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Local Man Remembers Glory Years With Classy Joe DiMaggio

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WAKE FOREST — Just when it seemed a comatose Joe DiMaggio had run out of swings, he was sitting up in bed Saturday, talking with friends and family, shaking hands and shrugging off a life-threatening illness like it was no big deal.

That's Joe D. for you, says a Wake Forest man who had the pleasure of playing with the living legend. Former Yankee Tommy Byrne depicts DiMaggio as always being one of the good guys, as a classy ballplayer and as a classy man.

Byrne was DiMaggio's teammate for six years, not to mention winning five World Series with him. Byrne has been out of baseball for a while, but he has a lot of special memories of his time with DiMaggio.

"He's probably, at that time, the player of the century so to speak," Byrne said.

Byrne talks fondly of Joe DiMaggio. He says he is quiet, unassuming and genuine. He says that DiMaggio never let his high profile status go to his head.

"He was very proud after each game was over, but tomorrow was another day," Byrne said. "He really enjoyed putting the uniform on every day. He should have stayed in the ballpark 24 hours a day because he literally loved it."

DiMaggio may have been married to baseball, but for a time he was also married to Marilyn Monroe. Byrnes sat next to her at an exhibition game.

"As a matter of fact I never mentioned DiMaggio's name and she didn't either, but it was very apparent who she was," he said. "She really enjoyed the excitement of the game and all the noise in the ballpark."

Bryne says DiMaggio was a gentleman -- a true shirt and tie character.

"He liked to look like a Yankee in the way the Yankees used to be, now they're a bunch of hot dogs," he said.

Watch video of Joe DiMaggio in his classic glory years, and in a recent parade that he was in. Catch the "Then and Now" clip withQuickTime,RealVideo(for 28.8 modems), orRealVideo(for ISDN and faster).

Byrne still enjoys going back to the ballpark for old timers games to see his former teammates. He has been trying to get through to DiMaggio's hospital room to offer his support, but he says he has not had any luck.

Saturday, DiMaggio's doctor says he has no medical explanation for the Hall of Famer's surprising turnaround.

It was just one more comeback, the most dramatic one of all, for the hero of a generation of Americans.

"It's an unbelievable improvement," Dr. Earl Barron said. "He was awake and he was talking to us. ... He is back to where he was on Thanksgiving Day."

DiMaggio has been down this road before. At least twice, he has had last rites of the Roman Catholic church administered when it seemed he was slipping away.

Both times, he rallied back.

From Staff and Wire Reports

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Lynda Loveland, Reporter
John Cox, Photographer
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