Home of the Game|
The Story of Camden Yards
by Thom Loverro
Taylor, 1999 | Buy the book
Chapter 7 | THE STREAK
Joe Foss and John Angelos hurried through the terminal at
the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. They were
two men in a hurry to make sure they met a very important person as he
came off the plane -- Joe DiMaggio, the ultimate in baseball royalty.
They were running late, and the last thing you want to do is be late
for DiMaggio, a very particular man. They wanted to make sure that
everything went particularly right for this particular man, who was coming
to Baltimore for a very particular event: Cal Ripken's long-anticipated,
record-setting 2,131st consecutive game, which would break Lou Gehrig's
long-standing mark of 2,130 straight games. The event was shaping up to
have huge implications. Baseball had reached an historic low after the
worst strike in sports history resulted in the cancellation of the 1994
playoffs and World Series.
But to truly put the stamp of tradition and class on the celebration
to come at Camden Yards -- a fitting place for such drama -- on this night of
September 6, 1995, Joe DiMaggio would have to be there. He was a teammate
of Gehrig's and would be the link between the two iron men. Even without
that connection, it would be important to have DiMaggio on hand. He was
one of the legendary figures of the twentieth century, immortalized in
song by Paul Simon by the line "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" He had
married and then was divorced by the biggest sex symbol in the history of
Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe. He was considered one of the greatest and most
graceful players in the game at a time when baseball was truly the
national pastime. He was the leader of those great New York Yankee teams.
Other players had better numbers, but the image of Joe DiMaggio is one of
baseball excellence and consummate style.
Privately, DiMaggio was considered a reclusive, eccentric man,
distrustful of all but a few close confidants. He refused to let people
into his life to get a look at anything other than the pristine DiMaggio
image he had cultivated and guarded for so many years. A man like this
doesn't like to be kept waiting. So John Angelos, the son of Baltimore
Orioles owner Peter Angelos, ran ahead of Joe Foss, vice chairman of the
Orioles, to make sure someone greeted DiMaggio as he got off the plane.
The eighty-one-year-old DiMaggio was just coming out when John
Angelos reached the gate. He greeted DiMaggio, who was alone, and got an
airport cart to take him through the terminal to pick up his luggage at
the baggage claim on the lower level. As they waited for DiMaggio's bags
to come out, a man in his sixties approached DiMaggio for his autograph.
"I stood back and watched this scene," Foss said. "I knew DiMaggio had
this reputation as being difficult to approach, and I wanted to see what
happened. The guy approached DiMaggio with great reverence, and DiMaggio
treated him beautifully," Foss said. "It was a baseball, and DiMaggio said
he would be happy to sign it."
People were starting to notice DiMaggio, and others began asking him
for autographs as well. "He was polite and signed them all," Foss said.
"Then the same man who had gotten the ball signed came back asking for
another autograph. Well, this guy had crossed the line. DiMaggio stared at
him, and the look could have bored a hole through his head. 'Didn't I just
sign one for you?' DiMaggio asked the guy, and the guy backed off."
DiMaggio, Foss, and Angelos got into a stretch limousine heading for
Harborcourt Hotel, about a block from Camden Yards, where the Orioles
owned a suite that DiMaggio would stay in. Foss told him that there was
going to be a VIP reception before the game at the B&O Warehouse, and he
was welcome to come if he wanted to. "I told him we didn't expect him to
come, but if he wanted to he was more than welcome," Foss said. "We were
thrilled just to have him at the game. I told him he could join us in our
private suite to watch the game, and if he didn't mind joining us on the
field after the game, he would be introduced
as Gehrig's teammate. All he would have to do is wave and not say
DiMaggio asked some questions about the party, and told Foss he
would like to go. Then he surprised the Orioles vice chairman before
leaving the limo. "I'd like to say a couple of words if I could after the
game, if that's all right." DiMaggio told Foss.
"It was like I died and went to heaven," Foss said. "We
never expected him to say anything. We were just grateful that
DiMaggio, though, had seen enough in baseball over the years to know
when something special was about to happen. On September 6, 1995,
something special would happen that would immortalize Cal Ripken and make
Camden Yards the center of the baseball universe.
From Home of the Game: The Story of Camden Yards Copyright © 1999 by Thom Loverro. Used by permission.