Column: Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

10/07/2018 6:01 AM |

At stake on July 17, 1941, was more than an extension of his already-famous hitting streak. When the great Yankee Clipper Joe DiMaggio arrived that day at Cleveland Stadium, a massive crowd of 67,468 awaited to see if he could extend his hitting streak to 57 games.

Unbeknownst to everyone at the ballpark that day, DiMaggio had an offer for $10,000 on the table if he could hit safely in one more game. The offer was part of a promotion from Heinz to endorse their Heinz 57 products, as Richard Ben Cramer recounted in the book “The Hero’s Life.”

The big crowd that day witnessed history by seeing the streak end; DiMaggio went 0-3 with a walk. All these years later, the closest another hitter has gotten to match that streak is 45.

Eddie Amodeo of Calverton often thinks back to that game and the streak. It was that 57th game that Mr. Amodeo has been so fascinated with over the past decade.

“One of the players after the game, they saw Joe DiMaggio roll up a piece of paper and throw it in the garbage,” Amodeo said. “And so for the heck of it, he walked over there, opened it up, and sure enough, it was a letter talking about the $10,000.”

The next day after DiMaggio’s streak ended, a famous artist from London named Burris Jenkins drew a large cartoon in honor of the historic moment. The cartoon depicted a sea battle. A ship on the bottom left was labeled “Smith and Bagby,” in reference to the Indians’ pitchers Al Smith and Jim Bagby. Another ship in the distance was labeled “Yankee Clippers.” An image of DiMaggio batting in the clouds hovers above the sea and on the left side it reads “The 57th Game!”

The artist wrote on the bottom:

“Compliments

Burris Jenkins

7/18/41”

It was back in 2007 at a yard sale in Wading River when Mr. Amodeo stumbled upon the hidden treasure.

“I said to the lady at the yard sale, ‘Where did you get this?’ he recalled. “She said, ‘Well, that’s from my grandfather.’ ”

She asked for $5 for it and he offered her $2. She accepted.

From there, Mr. Amodeo began researching the poster, which was framed in laminate. He couldn’t find anything specifically related to the poster he had found. It was as if he had the only copy.

He brought it to an appraiser who estimated it might be worth about $1,500. That was a decade ago.

“I didn’t know what to do with it,” he said.

Mr. Amodeo, who grew up a Yankees fan and has lived in Calverton since 1973, connected with a Yankees official who deals with merchandising. From there, he connected with DiMaggio’s granddaughter Paula Hamra and her husband, Jim. They referred him to DiMaggio’s estate lawyer, Morris Engelberg, who co-wrote the book “DiMaggio: Setting the Record Straight.”

Around that time, Mr. Amodeo contacted the Baseball Hall of Fame to gauge interest from the museum. He sent the museum a picture and they requested to see the original. He brought it to Cooperstown for a curator to examine. And then it needed to be brought in front of the museum’s board.

“About two weeks later, he said they loved it,” Mr. Amodeo said.

In the meantime, Mr. Amodeo and Mr. Engelberg were going back and forth about potential licensing agreements related to the poster. Mr. Amodeo had prints made that he hoped he could sell. Mr. Engelberg eventually agreed to gift a licensing agreement.

Mr. Amodeo, a disabled veteran who had served in Vietnam and then the Air National Guard for 25 years, hoped to distribute some of the poster prints to charities and possibly sell a few.

“I have probably about six left,” he said.

He’s hoping now to get in touch with the Yankees again and the Indians to distribute some 8 x 10s of the poster.

The original remains in possession of the Hall of Fame under the title “DiMaggio’s Streak cartoon.”

Mr. Amodeo, who has trouble traveling these days, hopes to make it up to the Hall of Fame one more time to see the original. A spokesperson for the Hall of Fame said the poster is not currently on display. The museum currently has about 40,000 “three-dimensional pieces,” which include artwork, and only about 15 percent are on display at a given time.

“I would love to see it,” Mr. Amodeo said.

By now, Mr. Amodeo said his wife, Beverly, has grown tired of his fascination with the poster.

“She wants to shoot me with this Joe DiMaggio thing,” he said with a laugh. “I had a passion for it. It’s been a long project.”

Photo caption: A print of the Joe DiMaggio poster. (Courtesy photo)

The author is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at 631-354-8049 or [email protected].

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