His brother's death this weekend, coming right after the suspension of Manny Ramirez for drug use, recalls Joe DiMaggio as an American hero in a different century and a different world.
Dom, who died at 92, was one of three sons of an Italian immigrant fisherman to become major league baseball players and, like Joe, an All-Star. Family fame notwithstanding, after Pearl Harbor, the elder DiMaggios had to register as enemy aliens, were not allowed to travel more than five miles from home and had their fishing boat seized by the government.
In 1949, as the dominant figure in the game, Joe was the first to earn $100,000 in a time when players were indentured to their teams by law.
Now, in the era of free agency, Manny Ramirez will forfeit $7 million of his $25 million annual salary in a 50-game suspension for failing a drug test, a loss that far exceeds the total earnings of all the DiMaggios in their careers, adjusted for inflation any way you like.
But much more than money and drug use have changed. After he leaves the game, no one will be writing songs about Ramirez as Simon and Garfunkel did with "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you."
A few years after his retirement, I saw up close the mythic figure Joe DiMaggio had become. In a small gathering of friends, he was like a matador with an adoring entourage, saying little and smiling shyly.
A pair of middle-aged businessmen were brought in to shake hands and, posing for a Polaroid with DiMaggio's arms draped around them, years fell from their faces as they were boys again in the embrace of their idol.
Joe married Marilyn Monroe and, even after their divorce and her death, was sending flowers to her grave. In today's world, Alex Rodriguez has a brief affair with Marilyn wannabe Madonna that breaks up his marriage.
Years from now, A-Rod and Ramirez will still be rich and famous, but it's not likely that anyone will be writing songs about them.