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What Did Joe DiMaggio Eat?

April 10, 2013 Carlino's Restaurant no comments

“Joe’s life was a rags-to-riches story in the greatest American tradition”

One of the greatest baseball players in history and a cultural icon off the field as well, “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio was an American legend with Italian roots. Born Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, he eventually Anglicized his name, but he never lost his appreciation for the home-cooked Italian food he ate as a child. His reputation for staying close to his fans meant he often visited the same restaurants and sidewalk food stands they enjoyed, a fact that must have stunned other diners who recognized the handsome athlete at a neighboring table.

Joe’s early life as the eighth son of first-generation Italian-American parents meant he grew up on a combination of traditional southern Italian fare and classic early 20th-century American dishes. During the first World War when he was still a toddler, his family observed the same “meatless Mondays” that most families did to conserve resources for the war effort. The colorful Sicilian and southern Italian meals his mother made kept meatless Mondays from becoming dull and helped the young DiMaggio grow into the promising young athlete he would become.

Today, professional athletes depend on a team of nutritionists and dietitians to counsel their eating habits, but Joe came from a different era. The previous baseball great, Babe Ruth, was famous for his dietary indulgences, but DiMaggio ate a training diet that plenty of present-day athletes would find fairly familiar. With plenty of meat and eggs for protein and pasta or other carbohydrates for fuel, Joe’s usual menu during his career wasn’t too far off from the training tables in today’s MBA or NFL facilities, albeit with more red meat and dairy foods. He also appreciated an all-American New York hot dog or three.

Despite his fame as one of the best athletes ever to play the game, DiMaggio wasn’t content to be a hero on the baseball diamond. In 1943, he enlisted in the Air Force. Although he didn’t see combat duty and mostly participated in exhibition games and morale-boosting events, he still played a key role in the war effort and sought to do more. When he realized his relatively soft life had actually put ten pounds on his lanky frame instead of whipping him into shape, he requested a combat rotation but was declined. Just before the war’s end in 1945, DiMaggio was discharged for stomach ulcers, a problem for which doctors of the time recommended drinking plenty of milk and forgoing spicy foods.

If the Yankee Clipper was famous for his incredible performance on the field, especially his still-unbeaten 56-game hitting streak, he later married someone else at least as famous for her performances on the silver screen: Marilyn Monroe. She was initially reluctant to meet him, but when they met in 1954, her reservations about his being a typical athlete melted away; he was gracious, humble and gentlemanly. Their marriage lasted less than a year, but despite their incredibly high-profile personas, they tried to lead a normal married life, often cooking dinner together when their schedules permitted. One of their favorite foods was a simple broiled steak with a salad or some carrots on the side.

All of Joe’s life was a rags-to-riches story in the greatest American tradition, but he never lost the humility that kept him grounded. He frequented the meat-and-potatoes men’s club Toots Shor’s rather than Sardi’s and purportedly preferred a hot dog from a street vendor or a plate of garlicky spaghetti to the overly refined fare that was considered stylish in the 1950s and ’60s. After he ate, he’d often give interviews or sign autographs, never tiring of his fans; in turn, they respected the great man enough to let him eat his chops or meatballs in peace.

With his natural grace and quiet humility, DiMaggio was an American legend, but his Italian heritage helped endear him to the Italian-American community.

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