Marilyn, Joe and the Chicago White Sox

Marilyn poses with Gus Zernial of the Chicago White Sox, 1951

Last year, we learned about the young Norma Jeane’s stay on Catalina Island and her surprising link to the Chicago White Sox, the baseball team who trained there during World War II (see here.) Now, Chicago’s Daily Herald reveals how another brush with the White Sox paved the way for her romance with the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio.

“In March 1951, she posed for a group of publicity photos with a trio of White Sox players — Joe Dobson, Hank Majeski and Gus Zernial — at training camp in Pasadena, Calif … Zernial was snapped walking alongside Monroe, both resting baseball bats against their shoulders. Another photo depicted Monroe, wearing short shorts and high heels, tagging a sliding Majeski at home plate with a baseball mitt, as Zernial and Dobson called their teammate out.

Zernial, nicknamed ‘Ozark Ike’ after a comic strip character, told author Maury Allen in the 1970s, ‘She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. Not only was she lovely, she was very intelligent. She wasn’t a dumb blonde. I talked to her for about two hours that day while they prepared all the cameras.’

He said he was tempted to ask her out for dinner, ‘but my wife was sitting in the stands.’

Zernial, who the previous year had set a White Sox record with 29 homers, said, ‘We posed for pictures for about half an hour. She was squatting and I was told to wrap my arms around her and show her how to hold the bat. That was no problem. I enjoyed my work that day.’

As the pictures circulated in the nation’s newspapers, they made an impression on DiMaggio, who was no stranger to Hollywood glamour, having previously been married to actress Dorothy Arnold. Zernial said DiMaggio kidded him, asking, ‘How come I never get to pose with beautiful girls like that?’

Zernial said he told him ‘this guy David March had arranged it. I guess he called March after that.’ March, a press agent, convinced Monroe to have dinner with DiMaggio and March’s date at the Villa Nova restaurant in Hollywood. [Their first date was in February 1952, almost a year after the photo shoot – Joe obviously had a good memory! A few months later, Marilyn threw the first pitch in an all-star charity game at Gilmore Field in LA.]

Zernial wouldn’t be with the Sox much longer after the photo shoot. He was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics in the three-team deal that brought Minnie Minoso to the Sox from Cleveland.

After he became a sportscaster at KFSN-TV in Fresno, Calif., Zernial later told the Fresno Bee, ‘What made me sick was the way they used her in the movies. She was an intelligent, sensitive person, not a harebrained sexpot. I honestly believe the studio pressures ruined her and led her to suicide.'”

Marilyn with Hank Majeski, Gus Zernial, and Joe Dobson (via Kiwanis Magazine)