Siberian Baseball

Friday, May 08, 2009

Where's the credit for Dom DiMaggio?

Dom DiMaggio just had a nice little eulogy spoken about him by Vin Scully in tonight's Dodger game, where I first heard that he had passed away today at the age of 92. However, even a broadcaster as masterful as Scully couldn't work around the big shadow in DiMaggio's life - his brother, Joe.

In a quirk of genetics, three of the nine DiMaggio's made the majors - Vince, Joe and Dom - and even today as obituaries start to populate across the web, most mention Joe straight away. To do so is to sell Dom short as has been happening for decades now. Some of the wrtie-ups I've read tonight raise the question of whether Dom would have made the Hall of Fame by now if he'd been allowed to play instead of joining the Navy during World War II, while others hint at the role that constant comparisons to Joe played in the voting process.

Dom was seemingly always underestimated for one reason or another. His 5-9 frame and glasses - gasp, glasses! - led to his nickname, "The Professor" and it was those glasses that led to his transition to the outfield. Anecdotally, he was moved out there from his spot at shortstop by a manager so he wouldn't break his glasses . DiMaggio took that move and made the most of it, developing a hybrid style as a hard-charging center fielder who would close in quickly and agressively on balls hit his way.

In doing so, he became one of the greatest defensive center fielders of the time.

Additionally, he maintained a solid batting average and gave Joe a run for his money with a hitting streak of his own. As Scully pointed out, it was Joe who ended his brother's hitting streak at 30-plus games. See, there's that whole "Joe" thing again.

I imagine it's on par with being Michael Jordan's brother - both an athletic and cultural icon - where no matter what you did as a player, you'd always seem to be lacking by comparison. Don't be mistaken, this is not an Ozzie and Jose Canseco situation, Dom held his own in the majors and was a key piece of the strong Red Sox teams of the 40s and 50s.

DiMaggio was central to one of the biggest losses in Red Sox history - though not in typical Sox fashion - when an injury in the 1946 World Series led to the deciding play in the series. From the Boston Globe's excellent write up:

Mr. DiMaggio’s 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 eight 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 Johnny Pesky, whose throw home was too little, 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.”

His time with Boston is covered nicely in David Halberstam's The Teammates, a solid, short read about the relationship between DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams. His life after baseball is covered well in the obituaries today, which describe his business sense and suggest that he'd have been a success in whatever he chose to do.

I think I like DiMaggio so much because he's an interesting man for many reasons outside of his control. Some of my favorite players of all time - Mickey Mantle, Williams, Joe DiMaggio - have major personal flaws or quirks that made them ill-suited for any sort of life outside of baseball. I am drawn to their stories that are tinged with elements of sadness and personal defeat, but which helped them to excell with a highly specialized skill set. Dom doesn't really fit that mold.

The fact that he was squarely in shadows of two of the game's giants in Williams and his brother, yet still found a way to maintain his own identity, accept and embrace his talents and move along is nothing short of extraordinary. To be comfortable enough being Dom DiMaggio to be successful and not dragged down as some may have is really a tribute to DiMaggio the man.

He was able to walk away on his own terms, start a series of successful business ventures and live to 92 (seeing two Red Sox World Series victories in the process). I think I'm with Scully here, where there's no real need to wail and feel sorrow for DiMaggio's passing, as he'd led a full life on many levels.

So here's to you, Dom DiMaggio, so much more than Joe's brother and Ted's center fielder. You'll be missed.

(Image from:

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Oh, you think so, Doctor?

In updating my fantasy team tonight, I stumbled across this tidbit when trying to figure out what happened to Hing-Chih Kuo of the Dodgers:

Kuo finally admitted there was something wrong with his elbow after he threw two pitches over the bullpen gate and onto the field while trying to warm up to enter Friday night's game against San Diego.

Yeah, I'd say that might be cause for concern. I'd also love to see a tape of that game.