Former Red Sox great, Dominic DiMaggio passed away early Friday morning at his home in Marion, MA due to complications from a recent bout with pneumonia. DiMaggio was 92 years old.
“Dom DiMaggio was a beloved member of the Red Sox organization for almost 70 years,” said Red Sox Principal Owner John W. Henry. “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. He was a great teammate and an even better human being. His loss saddens us all but his contributions to the glory and tradition of our ballclub will forever be etched in the annals of Red Sox history.”
“Dom and I played together for 10 years and he certainly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” said Red Sox Legend and former teammate Johnny Pesky. “He was a great player and, most of all, a great friend. I will miss him terribly. My prayers and sympathies go out to his wife, Emily, and his family.”
“I first met Dom in 1936 when I was playing with his brother, Vince,” said Hall of Fame second baseman and former teammate Bobby Doerr. “We eventually played together in Boston and he was a real class guy and a great teammate. My sympathies are with Emily and his family.”
Some will asking me, “What does the passing of Dominic DiMaggio have to do with baseball outside the lines?” Well, for anyone that has read the late, great David Halberstam’s book, The Teammates, the passing of Dom is a reminder that while baseball is a game, the relationships formed between the players can be life long.
While those that have read my interviews will attest, they are almost entirely around sports business. However, I’d like to think I’m not a one trick pony; business of sports not being the only thing I can cover.
Early on, I read Ed Linn’s Hitter: The Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams. It reshaped my thinking as to what hero athletes were really about. Before, they were unfailing, upstanding, and non-complex figures that could do no wrong. After reading, I understood the compelling nature of athletes in a far more complex manner that has driven me to where I am today. I find sports off the playing surface far more intriguing due to the personalities and complexities involved. It is not black and white, but rather a world filled with gray.
As I started doing interviews, I was fortunate to have two of Williams’ teammates in close proximity: Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky, both of which have ties to Oregon (Pesky grew-up in Portland, and Doerr has lived in the state for most of his life).
In memory of DiMaggio’s passing, here are a couple of excerpts from the 2002 interview with Doerr, and the 2006 interview with Pesky that I was fortunate enough to have conducted regarding “The Teammates”:
Brown: A lot is made about Joe DiMaggio, but his brother Dom was pretty good as well. What was he like?
Doerr: Dominic was a really good player. [He] was just an everyday, smooth type of player. He never had a problem with a popup out in the outfield between center field and second base. You had to play with him to appreciate the amount of range he had in the outfield. He had a good accurate arm, [and] played a very shallow center field. He was good.
Brown on the ’46 World Series: In the ninth inning of Game 7, with the Red Sox down a run, you singled the tying run into scoring position. Did you feel any differently at that point about the outcome of the game, like, "Hey, we're going to pull this off"?
Doerr: No, I don't think you feel any different, you just always have that hope of doing that. Dominic and I have talked of the play to Pesky. Dom had pulled his leg muscle and [Leon] Culberson was put in to replace Dom in center field. Dom said, "If I had been center field Slaughter would have never scored on that play." He would have been positioned different. He would have charged the ball more, and got the ball in or would have made the play himself. That outfield in St. Louis was rough, just terrible, and I think Culberson going in there probably played the ball pretty conservative. He was playin' a little more straightaway than what Dom would have done. See, Harry Walker was pretty much a straightaway left center field hitter, and Dom would have been playin' over there. He says, "Slaughter would have never scored had he been playin'"
Brown: What pitcher gave you the most trouble in your career?
Pesky: Sure, there were a few guys … I hit them, but I never hit them as well as I would have liked to. I had trouble with a guy named [Spud] Chandler. I knew him from my clubhouse days. He was a mean guy. But most of those guys knew how to pitch to areas. They would knock you off the plate and come inside. They wouldn’t throw up by your head though—at your waist on down. A lot of times in tough ball games, even in the middle or late innings, I would turn in to make sure I got on base. I would get hit in the leg or in the fanny. But we learned. We had the greatest hitter that ever lived named Ted Williams. And even with two outs we didn’t want Ted leading off. I remember a lot of times—not a lot but many times—I would bunt with two outs.
If I was playing now with a guy hitting .400 hitting behind you, you try and hit a double and put yourself in scoring position. But with a guy like Williams, this is what Joe McCarthy and Cronin used to advocate. Regardless of how many outs, we don’t want Ted leading an inning off. If he hit a ball in the corner, you could score from first base. And a lot of times he hit the ball out of the ball park and you would pick up two runs.
