Joltin' Joe, Refusenik


Was the immortal Yankee Clipper a hypochondriac? The Smoking Gun digs up a document so hot it could have led to an American defeat in World War II—a 1945 medical report depicting Staff Sergeant Joe DiMaggio as, literally, a bellyaching malingerer:

Despite a cushy job as a physical instructor in the Army's Special Services division, DiMaggio–who saw no combat, was never shipped overseas, and spent many months stationed in Hawaii–exhibited a "defective attitude toward the service" and a "conscious attitude of hostility and resistance" when it came to his Army duties.

These withering critiques of DiMaggio came from two officers in the Army's Medical Corps. In separate reports written shortly before DiMaggio's discharge in September 1945, Major Emile G. Stoloff and Major William G. Barrett each portrayed DiMaggio, then 30, as someone whose "personal problems appeared to be of more consequence to him than his obligations to adjust to the demands of the service." At the time, DiMaggio had just divorced his wife, who had custody of the couple's young son. He was also distressed with his brother's operation of a California restaurant in which he had invested, terming his sibling's moves "a double-cross."

Depending on how much you believe an individual owes to the state, the full report may either sour or sweeten your opinion of Joltin' Joe, a prickly figure even under the best of circumstances. I'm pretty sure there must be something wrong with a man who inspired some of the most excruciating prose/poetry ever to come out of Ernest Hemingway, John Fogerty and Simon and/or Garfunkel (to name just a few), but I found myself pretty much rooting for Number 5 throughout. He'd been in the Army Air Corps for nearly three years, by his own description used only for useless exhibition baseball games and nebulously defined physical training tasks. That he blamed the demands of military service for his inability to salvage his troubled marriage may have been a weak excuse, but it's hard to blame a 30-year-old for wanting to live the life of a grownup rather than do time on a base in Atlantic City.

Throw into the mix that DiMaggio's parents—permanent residents who became U.S. citizens during the war—were tagged as enemy aliens and prevented from traveling or pursuing a livelihood, and it's pretty thick to expect the Clipper to stand up and cheer for a war effort that scotched what would certainly have been three of his best seasons. The best you can say is that Ted Williams had it even worse.

Then again, maybe his stomach ailment was just the result of eating the scampi at DiMaggio's On the Wharf: