One Son and One Collector Honor Yankees Bullpen Catcher Joe DiGangi

The hobby will never forget the late Joe DiGangi. This blog recalled the extraordinary efforts of the torchbearer of Yankees history with a June 23 post. Two follow-up responses need to be shared, the second from Mr. DiGangi’s own son.

BBTL friend Tony O’Neill wrote:

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this post. My response from Mr. DiGangi is among my very favorites. I sent him 2 4×6 photos of himself with Joe DiMaggio and Bill Dickey as well as a 1933 Yankee team photo previously signed by Bill Werber. I received back from him a Yankees emblem with his name that he signed, a photo of him with Tommy Lasorda,signed. A 1941 Yankee team photo which he wrote

“I am not in this photo since minor league players came from Newark and Kansas City to look them over. I and two others had to take a back seat after all the work we did all year long. PS I got $500 for my cut.”

I am assuming he was talking about the Yankees looking over some minor leaguers, and his World Series cut.

I also received from him a photo of himself catching while the Babe was taking a swing during spring training in 1933. Also a copy of the famous “Lou Gehrig Luckiest Man” speech photo, which he was in the bullpen warming up Red Ruffing.

In his letter (Nov 6, 2008) he apologized for taking so long as his wife suffered a stroke 2 months previous. He asked me to keep her in my prayers. He also stated she was on the good side of it all now. Joe said that being in the same clubhouse as Babe Ruth, and Babe giving Joe a new pair of spikes sure made a hit with him. Joe called Babe “Mr Baseball” of his day, and the whole team in general was great. He told me he went to war and played baseball in Oahu, Hawaii and Honolulu with his Seabee team and played the other service teams. He stated he worked hard but had lots of fun in Hawaii. He then went to the Marshall Islands for 9 months, and then on to Saigon for 13 months. The war ended and he went back to Brooklyn. He finally closed by telling me to write him anytime, and signed for him and his wife, Connie.”

Everyone found Joe DiGangi to be an autograph collector’s best friend. How could someone have such enthusiasm for the game he left more than 60 years earlier? His son provided additional insights with this moving letter:

“Thank you for the kind letter about my Dad –Joseph DiGangi —who was the Bullpen Catcher for the Yankees from 1933 to 1942.

Indeed there are those who measure an autograph’s worth only by the yardstick of who was on the roster of a particular team or who was on a certain baseball card in a certain year—

They actually missed the Real Game by not approaching my Father while he was still alive and asking for his story.

He was the personification of the Game—he played at a time– 1933—- with a team whose history will never be repeated–

That special 1933 Yankee team has most members of any team– in any league in history —to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame– and that is indeed my old man is sitting in the front row of the 1933 Team picture. How many son’s can say that.??

It was never an issue with him that he was just the bullpen warm up catcher and didn’t have a number on his pinstripes or that he only made $1,200. a year showing up for Home Games. The Pride he carried was from the fact that he actually wore the Yankee Pinstripes and he knew only a very few men could ever lay claim to that.

That Pride was in the broken fingers of his hands–fingers broken by Lou Gehrig’s foul tips during batting practice—

Yet those crippled and claw shaped fingers scrawled out hundreds of hand written historical letters –often written in pencil–often several pages long—sent to any true believer of the Game who requested it.

His letters described the Pride of what it was like to be be a dirt poor kid from Brooklyn — to take the subway on Game Day to the Stadium–to Yankee Stadium–to the House That Ruth Built and to suit up with all the Greats; to spend an afternoon playing a Game that will never be forgotten or ever be repeated–

He was actually there –right where we can only try to imagine being —to be there to toss the ball with the Babe–to get him cigars and the occasional belt—to be alone on the field after each 1941 Game pitching hundreds of batting practice balls to Joe DiMaggio so that he could continue on with his Streak–and to be an eyewitness to that special sad day when Gehrig made his famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium–

And maybe most importantly –that Pride came from knowing he was a real part of history and that his being there at that very moment actually mattered to men who we can only read about and admire in history books.

That’s Yankee Pride– and he had it.

He shared that Pride with those who took the time to listen to his stories. He gave away hundreds of Yankee pictures to hundreds of young boys and to hundreds of old men. He even gave a few to a couple of Presidents. And every one of them knew he was the real deal—He was the guy from Brooklyn –who played the Game –when it truly was a Game.

That was my Dad.

Best wishes Joseph DiGangi Jr.”

Thanks to Zell’s TTM Autographs for use of this image — a couple of Joes!

Remembering 1933-42 Yankees Bullpen Catcher Joe DiGangi, Autograph All-Star

“I only collect players!”

“He wasn’t on any cards!”

Collectors who limit themselves miss out on so many possibilities.

Exhibit A is Joe DiGangi, who passed away at age 94 in 2009.

Before you run for your baseball encyclopedia, know that DiGangi never played a major league game. However, he was a part of those great New York Yankees teams from 1933-42. For a little pay and the some of the best seats in Yankee Stadium, Joe worked as a bullpen catcher. He was there warming up a pitcher when Lou Gehrig made his “luckiest man” farewell. DiGangi saw DiMaggio’s hit streak.

Best of all, he wrote about it all! After appearing in a 2007 New York Times article, collectors tracked down the retiree, sharing his address. Joe lavished every letter with insights on Yankee greats he knew and worked with. He photocopied his scrapbook, showing himself pictured with pinstriped superstars.

Listen to a couple of the luckiest collectors, those who wrote to the non-player when they could:

Kevin Rozell writes an impressive Yankees blog. He shared an image of what Joe sent.

“He was a part of Yankees lore and one of the last people who had contact with some of the greatest players to ever put on the pinstripes. I thought his story was fascinating,” Kevin recalled.

“He sent me a nice letter, included some great photos and signed them. I sent him a letter back, thanking him for everything he sent me.”

Just look at the inspiring Edwin’s Autographs Through the Mail, and the jackpot struck with a letter to DiGangi. (The blog contains some awesome examples of customized index cards, too, but that’s a rave for another day…)

From Collector Tom Cipollo:

“Here is what Joe Digangi did for me. I wrote to him probably 3-4 times. He sent me some cards (around 10) of players in that era including catcher Bill Dickey, a photo re-print (card sized) of the Babe with Gary Cooper in 1942, a custom index card the he made or someone made for him and he signed that, a computer printout of a phote of himself with Tommy Lasorda at a game recently, another computer printout photo of Yankee Stadium and he wrote on the top of it: ” a rare photo of Yankee Stadium World Series game 1927 from Joe DiGangi bullpen catcher 1933-1942.

“I sent him a baseball to sign and he sent it back with my request of him signing it on the sweet spot with an added bonus: around the rest of the baseball he wrote players names who he had played with and a brief story/info about them. Players on this ball are Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Phil Rizzuto. In 2008, I sent him a little bit of money to thank him for everything and he responded with a 3 page letter thanking me for the money (because some people forgot to put postage on the return envelopes that he would put on for them).

In this letter included what we did after the war with his family, what his family did what his kids did, talked about moving to St. Thomas and helping to build the many resorts we all stay at when we visit there. He talked about his final move to California and how he has been there for 22 years.

At the end of the letter he wrote “hope all is well with you and I would sure love to hear from you again. I hope all my mail gets to you in good shape. Love to all Connie & Joe DiGangi.”

As evidenced in his obituary, Joe DiGangi was a classic baseball storyteller. When looking to future people to contact by mail for autographs and memories, gamble the stamps. You may get one last look at a past chapter in baseball history before the book closes.

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