One of the greatest center fielders of all-time, Dominic DiMaggio didn’t have the luxury of entering the Major Leagues unnoticed: he was the kid brother of the greatest all-round talent in the game. The kid brother of a legend, Dominic couldn’t fly under the radar like other prospects. Owning the same last name as the game’s finest talent meant that he had an awful lot to live up to. Expectations were high for the youngest DiMaggio – expectations to be like his brother – that he didn’t quite achieve, but he certainly came close.
As a rookie in 1940, when brother Joe have already established himself as a legitimate talent at the Major League level, Dom hit a solid .301. He avoided the sophomore jinx with an All-Star campaign in 1941. That season, Dom led all center fielders with 90 walks and his 117 runs scored were only eclipsed by brother Joe – as far as center fielders were concerned. Dominic’s trademarks were his exceptional batting eye, his uncanny ability to score runs and his knack for tallying two-baggers. In 1942, he paced all center fielders with 36 doubles. However, after the ’42 season, Dominic enlisted in the Navy.
Mr. DiMaggio told this writer that he fought his way into the service. Initially, The Little Professor was rejected by the military due to his poor eyesight (he was one of a select few players to wear eyeglassses on the diamond) but wrote a letter to the Navy pleading for acceptance. Clearly impressed with Dominic’s unrivalled character, the Navy accepted him and he spent three years in the colors – missing out on his prime years. At the ages of 26, 27 and 28, most players are at their physical peak and enjoy their best years, but Dom missed those baseball campaigns serving his country.
Dominic returned to the game in 1946 and helped the war ravaged Red Sox reach the World Series. The BoSox had a tremendous team during the mid 1940s, led by the greatest hitter of his time, Ted Williams and great complimentary pieces in Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Mr. DiMaggio. Dom hit .316 in ’46 – best among center fielders – and stroked a trio of doubles in the World Series. However, despite Dom’s fine play in the Fall Classic, the Red Sox lost the series to the Cardinals. It has been written, quite often, that had Dom been in center field (he was removed due to injury) when Harry “The Hat” Walker lashed his base hit, that Enos Slaughter wouldn’t have tried to score on Dom’s amazing throwing arm. Since Dominic was shelved, Slaughter tore through the bases and crossed home plate for the winning run, giving St. Louis the series.
1946 would be Dominic’s only World Series action but he was plenty productive in the years the Red Sox finished lower in the standings. He scored 127 runs in 1948 – best among center fielders – while also leading the position with 101 walks and 40 doubles. He enjoyed another solid campaign in 1949, pacing all center fielders with 126 runs scored and 96 free passes.
Arguably his finest seaosn came in 1950, when the veteran led the American League in stolen bases and triples. His .328 batting average was tops among all center fielders, as were his 131 runs scored. 1951 would prove to be his swan song as Dominic led the AL with 113 runs scored and his 34 doubles were best among center fielders.
Dominic DiMaggio enjoyed a great career – one abbreviated by WWII – that could have carried him to Cooperstown long ago. Unlike Charlie Gehringer and Ted Lyons, Hall of Famers who missed time to the military at the end of their careers, Dominic was just entering his prime when he went out of his way to join the colors. He would have easily eclipsed 2,000 career hits had he not missed time to the war and his career batting average would certainly be a few points higher. An all-round talent, just like his brother Joe, Dominic DiMaggio could do it all: play the field, run the bases and hit the ball with precision and authority. But what separates Dominic from the pack is his uncanny knack for scoring runs. The list below showcases Dominic’s runs-scored-per-game average compared with his position peers.
Dom DiMaggio: 0.748/ Joe DiMaggio 0.801/ Terry Moore 0.554/ Pete Reiser 0.549/ Larry Doby 0.626/ Willie Mays 0.689
Of the players listed above, legends every last one, Dom rests just below brother Joe while standing head and shoulders above men that played for better teams. Terry Moore was with the perennial NL winners, the Cardinals. Pistol Pete Reiser played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mays and Doby are both Hall of famers. Dominic belongs in Cooperstown.
Dom DiMaggio’s stats: G 1,399/R 1,046/H 1,680/2B 308/HR 87/ RBI 618/ BB 750/SO 571/SB 100/BA .298/SA .419