This is game 31 of the 2011 baseball season.
In the first inning let’s take a look at This Week in Baseball History for the 2 week of August.
1949 Hitless in his first four at bats against Yankee hurler Vic Raschi, Red Sox outfielder Dom DiMaggio’s 34-game hitting streak comes to an end as his brother Joe makes a shoestring catch in the eighth inning to taking away a hit.
Dominic Paul DiMaggio, nicknamed “The Little Professor”, was born February 12, 1917 in San Francisco, CA
It is easy to overlook the remarkable career of Dominic DiMaggio. After all, he lived in the shadow of two famous ballplayers: his brother Joe, arguably the greatest all-around ballplayer of his era, and good friend and teammate Ted Williams, a Red Sox legend. Yet Dom was as solid a major-leaguer as there was in any era.
He was the youngest and smallest of three brothers who each became major league center fielders, the others being Joe and Vince. it was said of the brothers that Joe was the best hitter, Dom had the best arm, and Vince, who had aspirations to become an opera singer, had the best voice.
Dom was labeled the “Little Professor” because of his 5-foot-9, 168-pound frame, his serious expression, and his glasses — necessary to correct his nearsightedness.
Dom started his professional baseball career in the Pacific Coast League playing for his hometown San Francisco Seals. In three seasons he increased his average from .306 in his first season to .308 in his second season, and finally .361 in his breakout season in 1939.
Dom attributed his increased production to instruction from Lefty O’Doul, the Seals manager. Dom had high praise for O’Doul in his 1990 book, Real Grass, Real Heroes, calling him “…far and away the finest hitting instructor that ever put on a baseball uniform.” After the 1939 season, the Red Sox purchased Dom’s contract for $75,000.
Dom made his major-league debut on April 16, 1940, and had little trouble adjusting to the big leagues, hitting .301 and scoring 81 runs in 108 games in his rookie season. Going into spring training, Dom was concerned that he might not get to play because Boston was loaded with good outfielders: Ted Williams in left, Doc Cramer in center, Lou Finney in right, and Joe Vosmik, a 10-year veteran, as backup. But Dom, at age 22, had a solid spring and was able to beat out Finney, a .300 hitter the year before, for the starting right fielder’s job. Later in the season, Dom was moved to center field, and remained there for the rest of his career. The Red Sox showed confidence in DiMaggio by trading Doc Cramer to the Senators during the offseason.
Dom had fond memories of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, and especially the media interest in the DiMaggio brothers in center field. He recalled that the newspapers made a big deal out of the first time in 1940 when the Yankees visited Boston for a five-game series. Dom had 11 hits to Joe’s nine, or as Dom said, “Twenty hits for the family in one series.” One week later in New York, Joe advised his younger brother to move back because the ball carried well in that part of the ballpark. The next day Dom, taking Joe’s advice, was able to run down a fly ball hit 460 feet to deep center — off the bat of brother Joe.
In 1941, Dominic went to spring training knowing his role: center fielder and leadoff hitter. After a slow start he finished third with 117 runs scored, batted a solid .283, and was named to the All-Star team for the first time. In his first All-Star Game he singled to drive in his brother Joe.
During the 1942 season as World War II expanded, many ballplayers were drafted into military service.
Dom earned his second All-Star selection that season while on his way to hitting .286 with 110 runs scored, good for third in the league. Early in the season, Dom tried to enlist in the Navy but was told that his vision was an issue. Dom later said, “I had to fight my way into the Navy. They rejected me because of my eyesight, and for the longest time, I told them I wanted to be in the Navy. I was not about to sit out the war.” Despite a 4-F classification, he was able to enlist after completing the season, and left work and home for a three-year stint in the United States Coast Guard.
Dom returned to baseball in 1946, along with more than 500 professional baseball players who had served during wartime. The Red Sox had an amazing year, finishing 12 games ahead of the Tigers and 17 games ahead of the Yankees, with 104 wins and only 50 losses. Dom was once again an All-Star, hitting .316 and driving in 73 runs. The Red Sox were exuberant about playing in their first World Series since 1918 and very confident.
The Series that year was decided in a legendary Game Seven at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. In the top of the eighth inning, with a 3-1 Cardinals lead, Dominic came to bat with two outs and men on second and third. With Ted Williams on deck, he knew he would get a pitch to hit and he drove the ball off the wall in right-center. Dom was thinking triple as he hustled around the bases, but he popped a hamstring and hobbled into second base. He was replaced on base and then in center field by Leon Culberson. Ted Williams popped out to end the inning. With the score tied, 3-3, St. Louis took the Series on Enos Slaugher’s “mad dash” home from first base after a soft line drive to center off the bat of Harry Walker. Dom believed that if he had been able to remain in the game, the outcome might have been different. He had more experience in center field than Culberson and he was more comfortable with the poor field conditions at Sportsman’s Park.
Over the next few seasons DiMaggio was consistently among the league leaders in runs scored, walks, hits, and doubles. In 1947 and 1948, he hit .283 and .285, respectively.
Dom put together the longest hitting streak in Red Sox history in 1949, batting safely in 34 consecutive games. During the streak he hit .357 and scored 35 runs. The streak ended against the Yankees on a fly ball to brother Joe. Dom hit .307 that season and finished third in the league in three categories with 186 hits, 126 runs, and 34 doubles, and he again was named to the All-Star team.
1950 was Dom DiMaggio’s finest season, with a career high .328 average and 193 hits, and league-leading marks with 131 runs and 15 stolen bases.
In 1951 he continued his hot hitting, putting together a 27-game hitting streak, batting .296 with 189 hits, and scoring a league-leading 113 runs.
In 1952 DiMaggio played in just 128 games, but hit a solid .294, and played in his final All-Star Game. After being relegated to the bench the following year and playing in just three early-season games, Dom retired on May 9. The new manager of the Red Sox, Lou Boudreau, had felt that he was past his prime and replaced him in center field. Dom had no desire to sit on the bench. He finished with a career .298 average and 1,680 hits.
Late in his career, Dom expressed concern about the treatment of ballplayers at the hands of some owners. He joined Johnny Murphy, Allie Reynolds, Fred Hutchinson, Bob Feller, Eddie Yost, and others in the early vestiges of a players union, an effort that eventually led to the formation of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
After retiring, he became a successful plastics manufacturer in New England. He was inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995. After Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey died in 1976, DiMaggio headed a group of New England businessmen who put together an offer to purchase the Red Sox but was rebuffed in his efforts.
Dom’s love for the game of baseball is eloquently expressed in a passage from Real Grass, Real Heroes:
“It was that wonderful sameness, year in and year out. We could always count on baseball to be the same warm and sunny game, on the same fields, in the same cities. We loved baseball not only for itself but for the secure feeling of continuity it gave you. We felt a loyalty to baseball, because it was loyal to us.”
DiMaggio died on May 8, 2009 at the age of 92 at Marion, Massachusetts.
A large part of this biography comes from the SABR Baseball Biography Project written by John Contois. It can be found online at http://bioproj.sabr.org
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Well, that’s it for today’s Baseball History Podcast. I’ll see you later at the ballpark