Saturday, May 09, 2009

Dom DiMaggio Dies at 92; Played in His Brother’s Shadow

The New York Times
May 9, 2009

Dom DiMaggio, a perennial All-Star with the Boston Red Sox and one of the finest center fielders of his era though he played in the shadow of his brother Joe, the Yankee icon, died Friday at his home in Marion, Mass. He was 92.

His death was announced by the Red Sox.

Joe DiMaggio was the Yankee Clipper and Joltin’ Joe, the personification of power and grace. Dom DiMaggio was the Little Professor, slight of build and bespectacled at a time when ballplayers rarely wore eyeglasses.

Scott Martin/Associated Press

Boston’s Dom DiMaggio, in glasses, with his brother Joe and his teammate Ted Williams at the 1941 All-Star Game.

But Dom DiMaggio was an intense, aggressive player and a superb fielder, possessing great range and a powerful throwing arm. He led the American League twice in runs scored and once in triples, batted .300 four times and had a career average of .298 over 11 seasons, all with the Red Sox. He was a seven-time All-Star.

Bleacher fans at Fenway Park hyped their DiMaggio with a little tune:

“Oh, Dominic DiMaggio!

He’s better than his brother Joe.”

Ted Williams, playing left field at Fenway, got an earful from fans who marveled at Dom’s sparkling play in center.

“The wolves in left field were always yelling how he was playing his position and mine,” Williams recalled in his autobiography, “My Turn at Bat,” written with John Underwood. “He was a great outfielder.”

Dominic Paul DiMaggio was born on Feb. 12, 1917, in San Francisco, the youngest of nine children of Sicilian immigrants. His two oldest brothers, Mike and Tom, worked on fishing boats with their father, Giuseppe. But his brothers Vince and Joe starred in the outfield for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.

Dom was signed by the Seals for the 1937 season, when Joe was in his second year with the Yankees and Vince was a rookie outfielder for the Boston Braves. The San Francisco newspapers ran a DiMaggio Digest, reporting daily how the brothers had fared. In his three seasons with the Seals, Dom became a local star in his own right. He hit .360 in 1939, when he was named most valuable player in the Pacific Coast League, having filled out to all of 5 feet 9 inches and 168 pounds.

Scott Martin/Associated Press

Dom DiMaggio, center, throws out the honorary first pitch surrounded by, from left, Frank Robinson, Bobby Thigpen, Earl Weaver and Rich 'Goose' Gossage before the game between the Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field in 2000.

The Red Sox bought DiMaggio and he hit .301 as a rookie. Then came the epic 1941 season when Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games and Williams batted .406. Dom finished third in the American League that year in runs scored, with 117, behind Williams and his brother Joe.

He enlisted in the Navy after the 1942 season, then returned to the Red Sox in 1946, hitting .316. Boston won the American League pennant by 12 games over the Detroit Tigers.

DiMaggio had a moment of exhilaration, but then intense disappointment in Game 7 of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park.

In the eighth inning, he hit a two-run double that tied the game at 3-3, but he injured a hamstring rounding first base. The Cardinals scored the winning run of the Series in the bottom of the inning on Enos Slaughter’s “mad dash” from first base, when Leon Culberson, having replaced DiMaggio in center, made a weak relay to shortstop Johnny Pesky after fielding Harry Walker’s drive to left center. Pesky did not turn and get his throw home in time.

“Slaughter would never have scored if I’d been in center field,” DiMaggio maintained in “When the Boys Came Back,” a history of the 1946 season by Frederick Turner. “In fact, I might have had a play on him at third base because I’d have played that much farther over, and I’d have been charging the hell out of that ball.”

DiMaggio batted safely in 34 straight games in 1949, a Red Sox record, and had his best season in 1950, when he batted .328, led the American League in runs scored with 131 and in triples with 11.

He retired in May 1953 after Manager Lou Boudreau benched him in favor of a rookie, Tom Umphlett. He later owned a company that manufactured carpeting and upholstery for automobiles.

DiMaggio is survived by his wife, Emily; his sons Dominic Jr., of Atkinson, N.H., and Peter, of Westford, Mass.; his daughter, Emily DiMaggio of Wayland, Mass.; and six grandchildren.

Joe DiMaggio died in 1999. Vince DiMaggio, who played 10 seasons in the major leagues and was twice an All-Star, died in 1986.

Dom DiMaggio became estranged from the Red Sox after joining a group that sought unsuccessfully to buy the franchise in 1977 after the death of the longtime owner Tom Yawkey. But he appeared at Fenway Park with his ex-teammates Bobby Doerr and Pesky among a host of former Red Sox stars who helped unfurl a banner in honor of the team’s 2004 World Series championship, which ended an 86-year title drought.

When Joe DiMaggio played his last game, an exhibition in Tokyo on Nov. 10, 1951, between touring major leaguers and a Japanese squad, Dom was in the lineup with him. Joe homered in his last at-bat, in the eighth inning. Dom tripled in the ninth. It seemed another instance in which Dom performed superbly but was second best to Joe.

