In the mid-'90s Vetrano got very sick. His heart had failed him, and after some weeks in the hospital he was, for all intents and purposes, sent home to die. When he learned of Vetrano's illness, DiMaggio hurried back to the Bay Area from his new home in Florida. No one outside of his own and Vetrano's family knew he was back in town. Vetrano's son, Joe Jr., told me of the two friends' last moments together.
"They were sitting on the porch, laughing and telling old stories the way they always did. Then my dad turned to Joe and whispered, 'I'm going now, Joe.' And Joe said, 'Going? Where?' Dad just smiled at this and then put his head down. He died in Joe DiMaggio's arms."
It is said we are a people who need heroes. Joe DiMaggio did his best to fill that daunting role, first as the superb player he was, then as someone who kept alive his own legacy. But it may well be far more important that in small ways not publicly known, he was actually a pretty damn nice guy.