But this is the way it worked. Dominic and I had a hit-and-run play and a bunt-and-run play. And we were very successful with it.
Brown: You chose Bobby Doerr as the greatest Red Sox 2B of all time. Bobby lives in Oregon and you were born and raised in Portland.
I had the great interview with him in 2002 and, given you're long relationship with him, Ted Williams and Dominic DiMaggio, can you talk to us about Bobby and how you see him as a person, as well as a baseball player?
Pesky: We got Ted in ’36. Ted and Bobby were the first to come. Then we got Dom and I came a couple of years later. Dom came in ’38 and Ted was optioned to Minneapolis in ’38, but Bobby Doerr stayed with the ball club as an extra. And the next year he became regular. Ted went to Minneapolis in ’38 and had a great year. In ’39 he hit a lot of home runs and became the regular left fielder from that time. That was ’39, 40 and then, in ’41, he hit the.406. That was the year I was in Louisville. I didn’t see that, but I met him the next year and in ’42 he hit .350. With all those home runs and runs batted, he is a great hitter and he could do a lot of things. But Doerr and Dominic, they were so good as people. They were good players and they knew what their roles were. Dominic and I had a great time together. He hit first and I hit second and I should have hit well. They didn’t want to walk me and pitch to Ted. I had a good time and took advantage of it.
Brown: On “Slaughter’s mad dash”, history shows that it would have been impossible for you to make the play at the plate on Slaughter as he was nearly half way to the plate after Harry Walker’s soft shot over Doerr’s head. But you were the only player to come out and take the heat for the play saying, “Well, if they had to blame somebody and wanted to blame me, well, that was fine with me. I could handle it.”
Pesky: It doesn’t bother me to talk about this. I did what I had to do. If they want to blame me then I accept it. I learned that from when I was a boy in the clubhouse. There was a pitcher, Bill Posedel, that I just loved and he was a father figure and he liked me. He would throw a few bucks my way when I was working in the clubhouse. I love this man. He knew the right way to play ball. He used to come to the ballpark early, and this all goes back to my clubhouse days when I was about 14 or 15 or 16 years of age. “Johnny,” he says, “one thing in this game, it’s the perfect, imperfect game.” That was the first time I had heard that. “If you do something wrong, don’t make any excuses.” I even did this in my minor league days on this play where I was accused of holding the ball. Well, I accepted it. It’s just one of those things that happens to a guy that could have happened to anybody. It happened to Mickey Owen, he was considered a goat. It happened to Lombardi … and all this. They wanted to blame me and I accepted it. Really, Bobby and Dominic defended me and so did Ted.
Brown: I have seen tape of the play, there was no way you could have made the play
Pesky: Oh no. I’ll tell ya what happened is that Dominic came up lame the inning before and Culberson went out to center field. Well, if Culberson would have been playing normally where Dom was, I don’t think Slaughter would have tried. Even Slaughter said that if Dominic was in center field he wouldn’t have even tried it. He had two outs—hold up; we have one of our better hitters leading the inning off. Because that’s the way you looked at it, you always looked ahead.
Enos even said—and I have been to signings with him and everything—that on the train ride back from St. Louis, “I hope they don’t break that kid’s heart.” Well, you start to think about your reputation and you have enough self pride, you just fight back. And I think in ’47 I had a pretty good year. I had 200 hits.
It’s just one of those things that happened and it has happened to better players than me. I can still hear Bill Posedel in the back of my head say, “Accept the responsibility, whether you like it or not.” And all in all I have no qualms about it. If they want to blame me, I’ll accept it.
For a while I was sensitive about it, but after talking to my wife and thinking about it I thought I was nuts to let this thing bother me. And you kind of put it out of your mind, but it’s still in the back of your head. I just had to battle back and play harder, work harder. I don’t care how good the player is or who the player is, there are going to be plays the player regrets. Whenever you are in a play where a play has to be made, naturally you are going to take more time and think about it. “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.” Ha!
Brown: Do you think that if Dominic had been playing in center if the throw would have been to home, instead of to you at short?
Pesky: In the first place, Culberson was in right-center, Dom used to play Walker in left-center. There is about a 30-40 foot difference. I think Slaughter might have tried to go third base, but I don’t think he would have tried to score. Slaughter himself said that.
The last games of the ’49 season against the Yankees … still a bit tough I imagine. That final game of the season has so much to it …; the early 4-0 lead …; Joe Page not being especially sharp at first but then getting sorted out from the 5th on, just so much in that game...
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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