Wednesday, April 18, 2012

AUTOGRAPH MEMORIES: JOE DiMAGGIO

ONE OF THE BEST LOOKING AUTOGRAPHS AROUND.
I got Joe DiMaggio's autograph at a 1989 charity golf tournament in Tampa. On that beautiful March morning, I also got Tampa native and fellow Hall of Famer Al Lopez. 

But I had come for DiMaggio. To me, he was Gordon Gekko and I Bud Fox, determined to bag the elephant. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch Wall Street.

Anyway, after snagging Lopez on the putting green, I saw two other autograph seekers scurrying near the clubhouse door that led to a covered porch right in front of the putting green. The door opens. It's DiMaggio looking solemn but dapper and carrying golf shoes. He sat down on a bench and proceeded to slowly put on his spikes, making sure they were tied just so.

As the two approached, I got behind them. When DiMaggio was done fussing with his shoes, one asked if he had time to sign. DiMaggio looked past him and the other guy and sternly at me.

"Anyone gets behind you, tell them I'm not signing anymore.''

Great. He picks me to be his autograph bouncer. Maybe his three-autograph limit at golf tournaments was a universally known DiMaggio fact because nobody else joined us.

So he proceeded to sign for the three of us. For the first two, he asked who to make the autograph out to. Hmm, I thought, I hope he doesn't ask me. I want a single-signed non-personalized ball.

My turn.

"Who do you want this made out to?''

I almost chickened out but held my ground.

"Could you just sign your name?''

He shot daggers at me, an icy stare I can still remember and compare to a teacher who caught you cheating. I didn't say anything more and neither did he. I was pretty sure I'd blown the chance to get an American icon's autograph -- and send him pissed off to the first tee to boot. However, he looked down at the ball and reluctantly signed on the sweet spot.

I'm not sure my heart ever pounded as hard as it did then. I mean, this was The Yankee Clipper, the man who hit in 56 consecutive games, swatted 361 homers but struck out only 369 times and got it on with the most famous sex symbol of all time. He also allegedly was one of the world's worst tippers, tossing nickels around like manhole covers, but nobody's perfect.

I wish he would've been a little less curt, but it was still cool to be in his presence and get him to do something he didn't want to do, which pretty much never happened, from what I've read. My wife and I also got him at the '90 tournament (on a book and a lithograph); that time he signed from his golf cart and seemed in a slightly better mood. Maybe he liked his foursome better.

Funny how he wanted to personalize autographs; yet, he was probably one of the most distant human beings ever. I know. He didn't want schleps making money off his signature. Well, mine's not for sale.

To Joe DiMaggio: Thanks. Sincerely, Dean Yobbi.

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