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Published: Saturday, 3/31/2001

Biography plays softball with Joe DiMaggio

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

I REMEMBER JOE DiMAGGIO: PERSONAL MEMORIES OF THE YANKEE CLIPPER BY THE PEOPLE WHO KNEW HIM BEST. By David Cataneo. Cumberland House. 213 pages. $18.95.

Something other than the start of baseball season may have led to the publication of this book. Perhaps even something other than DiMaggio's death.

It may be no coincidence that soon after Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ben Cramer tore down the DiMaggio myth last year with his best-selling biography, Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life, this sentimental, soft-hearted collection of anecdotes appears.

Cataneo, a former baseball writer for the Boston Herald and lifelong New York Yankees fan, alludes briefly to Cramer's book in the final paragraph of his introduction. He said this book was in no way an attempt to duplicate Cramer's effort, and that it should be viewed more as an “impressionist painting of Joe DiMaggio.”

“It helps explain the goose bumps,” Cataneo wrote.

In this book, which is filled with flowery rhetoric, DiMaggio is treated with the same kid gloves and adulation he received for most of his life. That's fine, if you're simply looking for some light reading.

But it doesn't break new ground.

It does offer a platform for some of the people who knew DiMaggio.

Shortstop teammate Phil Ruzzuto recalls how DiMaggio asked him to accompany him out of Cleveland's old Municipal Stadium the night DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak ended.

Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter himself, admits that he at times was in awe of DiMaggio. Brother Dominic DiMaggio of the rival Boston Red Sox recalls his famous brother's last at-bat.

Toots Shor remembers how Joe found privacy in his Manhattan bar. Former New York Giants football star and announcer Frank Gifford describes DiMaggio as “one of the loneliest men I've ever met.”

But the highlights are few and far between. Cataneo seems willing to probe just a bit into the DiMaggio mystique, though clearly not with the verve and determination of Cramer. For all the work he put into this fan's guide - the numerous interviews, plus the research material he pulled together - it could have been a nifty package. Unfortunately, although the chapters are organized logically, Cataneo gets hemmed in by the format.

Ultimately, this is a for-the-record collection of thoughts for the baseball junkie. It's a fun read that may have started with good intentions, but in terms of serious journalism, it is just a little better than a weak tribute.



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