BOSTON – Dominic DiMaggio, the bespectacled Boston Red Sox center fielder whose career was overshadowed by his older brother Joe's Hall of Fame career with the New York Yankees, has died at his Massachusetts home. He was 92.
DiMaggio died early Friday morning surrounded by his family, according to his wife, Emily. She did not give a cause of death but said that DiMaggio had been ill lately.
"He was the most wonderful, warm, loving man," his wife of 61 years said. "He adored his children, and we all adored him."
DiMaggio was a seven-time All Star who still holds the record for the longest consecutive game hitting streak in Boston Red Sox history.
Known as the "Little Professor" because of his eyeglasses and 5-foot-9, 168-pound frame, DiMaggio hit safely in 34 consecutive games in 1949. The streak was broken on Aug. 9 when his big brother caught a sinking liner in the eighth inning of a 6-3 Red Sox win over the Yankees.
The younger DiMaggio also had a 27-game hitting streak in 1951, which still ranks as the fifth longest in Red Sox history. Joe set the major league record with a 56-game hitting streak with the Yankees in 1941.
The oldest of the three center-field-playing DiMaggio brothers was Vince, who had a 10-year major league career with five National League teams. Joe died in March 1999, while Vince died in October 1986.
Dom DiMaggio spent his entire career with the Red Sox, 10 full seasons plus three games in 1953, and was teammates and close friends with Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky.
While Dom did not have the offensive numbers of Joe, he was generally regarded as a better defensive player with a stronger arm, although their career fielding percentages are identical.
He was a career .298 hitter with 87 home runs, while Joe was a .325 career hitter with 361 homers. Dom's baseball career was interrupted for three years (1943-45) by World War II when he served in the Navy, a military obligation that may have cost him induction into the Hall of Fame, Doerr once said.
DiMaggio and Pesky "were really penalized for that, and I think it was kind of a shame in a way because when you look, they have the numbers," Doerr said in August 2007 during an appearance at Fenway Park.
Dom played a pivotal role in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, a heartbreaker for Boston fans. He batted in two runs in the eighth inning to tie the game at 3, but he injured his leg while running the bases and was replaced in center field by Leon Culberson for the ninth.
It was Culberson who fielded Harry Walker's double and threw it to Pesky during Enos Slaughter's famous "Mad Dash" from first to home that won the game for the Cardinals.
Many argued that if DiMaggio had still been in center he would have handled the play better and prevented Slaughter from scoring.
"Watching the play had been pure agony for Dominic DiMaggio...," David Halberstam wrote in his 2003 book, "The Teammates." "His own injury, his own pulled hamstring, Dominic now decided, had been the decisive play of the game."
After the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, their first since 1918, DiMaggio, Pesky and Doerr were on hand on opening day 2005 to raise the championship banner at Fenway Park.
On June 30, 1950, Dom and Joe DiMaggio homered in the same game, the first time brothers had hit homers in the same game in the majors in 15 years. They played in the outfield together in three All-Star games.
After his playing career, he started a successful company that manufactured upholstery and carpeting for automobiles, which he ran until his retirement in 1983. He remained active in many charitable and civic causes, supporting medical and education institutions, even serving on the board of trustees at St. Anselm's College in New Hampshire. He also helped found the AFL franchise that eventually became the New England Patriots.
"Dominic DiMaggio was one of the most successful players of his generation in his post-baseball life," Halberstam wrote in his book. "He had become over the years a man of means, graceful, elegant, and wise."
DiMaggio grew up in San Francisco, one of nine children born to Sicilian immigrants. His mother was a teacher and his father was a fisherman. He is survived by his wife and three children, Dominic Paul, Peter and Emily.
Wake and funeral arrangements are pending, but will be held at St. Paul's Church in Wellesley.