Signs of DiMaggio's greatness

I have not seen copies of Joe DiMaggio's diary, which is about to be auctioned off by Brandon Steiner. But I'm wondering if a certain incident is included in Joe's daily jottings, which he wrote in longhand.

On Nov. 5, 1992, at the second annual Rawlings Gold Glove Awards ceremony at the Hilton Hotel, I witnessed DiMag pay particular attention to a ball he was signing because it was owned by someone special.

Before the dinner, we were all given Rawlings baseballs with gold stitching, to mark a special occasion.

At the dinner, I was seated in good company. DiMaggio was at the head of the table, as always. Included in our group were Dr. Rock Positano, who was then affiliated with the Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Rock was a good friend of Joe D's and has famed people like Henry Kissinger as his patients. Also there was Dick Burke, the owner of an Irish pub in Atlantic City and a close pal of Joe's.

Positano was telling us about Kissinger the baseball fan and how much he idolized DiMag as a young man. Likewise, Kissinger was a man DiMaggio always admired, yet the two had never met.

One day, Kissinger came to Positano's office for treatment of an old foot injury. On this particular day, DiMag had come to see the doctor on a social visit. Knowing the that doctor was with another patient, he waited in the outer office until the doctor came out and said, "Come in Joe. I want to introduce you to someone." Joe walked in, and when Kissinger saw him, he cried out, "Oh, my God, it's Joe DiMaggio!"

The two sat there in the doctor's office talking baseball for almost an hour. From that day on, DiMag and Henry became friends.

Now at the dinner, the baseballs were being passed around for autographs. Everybody was coming to Joe for his - children and adults alike. I was seated to Joe's right, so I had a good view.

As Joe signed, he was telling how he had asked for autographs on only one occasion. This was at a state dinner he attended at the White House during Ronald Reagan's presidency. In his home, Joe kept a baseball signed by Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, then the Russian prime minister. DiMaggio told me at the time that it was the only autographed baseball he ever owned.

Joe was flattered because Gorby had made a special point of asking Reagan to personally introduce him to the Yankee Clipper.

The line for Joe's signature was not getting any shorter. At one point, I heard a man with a familiar voice say, "Joe, would you sign this for me?" "Sure, Willie," Joe said with a smile.

By golly it was Willie Mays! Joe held the ball for awhile and pondered at what he should inscribe to Willie. It had to be something special, and it was. Joe personalized it with admiring words.

It was certainly a treat for me to witness this. Here were two of the greatest center fielders in baseball history and one was handing over an autographed baseball to the other.

I just hope that grand episode at the Hilton Hotel was recorded by Joe.

And, what do you suppose that ball owned by Joe and autographed by Reagan and Gorbachev could bring in at an auction?


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