By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 8, 2009 7:12 PM
Dom DiMaggio, an outstanding center fielder with the Boston Red Sox, whose baseball career was fated to remain in the shadow of his older brother and professional rival, Joe DiMaggio, died May 8 of pneumonia at his home in Marion, Mass. He was 92.
Mr. DiMaggio was a steady leadoff hitter and brilliant fielder for the Red Sox throughout the 1940s and early 1950s and played his entire career alongside Hall of Fame great Ted Williams. He was named to seven All Star teams, helped lead his team to the 1946 World Series and was often considered the second best center fielder of his era -- next only to his brother, who became a baseball legend with the Red Sox' fiercest rivals, the New York Yankees.
For years, Williams tried to rally support to get Dom DiMaggio elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Author David Halberstam, who featured Mr. DiMaggio in his 2003 bestseller "The Teammates," called him "probably the most underrated player of his day."
At 5-foot-9 and 168 pounds, Dom DiMaggio was five inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than his more famous brother. A third brother, Vince, had a 10-year career in the National League.
As one of the few players of the time to wear glasses, Dom DiMaggio was called "the Little Professor," but his nickname also symbolized his canny, thoughtful approach to the game.
With the possible exception of Joe, he was the finest defensive center fielder of his era. He had a powerful right arm and played the position in a way few players have tried before or since. Before each pitch, he stood sideways in shallow center field, "with my left foot facing the plate and my right foot parallel to the center field," he said in a 2006 article in Baseball Digest.
Some writers assumed that he adopted the odd position because Williams was so clumsy in left field, but Mr. DiMaggio said he had played that way since he was a boy in San Francisco.
"I could get a quicker start on fly balls over my head," he said, "could come in faster on line drives to short center, and could charge ground balls better."
When Mr. DiMaggio joined the Red Sox in 1940, he made an instant impact with his fielding and hitting. The next year, one of the most memorable in baseball history, Joe DiMaggio set a major league record by hitting safely in 56 consecutive games, and Williams became the last big leaguer to hit .400. Dom DiMaggio scored 117 runs for the Red Sox that year, ranking third in the American League after Williams and Joe DiMaggio. In 1942, the same players again finished 1-2-3 in runs scored.
After missing three years while in the Navy during World War II, Dom DiMaggio was a key player as the Red Sox won the 1946 American League pennant. In the seventh game of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, he hit a double in the top of the eighth inning to drive in two runs and tie the score, 3-3. But as he was rounding first base, he pulled a hamstring and had to leave the game.
In the bottom of the eighth, his replacement, Leon Culberson, was slow to reach a single by Harry Walker and made a poor throw to the infield, allowing the Cardinals' Enos Slaughter to race from first base and slide into home with the winning run.
"If they hadn't taken DiMaggio out of the game," Slaughter said, "I wouldn't have tried it."
Mr. DiMaggio had his finest season in 1950, when he .328 and led the American League in runs scored and stolen bases. He retired in 1953, with a lifetime average of .298.
In 1949, he hit in 34 games in a row -- the Red Sox team record. The streak ended when his brother made a difficult catch on a sinking line drive.
The brothers remained close throughout their lives, but the younger DiMaggio acknowledged it wasn't always easy.
"Yes, he's my brother -- and I'm his brother," he once said. "It's been a struggle all my life . . . I was always Joe's kid brother."
Dominic Paul DiMaggio, the youngest of nine children, was born Feb. 12, 1917, in San Francisco to Sicilian immigrants. His father, a fisherman, believed baseball was a child's game until his sons became well-paid professionals.
After retiring from baseball, Dom DiMaggio founded a successful business manufacturing carpet and upholstery for automobiles. Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Emily F. DiMaggio; three children; and six grandchildren.
In later years, in the wake of Joe DiMaggio's marriage to Marilyn Monroe and the never-ending demands of curiosity-seekers, Mr. DiMaggio became a protector of his brother's reputation. In 2001, Dom DiMaggio told Sports Illustrated that he had tried to save his brother's short-lived marriage to the film star.
"Joe had wanted that relationship to work," he said. "He held on to it for the rest of his life."
He was at his brother's side when he died in 1999. Joe's final words, Mr. DiMaggio said, were, "I'll finally get to see Marilyn."