Dom DiMaggio, 1917-2009

Joe was the best hitter, Dom the best fielder, Vince the best singer.”
Gay Talese, “The Silent Season of a Hero.”

His big brother may have had the more famous hitting streak, but Dominic had one of his own — 34 games, in 1949 — and it remains on Boston’s record books. It must have been a drag to live in his shadow (even the obits today have Joe's name in their headlines) but Dom was a superb player in his own right.

He led the AL in assists three times, in putouts and DPs twice, in runs twice, and steals once.

“If they hadn’t taken DiMaggio out of the game,” Enous Slaughter said of his mad dash, “I wouldn’t have tried it.”

He was a math whiz, and looked the part in his round specs. He played 1338 games in center field for the Red Sox over 11 seasons — interrupted by three years in the Navy — and then retired to a life as a hugely successful businessman.

And, by unanimous acclaim, he was a kind and gentle soul.

In depressing times like these, it’s nice to be reminded of — but sad to be losing — the last of the greatest baseball generation. They really don’t make ‘em like they used to.

If you haven’t already, definitely read the late David Halberstam’s poignant The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship, which follows DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky as they take a 1300-mile road trip to the Florida Keys to visit their lifelong friend Ted Williams, who’s ailing and fading fast. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

There’s a scene in the book that gets me every time.

They visited with Ted for two days, two visits a day, each one not too long, because he needed his naps. On the last visit, Dominic suddenly said, “Teddy, I'm going to sing you a song.”

It was an Italian love song, the story of two men who were best friends, one of whom was in love with a girl. But he was afraid to tell her, so he did it through his friend, who then stole her away. “I Love Her, But I Don't Know How to Tell Her,” Dominic called it.

Then Dominic began to sing and the house was filled with the sound of his beautiful baritone voice. Ted loved it. He started clapping, and so Dominic sang it again, and Ted clapped again.

“Dommy, Dommy, you did really well,” Ted said when he finished.

Condolences to the DiMaggio family. And, of course, to Johnny and Bobby.

RIP, Little Professor.

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