“It’s been a struggle all my life,” The Boston Globe quoted Dom DiMaggio as having said. “I was always Joe’s kid brother. I never encouraged my two sons to get into baseball. I knew it would be twice as hard on them as it was on me. The Joe DiMaggio legend was just too strong.”

Yet Dom DiMaggio remembered moments when he prevailed over Joe.

“I made two or three catches on Joe that were quite important to him,” he told The New York Times at an old-timers’ game at Yankee Stadium in August 1982 in which he appeared with brother Joe. “One year he was battling Hank Greenberg for the league lead in runs batted in and I caught a long one with the bases loaded for the third out.

“Coming in to the dugout after that catch, I half-glanced at Joe on his way to center field and I could feel the daggers flying my way. Joe always gave me terrible looks when I did something like that, but when he croaked me, he never apologized.”

'Underrated' Quiet Star DiMaggio Dies

Overshadowed by brother Joe, forged his own legacy

By Mark Feeney, Boston Globe Staff
May 9, 2009

Red Sox star Dom DiMaggio stood with brother Joe in July 1949. Dom hit safely in 34 consecutive games, a Red Sox record, that year. (Ray Howard/Associated Press /File)

Dom DiMaggio - who, despite having to share an outfield with Ted Williams and a name with his older brother Joe, became a diamond standout in his own right, earning All-Star status seven times in 11 seasons with the Red Sox - died yesterday of complications of pneumonia. He was 92.

The late author David Halberstam once described Mr. DiMaggio as "probably the most underrated player of his day."

Playing in the shadow of the era's two biggest superstars made that inevitable, perhaps. But neither of his great contemporaries failed to appreciate Mr. DiMaggio's talents. Williams considered him "the best leadoff man in the American League," and his older brother called him "the best defensive outfielder I've ever seen."

Mr. DiMaggio died in his Marion home while watching the replay of Thursday night's 13-3 Red Sox victory over the Cleveland Indians. "I was there, and we were watching it together," said his son Dominic Paul DiMaggio Jr. of Atkinson, N.H. "It was peaceful."

Elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995, Mr. DiMaggio spent his major league career in Boston, playing for the Sox from 1940-42, then from 1946-53. He lost three seasons to wartime service in the US Navy.

"Dom DiMaggio was a beloved member of the Red Sox organization for almost 70 years," John Henry, principal owner of the Red Sox, said in a statement. "Even after his playing days, Dom's presence at Fenway Park, together with his teammates Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Johnny Pesky on numerous occasions reminded us all of a glorious Red Sox era of years past."

Pesky said he was in bed when the phone rang with news of Mr. DiMaggio's death.

"I'm very sad; I've been in tears all day," he said. "With Ted and Dom and Bob, we were like family. Dominic and I, we hit one-two in the lineup ahead of the great Ted. Dom and I would be on base for Ted, and Ted used to call us his pals. We had so many good times together."

Mr. DiMaggio, who stood 5-feet-9 and wore eyeglasses, was nicknamed "the Little Professor," a tribute to his intelligence on the field, as well as his scholarly mien and slight stature. Along with canniness, Mr. DiMaggio brought quickness and speed to the Red Sox lineup. He led the American League in stolen bases in 1950, with 15 (the lowest figure ever to lead either major league in that category). He also led the league that year in triples, with 11.

Mr. DiMaggio had a lifetime batting average of .298. He scored more than 100 runs seven times, twice leading the American League in that category. He hit safely in 34 consecutive games, a Red Sox record, in 1949. Two years later, he hit safely in 27 consecutive games.

His skill as a hitter inadvertently helped create one of the darkest moments in Red Sox history, their defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh and deciding game of the 1946 World Series. In the top of the eighth inning, he doubled home two runs to tie the game at 3-3, but pulled a hamstring on the way to second base.

Leon Culberson replaced him in center field. In the bottom of the eighth, with two outs, the Cardinals' Enos Slaughter tried to score from first on a single. Culberson was slow to field the ball, then made a mediocre throw to shortstop Pesky, whose throw home was too late. Slaughter was safe, giving the Cardinals the lead and, half an inning later, the championship.

"If they hadn't taken DiMaggio out of the game," Slaughter later said of his daring sprint, "I wouldn't have tried it."

Mr. DiMaggio, who had started in baseball as a shortstop, played the outfield like an infielder. He specialized in charging balls hit through the infield and using his powerful throwing arm to cut down advancing runners. (Slaughter had good reason to be leery of Mr. DiMaggio: He threw out three runners in the 1946 Series.) He was also celebrated for his range, using his quickness to get a good jump on the ball and positioning his body to face left field rather than home plate, which he felt saved him a step on balls hit in front of him.

"He was the easiest outfielder I ever played with," Williams said. "When he yelled, 'Mine!' you didn't have to worry about the rest of that play."

The slugger was uniquely qualified to comment on Mr. DiMaggio's fielding ability. It was often said that because of his teammate's slowness afoot Mr. DiMaggio had responsibility for both his own center field position and Williams's in left.

