Misery filled baseball star's days in isles during WWII
  • Thursday, May 23, 2019
  • 80°
Hawaii News

Misery filled baseball star’s days in isles during WWII

  • STAR-ADVERTISER FILE
    Staff Sgt. Joe DiMaggio, right, hung out with tenor Guido Salmaggi at an Army club house at the University of Hawaii during World War II.
  • U.S. NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION
    Army Air Force Sgt. Joe DiMaggio, left, and Navy Chief Specialist Harold "Pee Wee" Reese posed with commanding officers before the Central Pacific Area Service Championship on July 7, 1944. Recently released reports reveal DiMaggio was unhappy about playing exhibition baseball and resented the interruption of his career.
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"Joltin’" Joe DiMaggio thrilled Honolulu baseball fans in 1944 when he was in the 7th Army Air Force and stationed at Hickam Field during World War II.

One of the stories told about the famed "Yankee Clipper" is that he and other Major League Baseball players were taken to Honolulu Stadium shortly after arriving to play in an exhibition game.

Lore holds that DiMaggio hit a long home run over the left-field fence that nearly killed a man reading the paper on his front stoop.

Fans at the game went wild.

But DiMaggio wasn’t happy on the ship ride over, and his mood didn’t improve any during the 5 1/2 months he spent in Hawaii — despite the fact that he was thousands of miles from combat.

"DiMaggio wasn’t in a mood to enjoy the voyage (to Hawaii)," wrote Richard Ben Cramer in "Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life." "Every day he was on that ship (and) for as long as he had to stay in Hawaii, for that matter, he was losing time, money and hope."

While DiMaggio provided a morale boost on the field, newly released medical documents show the famous Yankee spent a lot of time complaining about his military service and was frequently seeing doctors for stress and gastrointestinal problems off the field.

DiMaggio arrived in Hawaii in early June 1944, and on July 9 he was admitted to the station hospital at Hickam for eight days, medical documents show.

The website The Smoking Gun recently obtained the medical and psychiatric reports after filing a freedom of information request with the Army.

On July 27 DiMaggio was again hospitalized and returned to duty a month later.

He was rehospitalized Sept. 4 for two weeks. Another hospital trip on Oct. 12 led to a stay at Tripler General Hospital for four days.

Diagnoses pointed to anxiety tension, gastric problems and at one point, a determination that DiMaggio had an ulcer — which was later medically questioned.

The 30-year-old staff sergeant continued to be hospitalized in Atlantic City, N.J., and elsewhere on the mainland, and in July 1945, a psychiatric report was completed.

"Although he denies nervous or mental disability, he admits that he has always been moody, and it would appear that he has always been high-strung, irritable, easily aroused and quick-tempered," the report states.

DiMaggio, who famously went on to marry Marilyn Monroe, was preoccupied with the breakup of a previous marriage and worries that his brother was mismanaging a restaurant in California.

DiMaggio definitely didn’t like the public relations role he was fulfilling.

"When he was in Honolulu, for instance, he felt he was exploited by being put on exhibition, and, what is more, he feels not to the profit of the Army but rather to increase the income of civilians by gate receipts," the psychiatric report states. "He feels that he should have been utilized at all times as a physical instructor, and shows a definite aversion to playing baseball while in the Army."

DiMaggio also felt his ulcer warranted separation from the Army.

The ballplayer’s comments "showed contradictions and defective attitude toward the service which were rationalized by his allegations of mishandling by the service," concluded Maj. Emile Stoloff, chief of neuropsychiatry.

In 1943 DiMaggio gave up a salary of more than $40,000 with the Yankees and was making $50 a month as an Army enlisted man.

According to the blog "Baseball in Wartime," Army Chief of Staff George Marshall found out in 1944 that 280 former Major League players were still assigned to domestic bases. Marshall ordered them overseas, and Hawaii became a first stop for many, the blog said.

Military commanders began taking the baseball games "very seriously" and stacked their Army and Navy teams in Hawaii with the best talent they could find, according to the official Joe DiMaggio website.

DiMaggio’s Army team included Red Ruffing, Johnny Beazley and Joe Gordon. The Navy team had Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese and Johnny Mize, to name a few.

In 1944 the Pacific Service World Series was held with 11 games.

Raeford Broome, now 85, remembers the fourth game of the series at Furlong Field at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay. DiMaggio was one of the draws, he said.

Broome, who lives in North Carolina, said he was an aviation ordnanceman with a B-24 Liberator bomber squadron.

"It was exciting to see all those ballplayers," Broome said. "Baseball was king back then."

Broome said so many people came out for the game that "they were hanging from the rafters. It really, really went over big."

The Army team managed to win only two games in the series.

David Jones wrote in "Joe DiMaggio: A Biography" that "DiMaggio resented the war with an intensity equal to the most battle-scarred private. It had robbed him of the best years of his career. When he went into the Army, DiMaggio had been a 28-year-old superstar, still at the height of his athletic powers. By the time he was discharged from the service, he was nearly 31, divorced, underweight, malnourished, and bitter. Those three years, 1943 to 1945, would carve a gaping hole in DiMaggio’s career totals, creating an absence that would be felt like a missing limb."

Baseball-reference.com said DiMaggio was in 10 World Series and was named to 13 All-Star teams, but his statistics would have been even better had he not missed several years due to World War II.

 

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