When The Queen said, ‘No’ to The Great DiMaggio

Human beings routinely take a good deal of comfort in the debatable notion that people’s behavior and resulting fortunes are governed by this invisible force that works to balance things out over time, with a vigilant eye toward equal justice for those often determined to have run roughshod over their fellow man.

Thus, the expression “What goes around, comes around” has developed a good deal of currency and widespread use despite all of the evidence suggesting that a rather considerable array of misdeeds of virtually every description often goes unpunished.

Still, it’s comforting for Homo sapiens to cling to the fanciful idea there’s still justice to be had, if not necessarily from the traditional avenues.

What prompted this slightly tortured preamble was a wonderful passage in a book I am reading. Andrea Mitchell, veteran NBC correspondent, in 2005 wrote Talking Back … to Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels.
In recounting a visit of The Queen of England to the U.S. in mid-May of 1991, Mitchell wrote of being in the owner’s box at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, one of the great, blue-collar ballparks that managed to survive on the major league scene until 1991.

Anyway, Mitchell told of Joe DiMaggio being among the notables on hand at the park to mingle with The Queen, who was there at the invitation of the first President Bush. According to the author, DiMaggio pulled a baseball out of his jacket and handed it to one of the Queen’s flunkies (my word, not hers), asking if she might provide The Yankee Clipper, perhaps as close to American royalty as we ever get, with an autograph.

As the story goes, the request was passed along, but the baseball eventually made its way back to Joe, sans signature. “The Queen does not sign baseballs,” he was reportedly told.

Given Joe’s often bittersweet but iconic relationship with the hobby for the better part of two decades, reportage of somebody turning him down for a signature is pretty refreshing.

I still remember Moose Skowron characterizing DiMaggio in surprisingly unflattering terms several years back as we waited for our flight at the Philadelphia airport. Moose had been a guest at Bob Schmeirer’s famed Philly Show, and had graciously provided a good deal of time for an interview at the show in Fort Washington, Pa.

As we chatted in the terminal, the topic turned to DiMaggio, or more specifically Skowron’s hardly unique view that his old teammate Mickey Mantle had been much more beloved by former Yankees than DiMaggio. Skowron recalled an instance on a plane when Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, arguably one of the nicest former players you will ever encounter, had asked to have DiMaggio sign a ball for Killebrew’s granddaughter, and had been unceremoniously turned down.

That so offended Moose’s sensibilities about the proper decorum among that special fraternity of former MLB players that he concluded the story with the observation that, “Joe was no good.”

The other thing the story about The Queen’s well-honed instincts on royal decorum  made me think about was the Pete Rose “I am sorry I bet on baseball” inscription from a couple of years ago. How cool would it have been if DiMaggio had taken the ball that The Queen had declined to sign and then signed it himself with the notation “This is the ball that The Queen refused to sign.”
Now that sounds like a collector’s item to me.

*  *  *  *  *

What is it with me and Bob Cerv, anyway? A couple of years ago, I noticed that the 1960 Topps Bob Cerv in my 1960 set was kind of starkly beat up in relation to his colleagues. That tragic situation was quickly addressed by my dear friend, Larry Fritsch, who died at the end of last year. Faster than kiss a duck, Larry sent me a nice 1960 Cerv, which now graces my set.
So now, in the course of looking over my 1956 set, I see that the Cerv card there is pretty obviously trimmed. Geez, the guy is getting on my nerves.

I assume it all traces back to an article I wrote about 1959 Topps complaining that Topps gave Cerv card No. 100 in that issue, while my guy Henry Aaron got stuck with No. 380. Ever since I wrote that, decrepit Cerv cards have been turning up in my life with alarming frequency.

And, no, this isn’t a fiendishly clever, backdoor way of getting somebody to send me one for free. I’ll pick up one at my next show in a couple of weeks or, even better, from one of our advertisers in the pages of SCD.

T.S. O’Connell is the editor of Sports Collectors Digest. Reach him by e-mail at: thomas.o’connell@fwpubs.com; or (715) 445-2214, ext. 243.

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