Joe DiMaggio was one of the greatest baseball players of all time. His 56-game-hitting streak record still stands today. He played in 10 World Series and his team won nine times. He was a three-time American League most-valuable player and 2-time champion of the American League in batting, home-runs, and runs-batted-in.
DiMaggio was a lifelong smoker who chain smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. He was known to sneak behind the runway at Yankee Stadium during games to smoke with teammate, Lou Gehrig. On October 12, 1998, he was admitted to Memorial Regional Hospital in Florida for lung cancer surgery. He was hospitalized for 99 days, and died on March 8, 1999, at age 84.
Early Life and Major League Career
DiMaggio was born in 1914 in the bay area of San Francisco, the eighth of nine children of Sicilian immigrants whose families had been fishermen for generations. Joe made it to the ninth grade and then dropped out of school to do menial jobs. He was expected to become a fisherman but instead, by age 17, he was being paid to play baseball. At age 18 in his rookie year in the Pacific Coast League, he hit safely in 61 consecutive games. The next year, his batting average was .398 with 154 runs batted in and 34 home runs and he was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player.
In 1936, at age 22, he was playing for the New York Yankees and they won the world series for the next four years. In DiMaggio’s 13-year career with the Yankees, he helped them win nine World Series championships. In 1943, during World War II, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Force and rose to the rank of sergeant. In 1945 he was discharged from the army because of a stomach ulcer. He could have hit far more home runs during his major league career except that he lost three seasons in the army, and he had to play in Yankee Stadium where it was almost impossible to hit a home run to right or center field because of the long distance to the fences. In 1951, at age 37, he retired from baseball. “I was full of aches and pains and it has become a chore for me to play. When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game, and so, I’ve played my last game.”
Joe and Marilyn
In 1951, at age 37, DiMaggio married movie star Marilyn Monroe. The marriage was marred from the beginning by his jealousy, controlling nature, and physical abuse. In 1954, a violent argument with lots of yelling followed the filming of Marilyn’s skirt-blowing scene in the movie, “The Seven Year Itch.” Monroe filed for divorce from DiMaggio after only 274 days of marriage. citing “mental cruelty”. She also said that he was a terrible, boring person who drank, chain smoked and spent his time watching TV. He responded by getting therapy, stopping drinking alcohol, and trying to expand his interests beyond baseball. In 1956, after the divorce, Marilyn married the playwright Arthur Miller presumably because he was brilliant and educated. Five years later in 1961, they too divorced. This sent Marilyn into a deep depression and the next month she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Joe DiMaggio had her released from the hospital in February of 1962, and took her to the Yankees’ spring training camp in Florida. DiMaggio told a friend that he had decided to remarry her. Six months later, on August 5, 1962 she died of a reported drug overdose. DiMaggio’s son spoke to Monroe on the phone the night of her death and said she appeared to be fine. DiMaggio took possession of her body and arranged and paid for her funeral and sent roses to her grave twice a week until he died twenty years later in 1999. He never married again and his last words on his deathbed were, “I finally get to see Marilyn.”
Lung Cancer, A Horrible Disease
Death from the ravages of lung cancer is often preceded by prolonged suffering in which a person feels like he is drowning or being smothered. Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the U.S., causing approximately 25 percent of all cancer deaths. Young people growing up in the 1930s, 40s and 50s had little awareness of the harms smoking caused to the entire body, but today there is no excuse. There is no doubt that any form of smoke in your lungs puts you at risk for lung cancer. This includes second-hand smoke, smoke or fumes in the workplace and air pollution. I even caution people about fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. In addition to lung cancer, smoking is associated with deaths from other types of lung damage, heart attacks and pneumonia.
• Smoking or breathing in pollutants can cause emphysema, permanent lung damage (Nature Immunology, October 5, 2015;16:1185–1194).
• Smoking increases risk for heart attacks (J Am Heart Assoc, April 2014;23;3(2)).
• Smoking increases risk for death from pneumonia (Chest, Oct 2014;146(4):1029-37).
A Lesson from Joe DiMaggio’s Sad End
Always be nice to your mate. You can lose a desired relationship to your own belligerency and lack of understanding of your own behavior. One of the best baseball players of all time lost the love of his life because of his own callousness, and he spent the rest of his life regretting it. By the time he realized how destructive his behavior was, it was too late for him to regain what he had lost.
November 25, 1914 – March 8, 1999