One perfectly sunny Thursday in San Francisco I crashed the funeral of Joe DiMaggio, the elegant Yankee Clipper. It was in invite-only service; the hubbub in the park across the street was that none of the Yankees had been invited. My location was Washington Square Park, a huge green space across Filbert Street from the twin-spired Saints Peter and Paul Church. All of us fans, reporters, TV trucks, and gawkers were sandwiched between orange cones. I surveyed the park crowd a few times for George Steinbrenner.
I showed up after the start so I missed the seven limousines pulling in front of the church around ten that morning, shuttling 50 DiMaggio family members and friends to the service. The word on the grass was that the presiding priest had known DiMaggio since the two grew up together. Joe’s surviving sibling, Dominic, would be giving the eulogy.
Even though the blocks of mourners were behind a police barricade, it wasn’t just a crowd of lookie loos. A lot of ballplayers and ballplayer’s kids were standing among us in the grassy North Beach park. This was San Francisco’s Italian enclave where DiMaggio spent his childhood; so many people here were neighbors with some connection to him.
I had to get closer. I wanted to be a part of the funeral, not just a lawn-gawker drinking a Diet Pepsi in a park. I moved closer and resorted to obvious measures: I flirted with a security guy and he let me in the parish offices to the left of the cathedral to use the bathroom. He thought I was going to come out again and give him my number, but I stayed, perched on my temporary kneeler of a toilet inside the church and strained to hear the majesty of “Ave Maria.” My cover was blown when Mr. Rejection narked on me and a female guard banged on the stall door. Out to the street I went. I rejoined my park mates in time to shout “Bravo!” and applaud as Joltin’ Joe was carried out of the cathedral in a masculine brown casket.