Baseball Books Reviewed: The DiMaggios

The DiMaggios:Three Brothers, Their Passion for Baseball, Their Pursuit of the American Dream by Tom Clavin. (Harper Collins, 320 pg., $25.99). HB, 2013.

     Quick! Take a glance at your baseball bookshelf, and see how many DiMaggio books you own. You have Kostya Kennedy’s 56, the 2011 Casey winner, don’t you, as well as Richard Ben Cramer’s 2000 Casey nominee, the brilliant Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life? How ‘bout Joe and Marilyn by Roger Kahn, or David Halberstam’s The Teammates, or even the more elusive Joe DiMaggio: A Bio-Bibliography by Jack B. Moore, Casey nominees all?
     Of course, there are dozens more books of varying quality and utility written about at least one member of baseball’s most famous family, so perhaps the greatest challenge that veteran writer Tom Clavin was able to conquer was to convince Harper Collins to publish yet another addition to the DiMaggio canon. The author of two previous baseball biographies, the popular 2010 treatment of Roger Maris and the 2012 Casey nominated Gil Hodges, Clavin has once again presented an engaging, easily digestible, and well-researched treatment of an enigmatic American icon and his two less-famous siblings.
     Interestingly enough, the way Clavin incorporates the previous fine work of some of baseball literature’s finest practitioners becomes simultaneously one of the book’s strengths and weaknesses. While other authors choose to paraphrase liberally, then simply list a bibliography in the endnotes, Clavin quotes passages directly and credits authorship and title within the text itself, clearly the more honorable method. However, while whetting the appetite for revisiting those classic books, this also reveals that indeed, nearly all of the topics addressed in The DiMaggios, especially those dealing with middle brother Joe, have already been eloquently mined in greater detail. There’s really not much new most knowledgeable baseball readers will learn about Marilyn Monroe’s ex-husband.
     Wisely spending as little time as possible with the box scores, Clavin does spend more effort fleshing out the pre- and post-baseball lives of Vince and Dom, the older and youngest of the ball playing brothers, and it’s clear that Clavin has sympathy for the difficulties Vince encountered after his playing days were finished. But the obvious hero of this story is Dom, “The Little Professor”, portrayed here as an intelligent, fiercely competitive, and underappreciated Boston Red Sox fan favorite who might very well have earned more consideration Hall of Fame election consideration had he not been overshadowed by his brother’s brilliance.
     The most interesting and least repeated portion of the DiMaggio story – their relationships with each other once they all left the game – is unfortunately far too brief, encompassing just the last forty or so pages of the book, and again, we see Dominic emerge as the patriarch of the family and a very successful businessman, contrasted sharply by Vince’s struggles with alcohol and Joe’s slide into eccentricity.
     The DiMaggios serves as a solid, one-volume summation of the iconic Italian-American baseball trio, a great starting point for those unfamiliar with their story beyond the strains of Simon and Garfunkel and Mr. Coffee commercials.  
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