EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/San Francisco gets jolted by DiMaggio estate
San Francisco has some nerve. The city decided that it would honor Joe DiMaggio, who grew up in its Italian North Beach community, by assigning his name to a park near his boyhood home. But city officials committed the ultimate error of presumption – they didn’t ask the lawyers.
How dumb is that? I mean, anybody knows if you want to name a park for someone, you’ve gotta call the lawyers.
As it turns out, Morris Engelberg, DiMaggio’s personal lawyer and the guy who acts as Keeper of the Famous DiMaggio Name, didn’t like the idea. In a noble attempt to defend the honor and good name of the man generations of Americans think of as the Mr. Coffee, Engelberg sued San Francisco. A park, Engelberg points out, even a park in which DiMaggio played ball as a boy, is kind of, well, let’s be honest here, small potatoes for a man who had a 56-game hitting streak.
Maybe, Engelberg suggested modestly, if the city wanted to rename one of its really nice bridges or, possibly, its airport, they could talk. But a park in an urban neighborhood? Don’t get me started. I mean, this is a guy who batted .325 over 13 seasons. And married Marilyn Monroe.
The city argues that it is within its rights in using DiMaggio’s name be-cause it is not doing so for commercial purposes. But Jeffrey Herman, the lawyer who represents DiMaggio’s estate, points out that, somewhere down the line, a Joe DiMaggio Park might be-come a big tourist attraction where they sell snowcones and cotton candy and people line up to have their pictures taken next to the Yankee Clipper teeter-totter. That, he points out, would make it “commercial.”
San Francisco is balking at the lawyers’ demands. “We’re going to ignore Morris Engelberg,” said Willie Brown, the city’s not-ignorable mayor.
Interestingly, Engelberg has managed to do something no one since Joe Montana has managed to do – unite the city. Famously and wackily fractured, San Francisco’s disparate communities have joined forces in condemnation of the poor man.
Meanwhile, Engelberg and Herman continue their crusade to make sure DiMaggio’s name gets the respect it deserves. They are doing this by hawking $3,000 autographed bats on that cable channel Pete Rose is always on. And by cutting up one of his Yankee uniforms from 1951, his last year in the majors, and putting little tiny pieces of it in packs with baseball cards that will now run you something like $248 – $260 if you want gum, too.
Not surprisingly, I have a solution. Although I have never lived in San Francisco, I have eaten dinner in the North Beach community where the park is, and it was really good. I’m liking the sound of Janet Ward Park.