They are unimaginably distant figures whose reigns and lives still somehow revealed something about our ownby Benjamin Markovits / December 10, 2019 / Leave a comment
Long after he’d retired, the great American baseball player Joe DiMaggio was being driven around rural New England looking for the autograph show where he was supposed to sign merchandise. He got lost, and his manager, who was at the wheel, pulled over by the side of the road to ask directions. Middle of nowhere, some farmer on his tractor. “You go right ahead until you see the silo on your right, and then you take—”
In the middle of this recital, the farmer leaned over the open window to look at the guy in the passenger seat. “I see ya, Joe,” he said, and then finished his directions. The point of the story was to say something about the kind of respect DiMaggio inspired. But also how you had to acknowledge somehow that you knew who he was, intimately. I see ya, Joe.
DiMaggio retired in 1951. He’s most famous now for his brief marriage to Marilyn Monroe, and for the 56-game hitting streak he went on in 1941, which some statisticians consider to be the most remarkable feat in American sports. Also, for his brief mention in the Simon and Garfunkel song “Mrs Robinson”: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”
DiMaggio, Simon wrote after his death in 1999, represented the values of a certain type of America: “excellence and fulfilment of duty (he often played in pain), combined with a grace that implied a purity of spirit, an off-the-field dignity and a jealously guarded private life.”
When did people start to think this way? At what point in human history did ballplayers take up the space traditionally occupied by kings and queens—unimaginably distant figures whose reigns and lives still somehow revealed something about our own?
Who wins or loses a match has nothing to do with you, but these things become part of you anyway. My nephew is about to turn seven. Two years ago he got obsessed with English football and for some reason picked Liverpool (he lives in Connecticut) as his team. Last year they missed the title by a single point, and this year they’re odds-on…