Baseball, A Bombshell and At-Home Baristas

by Derek Holser, Tastemaker in Residence

The mid-July heat is upon us, and the “Boys of Summer” have just finished the MLB All-Star Game, which began in 1933. Though baseball no longer commands the rapt attention of our nation like it once did, it remains a great sport with a culinary tradition and a celebrity panache that remains unique in its connection to the freedom and fun of summertime. 

The Spirited Table is all about the freedom and fun of summertime, and enjoys reminding everyone about our collective cultural history – especially when it can be shared over a fine cup of coffee and some great stories. Today, we celebrate a legend who married an icon, and smiled while endorsing a machine that ushered in a new age of coffee accessibility.   

His nickname was “Joltin’ Joe”. And 75 years ago, he concluded the greatest record in baseball history. He safely hit in his 56th straight game. Three-quarters of a century later, that record still stands, and has not really been challenged. 

An Italian-American during a time when Italians, Germans and Japanese faced skepticism and outright state-sponsored hostility and abuse, Joe DiMaggio played center field for the New York Yankees. In many ways, his talent forced him into a spotlight that he likely would not have sought. Yet, his prominence, as is often the case with “others” put a human face on a perceived threat and helped dispel fears and stereotypes about Italian fascists rising up in the US during World War II. 

As if his status as the captain of the world-famous Yankees wasn’t enough, three years after he retired from baseball, he married Marilyn Monroe. Yes, that Marilyn Monroe. 

For a brief moment, the country was infatuated with their infatuation. Unfortunately, their marriage was difficult with constant conflict and many misunderstandings. And like so many celebrity couples before and since, less than a year after saying “I do” in the San Francisco City Hall, they said “I’m done”. 

Dimaggio never married again and in many ways, continued to see himself as Marilyn’s protector and confidant. She struggled with psychiatric issues, and Joe was always there to encourage her, to try to steer her away from negative friends and influences. When she tragically died at age 36, Joe handled all the funeral arrangements. For the next 30+ years, Joe sent roses to her gravesite every few weeks. 

MLB Hall-of-Famer. Epic record-holder. Husband of Marilyn Monroe. Mr. Dimaggio had a remarkable life to be sure. But, his greatest cultural legacy, and his gift to all of us as we linger at The Spirited Table, is his decision to endorse a device that would revolutionize get-togethers and morning routines from New York to San Francisco. 

The year was 1973 and Vincent Marotta had invented an at-home “drip” coffee machine that automated the preparation of coffee by keeping a uniform brewing temperature. The new machine, dubbed “Mr. Coffee” needed a big-league endorsement to catch the public eye. As the story goes, Mr. Marotta simply called Joe Dimaggio and asked him to appear in TV ads for the new at-home coffee maker. Joe, a naturally introverted man, initially said no. A few days later, they met for lunch and as the children of Italian immigrants, they bonded and Joe agreed. Within one year of their handshake agreement, Mr. Coffee had sold over a million units, and America’s love affair with coffee took the next step in its journey. 

The next time you are hosting your own Spirited Table and you ask your friends and family if they’d like DeCaf or Regular while turning on your Keurig, Bunn, Cuisinart, or yes, a Mr. Coffee, remember Joltin’ Joe. The player with the charmed life and the perfect nickname for a caffeine spokesman was a true American legend. If he were here today, he’d probably sit down for a cup or two and a quiet conversation about the good things in all our lives and the importance of remembering those who’ve gone before and leaving things a little better for those who’ve yet to come.