Late to DiMaggio Orbit, but Staging Send-Off

The New York Times—April 23, 1999

This story starts with the heel spur, the one in Joe DiMaggio's right foot, that sidelined him for 65 games in the Yankees' 1949 season and then sent him, 41 years later, to the office of Dr. Rock G. Positano, a foot and ankle specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Positano treats ''pretty much anybody who's anybody,'' as he puts it, which in this case includes Henry Kissinger, Mortimer Zuckerman and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

And then there was DiMaggio, another constellation entirely.

''I couldn't believe it, I saw him coming in the door,'' Dr. Positano said. ''And I said, 'That really is Joe DiMaggio.' But then I said, 'Enough with the awe. The guy is a patient. He wants to be treated like a patient.' ''

That was 1990. Dr. Positano strapped up DiMaggio's foot, fitted him with an arch support and gradually joined the retinue of four or five guys (Dr. Positano calls them ''the Bat Pack'') who ate dinner with DiMaggio and reveled in his orbit when the legend visited New York.

Nine years later, Dr. Positano is the organizer of today's 10 A.M. memorial service for DiMaggio, open to the public, at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Dr. Positano, 40, who was born after one of the greatest athletes of this century retired, said he expected Jack Nicholson, Woody Allen, Yogi Berra, Michael Bolton, George M. Steinbrenner III -- thousands in all.

This is a very big deal in Dr. Positano's life. ''Tell me about it,'' he said. ''I mean, seriously, it's really a bigger deal than I thought. What this experience has shown me is just how big a figure Joe was in American life.''

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