Legend of The Little Professor…
I have long been interested in the career of former Boston Red Sox centerfielder Dom DiMaggio. He played before my time, but I was always amazed that he was able to carve out a great career despite playing in the long shadows of his brother, Yankees centerfielder Joe DiMaggio and Boston great Ted Williams.
Dominic Paul DiMaggio was born on February 12, 1917; the ninth and youngest son of Italian immigrants Guiseppe and Rosalia (Mercurio) DiMaggio. Brothers Vince and Joe shared the same middle name due to Guiseppe’s favorite saint, St. Paul.
Physically, Dom was smaller than his older brothers who played major league baseball. Vince, who played for 5 National League teams, was 5’11″, 183 lbs; while Joe was the tallest at 6’2″, 193 lbs. Dom, known as “The Little Professor” because of his glasses and his studious nature, was only 5’9″, 168 lbs. However, it didn’t stop Dom from becoming a legitimate baseball star in his own right.
He started his professional baseball career with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League in 1937 (where Joe had starred a few years earlier). After batting .361 in 1939, his contract was purchased by the Boston Red Sox.
In his rookie season of 1940, he became part of Boston’s .300 hitting outfield trio, joining Ted Williams and Doc Cramer, with a .301 batting average. Dom played in Boston for a couple more years, and then joined the U.S. Navy in October 1942. He was one of many major league baseball players who saw interruptions in their major league careers due to military commitment during World War II. I have always wondered what these players could have done in those missing years. Of course, they served a greater cause, but it’s still tough not to wonder ‘what if’.
Nevertheless, Dom picked up right where he left off when he returned to the Red Sox in 1946. That year, he hit .316 and participated in his only World Series. It was Boston’s first Series appearance in 28 years. Dom batted third and almost became a World Series hero and could have eliminated the so-called ‘Curse of the Bambino’ in 1946 rather than allowing it to stew in the minds of fans until 2004. In the 8th inning of Game 7 with two outs, Dom doubled home two runs to tie the score against the St. Louis Cardinals at 3-3. As he was coming into second base, he pulled his hamstring and had to be lifted for a pinch runner. Dom was very gifted defensively, and his presence in the Boston outfield in the 9th inning could have prevented the famed Mad Dash by the Cardinals’ Enos “Country” Slaughter. After Dom left the game, Leon Culberson took over center. With one out and Slaughter on base, Harry Walker hit a ball into centerfield. Culberson relayed the ball to shortstop Johnny Pesky. Pesky hesitated (either it was a mental lapse or he thought Slaughter wouldn’t try to run home). Slaughter ran past the stop sign at third, and scored what proved the game and series winning score, sending the Red Sox to their first World Series defeat. There has been long speculation that had a healthy DiMaggio been in centerfield, he would have either caught the ball or his strong throwing arm would have held Slaughter at third.
In 1948, Dom broke the AL record for most putouts in a season with 503 and most total chances with 526. The marks stood until 1977 when they were broken by Chet Lemon of the Chicago White Sox.
In 1949, Dom pieced together a 34-game hitting streak to set the Red Sox team record.
Dom was generally good for about 10-15 stolen bases a year in an era that did not place much emphasis on stolen bags. His 15 stolen bases in 1950 led the league, and it was the lowest total to lead either league.
Another hitting streak, this time it was 27 games, followed in 1951.
Dom retired in 1953, at a time when he could have continued to play at a high level for a few more years. He hit .300 four times during his Boston career (lifetime batting average was .298, with an excellent OBP of .383). Dom also led the AL in runs twice (he scored over 100 run in 6 of his 10 seasons with the Red Sox). At the time of his retirement, his 1,338 games played in centerfield ranked 8th in AL history.
Talk to baseball old-timers, and you’ll find more than a few who felt that Dom played the best centerfield in the DiMaggio family.
Who hits the ball and makes it go?
Who runs the bases fast, not slow?
Who’s better than his brother Joe?
But when it comes to getting dough,
They give it all to brother Joe.
(Refrain recited by Red Sox fans in the 1940s.)
Dom was inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995. If he had played during the war years, I am sure that he would have found his way to Cooperstown…
Joe Gromelski/S&S (2005)
With weekend sweep of the Yankees, the Red Sox completed an undefeated 9-game home stand and their current winning streak stands at 10 games. The streak began with an 8-2 victory over the Oakland A’s on April 15th. If Death and Taxes are the only certainties in life, I guess a Red Sox winning streak is not far behind…
Yes Julia, Wally remains on his “perch” and will stay there until the Red Sox winning streak is over…