Playground naming splits DiMaggio family

Undaunted by the threat of litigation and an increasingly nasty fight with a Florida estate lawyer, the city of San Francisco has decided to go ahead with its plans to honour its native son, the late baseballing great Joe DiMaggio, by renaming a children's playground after him.

The North Beach Playground is where DiMaggio first learned to swing a baseball bat. The question, though, is whether the concrete triangle, which is in a rapidly gentrifying former working-class Italian neighbourhood, is grandiose enough for the great Clipper of the New York Yankees and one-time husband of Marilyn Monroe.

Morris Engelberg, DiMaggio's estate lawyer and the executor of his will, doesn't think so. He calls it insulting, disrepectful and reprehensible that the city could even consider such a paltry monument. He says his client's name should be attached to the San Francisco airport, or to the Bay Bridge, or nothing.

The city, in turn, thinks Mr Engelberg is unhelpful, pushy and way out of line.

Having taken legal advice about Mr Engelberg's claims to hold all rights to DiMaggio's name, it has decided to call his bluff and announced yesterday that the renaming of the playground would go ahead as planned.

"We're going to ignore Morris Engelberg and do what San Francisco thinks is appropriate to honor Joe DiMaggio," San Francisco's mayor Willie Brown said.

It helps that DiMaggio's surviving brother Dom supports the plan. "It may be mere concrete to Engelberg," Dom DiMaggio, who lives in Florida, said recently, "but having spent countless hours with Joe and my brother Vince at that North Beach playground, I know that Joe would love to have his name attached to it."

The DiMaggio family is split on the issue, with his two granddaughters apparently siding with Mr Engelberg.

"If Mr DiMaggio were alive today, you would never even attempt to proceed - he would have stopped you in his tracks," Mr Engelberg wrote in a letter last week. "Your current actions... are disrespectful of Joe DiMaggio and his grandchildren, and are totally reprehensible."

Mr Engelberg has previously threatened legal action if the renaming goes ahead.

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