I woke up this morning from a dream that Dominic DiMaggio had passed away. I’m certain this is my brain still working through the loss of The Scooter in recent weeks. As time marches on, we must necessarily lose the great players who are still living, but those who remain from the generation who played in the 1940s are starkly few in number.
I never had a chance to interview Phil Rizzuto, but I did interview Dom DiMaggio not that long ago. In preparation for yet another Red Sox-Yankees showdown which starts in a few days, I thought I’d share with you some words from a true veteran of The Rivalry and one of the last standard bearers of a great generation of baseball players.
Cecilia Tan: So, your brother Joe played in New York, and you played in Boston, putting you on opposite sides of the rivalry. What was it like playing in Boston?
Dominic DiMaggio: The people in New England are fabulous, just fantastic fans. The Red Sox are their team, and Red Sox nation exists all over the world, not just in the US. Red Sox Nation is everywhere. I suppose there are other teams that have such a following, but it’s nice to know we have so many people in distant places. I get mail from them, from everywhere, got one today from England.
CT: Is there a lot of interest in England? I have a friend in Scotland who follows a semi-pro league but that is all they have.
DD: Perhaps it’s all the inclement weather they have there. Though 56 degree weather is not too hard to take, in San Francisco it gets pretty cold, and we still played there. They probably wonder why we don’t play cricket.
CT: What was Fenway Park like when you played?
DD: Oh, I enjoyed Fenway Park. I enjoyed it very much. I bounced off the wall a number of times but I didn’t try to do anything I shouldn’t have done. They treated me very nicely, there. I lived right in Kenmore Square and it was very convenient to walk to the park. I was single–I didn’t get married until 1948–so I lived at the old Sheraton Hotel on Bay State Road, and then the Miles Standish, and then when I was married we lived out in Wellesley Hills. The area was very nice.
CT: I think both those buildings are university dormitories now. In 1948, that was the year the Yankees were out of it and it was the Indians who went into the one-game playoff against the Red Sox.
DD: We lost that playoff to Cleveland. We lost the game, but at least I was able to get married a little sooner!
CT: You got married right after the season?
DD: Yes, and the World Series would have made it a week or ten days later. Not that I wouldn’t have waited!
CT: I’m sure you would have been great in the World Series, too. In the 1946 World Series you batted third and went 7 for 27.
DD: I batted third that entire year! And that was the only time I batted third. I always wondered why I never batted third again, even though we won the pennant and almost won the World Series.
CT: Did you never ask anyone why?
DD: No, I never did. They felt my value was where they put me. We had some pretty solid hitters and for me to go up and say ‘I want to hit in this spot’ would be ungentlemanly and unsportsmanlike. But Bobby Doerr paid me the ultimate compliment by telling me that if I had been batting down in the lineup I would have driven in 100 runs annually. Being a leadoff man, that was the ultimate compliment.
CT: The Sox and Yankees faced each other pretty often in those days, but was there a particular time you remember? Like the Allie Reynolds no-hitter?
DD: He was a tough pitcher, a real real tough pitcher, tough to face, and a darn good pitcher. I remember when he pitched his no-hit game against us, I was batting, and Ted was the next batter. 2 outs in the ninth inning, and I got a base on balls, and Williams hits the ball straight up–and Berra dropped it! And the next one went right up in the air, too, and Reynolds went right over there to make sure he caught it!
CT: Any other games stand out for you?
DD: Forty-nine. The last two games in New York, we came in from Washington and we should have won the pennant in Washington. We did not, so we went into New York with one game in front and they beat us two in a row.
CT: There was a whole story they tell about how one of those games it was Joe DiMaggio day, your whole family was there on the field with him, including you, and Joe had the flu.
DD: I recall him leaning on my shoulder–he was pretty weak.
CT: Joe’s speech that day ended with the words “I’d like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.” He then went out and got two lucky hits that were the difference in the game.
DD: It’s been really nice talking to you, but it’s my cocktail hour so I had better go.