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May 12 2009: Goodnight Professor

Given that Boston has just laid to rest one of its icons in Dominic DiMaggio, I thought I’d share with everyone some excerpts from an interview I did with him back in 2003, back when the Sox story was always one of heartbreak.

We talked about a lot of heartbreakers in the interview, by necessity. So many of the great games at the “Little Professor” played in were the tough ones. There was of course the big Game Seven in the 1946 World Series, the game where Enos Slaughter dashed home. But also the one game playoff against Cleveland in 1948. And in 1949, going into Yankee Stadium needing to win only one of the final two games of the season to clinch the pennant, and losing both. That same year, little Dom had a 34 game hitting streak going (still a Red Sox record), snapped at–guess where?–Yankee Stadium, on a line drive that almost took the pitcher’s head off but was caught by–who else?–big brother Joe.

CT: What was Fenway Park like in those days?

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: In 1946, the Sox had not been in a World Series for 28 years.

DD: Twenty eight, are you sure? It had to have been longer than that.

CT: Well, from 1918, to 1946.

DD: You’re right, 28 years. It seemed longer.

CT: Well, even 28 years seemed like a long time back then.

DD: Yes, but it’s nothing compared to 86 years.

CT: Still, people must have been pretty excited.

DD: 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 play there. They probably wonder why we don’t play cricket.

CT: So of course we should talk about the seventh game of the 1946 World Series.

DD: That’s the one game that sticks out in my mind because it was the World Series. Whenever somebody asks me what game I remember most from my career, I can’t think of anything faster than the 7th game of the World Series, when Slaughter made his famous run around the bases. And of course while that was happening, I was unable to do anything about it. I was not able to participate on defense in the play that allowed him to score because prior to that I had gotten hurt. I had gotten that base hit and driven in the two runs that tied the game. Ted Williams was the next batter but I pulled the muscle in my leg. When I hit the ball off the wall I was very, very happy, and then when I rounded first my joy turned to complete despair. A heartbreaker in a sense.

CT: In that World Series, you batted third every game, 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; So earlier you were starting to tell me about the opposing pitcher, Harry Brecheen.

DD: He got credit for the victory. He was the guy I got the hit off.

CT: Since you had seen him a bit more than the other pitchers, did you look for a certain pitch?

DD: Yes I did.

CT: What?

DD: Well, he had thrown me a fastball for a strike on the first pitch, and then two curves he couldn’t get over, and then a screwball, that put he count to three balls and a strike. So I put my foot out of the batter’s box to get the signs, and got the hit sign. I kept my foot out of the box for a bit longer to make sure. Brecheen really didn’t want to walk me because he’d have to pitch to Ted with the bases loaded. I said, well, he doesn’t want to lay a fastball in there, and he can’t get the curve over for a strike, so he’s going to throw a screw ball. And he’s not going to put it inside, because he doesn’t want me to pull it. So he’s going to the outside corner. if he does, I’m going to go with it to the opposite field. And that is what he did, and that is what I did. Later one of my teammates told me that hit was just a few feet from going out of the ballpark. Instead it tied the game, and I got hurt. It was not to be, so that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

CT: After that you are in quite a few of the other “greatest games” in Red Sox history.

DD: Yes, but I was out for quite a long time in 1947. We had snow in June or something like that and we went out there without any warm ups. I swung at a pitch and pulled my left shoulder, I had to keep my arm in a sling for weeks. I hardly remember a thing about that. And then in 1948, 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 the wedding a week or ten days later. Not that I wouldn’t have waited!

CT: Why do you think Galehouse started and not Parnell or Kinder in ’48?

DD: I have no idea. Everybody asks that and I am not going to register an opinion on that!

DiMaggio is survived by his wife Emily, three kids, and numerous grandkids, not to mention teammates Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky.

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