According to Halberstam, many of Mr. DiMaggio's teammates felt that batting leadoff for the Sox was "the hardest job in baseball," because that meant that back in the dugout he had to face a barrage of questions from Williams, who batted third: "What was he throwing, Dommy? Was he fast, was he tricky, was he getting the corners? Come on, Dommy, you saw him."

But the highly analytical and driven Williams found his match in the highly analytical and composed Mr. DiMaggio.

One of Williams's closest friends, Mr. DiMaggio begrudged the Splendid Splinter neither his interrogations nor his preeminence with the Red Sox. Relations with his brother were more charged.

Mr. DiMaggio never suggested he was the superior ballplayer. "I can do two things better than he can," he would say when asked to compare himself with Joe, "play pinochle and speak Italian."

He did, however, resent those who saw him only in terms of Joltin' Joe. "Yes, he's my brother - and I'm his brother," Mr. DiMaggio liked to say. "It's been a struggle all my life. . . . It followed me all through my major league career. I was always Joe's kid brother. . . . I never encouraged my two sons to get into baseball. I knew it would be twice as hard on them as it was on me. The Joe DiMaggio legend was just too strong."

The two DiMaggios played the same position (as did an older brother, Vince, who spent 10 seasons playing in the National League). They played for teams that were each other's fiercest rival.

Joe's most famous achievement was hitting safely in 56 consecutive games. Having hit safely in 34 straight games, Dom found his own streak ended when Joe made the put out on his final at-bat of what would have been the 35th game.

"Oh, Joe DiMaggio was a great player, but Dominic's got all the brains in the family," his wife, Emily (Frederick) DiMaggio, said in a 1971 interview.

Born in San Francisco Feb. 12, 1917, Dominic Paul DiMaggio was the son of Giuseppe Paola DiMaggio, a fisherman, and Rosalie (Mercurio) DiMaggio. He was the youngest of nine.

"I think Pop's pride and joy was Dom," Joe DiMaggio once said. "When Dominic was in short pants, Pop wanted him to become a lawyer, because 'he wears glasses.' "

Instead, Mr. DiMaggio wanted to be a chemical engineer. His athletic talents soon made him alter that ambition, though, and he followed in the footsteps of Joe and Vince.

Though Mr. DiMaggio started out as a shortstop, managers feared that a bad hop might break his glasses, so he was switched to the outfield.

Mr. DiMaggio's exploits with the minor league San Francisco Seals drew the attention of major league scouts, and the Red Sox signed him in 1939. Starting out in right field, he demonstrated such prowess with his glove that the team traded its All-Star center fielder, Doc Cramer, to open up that position for him. He finished the season with a .301 batting average.

Mr. DiMaggio enlisted in the Navy in 1942. Gathering no rust while in the service, he batted .316 in his first season back. He did, though, suffer an eye injury in 1943 while stationed on the West Coast that would develop into chorio-retinitis and force his retirement in 1953. The eye trouble led manager Lou Boudreau to bench Mr. DiMaggio. He retired two months into the season.

"I didn't want to hang around if I couldn't play regularly," he said in a 1987 interview about his decision to end his career.

Dom and his oldest brother, Vince DiMaggio, met as rivals in this undated photo. Vince started his Major League baseball career as a member of the Boston Bees.

In 1940, Hall of Famer Ty Cobb had said, "Dom's a throwback to the kind of players we used to have."

In many ways, though, Mr. DiMaggio was more a forerunner than throwback: the athlete as business professional. Toward the end of his playing career, he served as American League player representative in negotiations between players and owners. After retiring, he founded two highly successful manufacturing firms. One made carpeting for automobile interiors; the other made foam padding for automobile seats.

An example of Mr. DiMaggio's business success was his membership in the original ownership group of the Boston Patriots. He purchased 10 percent of the team in 1960 for $25,000 and sold it six years later for $300,000. That same year, he made unsuccessful overtures to Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey about buying the team. He also headed a syndicate that tried to purchase the team in 1977, after Yawkey's death.

Emily Colette DiMaggio of Wayland said her father "was such a great teacher of how to live a life and to love and pass it on."

She recalled that growing up in Wellesley, neighborhood children flocked to the DiMaggio house because there was always extra equipment for games. One day when the children couldn't find a ball, she said, they went into Mr. DiMaggio's study and borrowed one covered with signatures, a pennant ball, perhaps.

Upon arriving home in the evening, Mr. DiMaggio spied the ball, now sporting grass stains and smudged names, and asked, "What is this?"

"We told him we used it for the neighborhood ballgame with the kids," his daughter said. "We were waiting for the reaction, and he said, 'So, did you win?' That's who he was, an incredible dad."

In addition to his wife, son, and daughter, Mr. DiMaggio leaves another son, Peter Joseph of Westford, and six grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Monday in St. Paul Church in Wellesley. Burial will be in Newton Cemetery in Newton.

Bryan Marquard of the Globe staff contributed to this obituary.

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