical to carry the magazine around with me all day. So really, the chances weren’t good.
After the tournament there was a big banquet that evening for all the
celebrities. By then, DiMaggio had been with us two days and I’d not seen him once, so I’d pretty much given up on getting it signed. It had been real busy that day, and by the time I got a chance to take a break and get something to eat, the employee buffet was shut down. I decided to drive the short ways into town and get a burger. I recall it was around 9:45pm when I got back, and I began walking up from the parking lot towards the mansion. It was dark by then and the whole front of the mansion that had been a beehive of activity all day was now still and quiet. Most of the guests were at the tournament banquet in the
As I was walking past the tennis courts I saw up ahead what appeared to be an older gentleman walking with a young lady coming towards me. Could it be….no way I thought. As I got closer I saw it was DiMaggio. “Mr. DiMaggio” I said…”let me get a cart and give you a ride”. The young tournament staffer girl goes…”Yes Mr. DiMaggio, let the bellman give you a ride”. “Oh O.K.” he said,…and
blam, I was off like a rocket. First stop…the bell desk to grab the magazine. I stuffed it inside my jacket and peeled out with a cart. DiMaggio gets in, sits up front beside me, and in a way that made him seem as common as an old shoe,
backhands my thigh, points back with his thumb and says….”Those guys are gonna go all night in there, I’m going home”.
So one minute I’m walking along thinking about what groceries I need to pick up after work….the next, I’m sitting next to Joe DiMaggio talking to him….nearly numb with surprise and nervousness. Now I’ve worked with the public most of my life, and can read people very quickly. My impression of Joe DiMaggio was he knew full well who he was…but on the other hand adamantly refused overt hoopla…struck me as a totally macho kind of guy from the old school.
It all happened so fast. As it began to sink in who was sitting next to me, I really had to work at not appearing nervous. I could just tell he would be annoyed if I seemed too nervous. I started with courteous small talk…”So how’s your stay?”…”How was the tournament?” etc. Then I thought of something intelligent to say ….”Say, you’re friends with Barry Halper aren’t you?” I asked…as I’d heard he sometimes stayed at Halper’s home in New Jersey. Back then Barry Halper had the world’s greatest baseball memorabilia collection, before he sold it in 1999. “Sure, Barry…you know Barry?” he said. “No” I said…”but he’s a friend of a friend”. “Yeah that Barry” he said chuckling….”always wants me to sign stuff!” I’m thinking…sign stuff…really… you don’t say.
So we drive along to his room and I ask him…”Say Mr. DiMaggio…did they do many statues of you?” He says….”Well, there was one fella that did one.” As he tried to recall his name I go…” Clemente Spampinato”….he looked at me a little curiously I’d know such a fact. “Yeah that’s him,” he said. So we get to his room and surprisingly for about five to ten minutes we just talked about stuff. Finally he says,…”Well it’s been a long day I gotta get going”…I go….”Say Mr. DiMaggio…. I’d like to show you something”, and I pulled out the magazine and handed it to him. With a smile he goes….”My old Lionel trains”.
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in photo of Joe D's
I said….”Say Mr. DiMaggio….you think you could sign that for me?”
Talk about bringing the conversation to an abrupt halt,...he looks at me and says,…”That’s what you wanted the whole time!” I was speechless…it wasn’t entirely true…sure I wanted an autograph, but I enjoyed talking with him. He signed it and started to hand it back, when sheepishly I said….”Say Mr.
DiMaggio, you think you could date it for me?” He gave me a look and kind of shook his head, dated it 8/11/93…handed it back to me and went upstairs to his room…to the homage of my gratitude.
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in of Joe D's autograph
He came again for another tournament a couple years later. Fortunately, he didn’t remember me I don’t think. I got him to sign another incredible piece that time too. We’ll go into that one another column.
CARLTON'S OTHER JOE D STORY