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Little Dom made his own way
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Forsyth County News
Sad news. Word came Friday that Dominic DiMaggio had passed away. He was 92, and had been fighting pneumonia.

According to his son, Dominic Paul, DiMaggio died about 1 a.m. during a replay of Thursday’s rousing Red Sox win over the Indians. “He was in and out of consciousness,” his son told Mark Pratt of the Associated Press. “But he was acknowledging it. He was a Red Sox fan until the end.”

That’s how it is for members of Red Sox Nation. It’s a lifetime membership. Once a Red Sox, always a Red Sox.

DiMaggio manned centerfield for the Sox from 1940-1953, with a break from ‘42 through ‘45 for service in the Navy. He was a teammate of Sox lifers Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Ted Williams.

Their time together spawned a 50-year friendship, eloquently described in David Halberstam’s 2003 book, The Teammates. In fact, when the Sox reached the 2004 World Series, the first pitch honors for Game 2 were shared by Doerr, Pesky, and DiMaggio.

DiMaggio’s teams epitomized the Sox’ 86-year Series drought. They were good clubs, but never quite good enough to win it all. “I regret we didn’t win more than one pennant,” DiMaggio told Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe on the eve of his 90th birthday. “We needed pitching and catching. We never really had an outstanding catcher.”

But they did have an outstanding centerfielder. “The wolves in leftfield were always yelling how he was playing his position —and mine!”

Williams wrote in his autobiography, My Turn At Bat, “He was a great centerfielder.”

Williams also told Mark Feeney of the Globe, “He was the easiest outfielder I ever played with. When he yelled ‘mine,’ you didn’t have to worry about the rest of that play.”

DiMaggio also hit leadoff for the Sox, which might have been the toughest job in baseball. That’s because he was expected to give a complete briefing on the arsenal of that day’s pitcher to Williams, who hit third.

As detailed in The Teammates, as soon as DiMaggio returned to the dugout, Williams began peppering him with questions. “What was he throwing, Dommy? Was he fast? Was he tricky? Was he getting the corners? Come, on, Dommy, you saw him!”

Williams sought information from the right man. DiMaggio, who stood 5’9”, was so smart he earned the sobriquet “The Little Professor.” After his playing days, he became a successful business owner and smart stock player. “That was his passion,” Dominic Paul told Pratt. “He’d watch the stock ticker all day and the Red Sox all night.”

DiMaggio wasn’t a bad hitter, either. He compiled a .298 career average, with a high of .328 in 1950. The lowest he ever hit was .283. At various times he led the American League in triples and stolen bases. During the years he played, he led the majors in hits, was second in runs, and third in doubles.

In 1949, he fashioned a 34-game hitting streak, still the Red Sox team record. Ironically, the streak ended on a fine play by the Yankees centerfielder, Dom’s brother, Joe.

That’s part of the burden Dom had to bear his whole life. His older brother was one of baseball’s greatest players, and Dom played beside one of baseball’s greatest hitters.

In 1941, when Williams hit .406 and Joe hit in 56-straight games, Dom scored 117 runs. A fine total that was third in the league. Behind Williams and Joe.

“It’s been a struggle all my life,” Dom once told the Globe. “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.”

But don’t get the wrong idea. Dom loved his brother. “If I happen to be the brother of somebody,” he told Shaughnessy, “I couldn’t think of a person I would like to be the brother of other than Joe.” And that’s not to overlook older brother Vince, who played 10 years in the National League.

DiMaggio also caused one of the most notorious plays in Red Sox history. They lost the 1946 World Series when Enos Slaughter mad his “mad dash” all the way from first to score the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game Seven.

For decades, Pesky was accused of holding Leon Culberson’s relay throw before making his throw home. Culberson was playing only because DiMaggio, who had doubled in two runs in the top of the eighth to tie the score, pulled a hamstring as he reached second base.

“Slaughter never would have scored if I’d been in centerfield,” DiMaggio told Frederick Turner in “When The Boys Came Back.” Slaughter concurred. “If they hadn’t taken DiMaggio out of the game, I wouldn’t have tried it.”

And Pesky never would have spent time in Bucknerland. “I will miss him greatly,” Pesky told Pratt. “He was a great player, and most of all, a great friend.”