Friday, May 8, 2009

Dom DiMaggio Dies at 92: Red Sox Fans Lose One of "The Teammates"

Sometimes in the wake of a black event, the "Baseball Gods" have a way of evening the score. They have a plan to make things hurt a little less and allows us to keep things in perspective.

If you don't know about the events of yesterday, you've been reading Vogue instead of Bleacher Report. Venom litters the pages on MLB, Red Sox, and Dodgers sites and more than likely on Sports & Society, Opinion, and even the other MLB community pages throughout B/R.

As both writers and as fans, we love this stuff. We love the drama as much as we say we don't. We are rubber-necked drivers slowing as we pass a flipped car in hopes of seeing blood. It's human nature. I'm not here to question why, only to state that it exists.

No where on the site, however, does anyone mention the passing of Red Sox legend Dom DiMaggio, who died last night in his Marion, Mass. home at the age of 92?

One may contend that God would never use DiMaggio's passing to deflect conversations about the death of the sport, but who knows. Maybe God is reminding us about all that was right with the sport vis-a-vis all that is wrong.

“Little Professor,” as he was known due to his bespectacled eyes and his slight frame, played for the Boston Red Sox from 1940 to 1953. He was a quiet but well-respected teammate and opponent.

He was the youngest of nine children with brothers Joe and Vince being the most famous of the DiMaggio clan. Joe was, of course, a Hall of Famer with the Yankees from 1936 to 1951, and brother Vince played for five different National League teams from 1937 to 1946.

In the New York Times best seller The Teammates, by David Halberstam, DiMaggio was described as an "athlete carried as much by his remarkable intelligence as by his natural talent.

"He grew up partially in the shadow of his older brother, but would end up a seven time American League All-Star. It was Dom that Ted (Williams) would turn to for support in later years."

Former Red Sox player David McCarty told me in an email today that "he was always so nice and fun to talk to when he would stop by the clubhouse.

"DiMaggio was a great friend and teammate to Williams, Johnny Pesky, and Bobby Doerr."

All but DiMaggio has their number retired on the right field Fenway facade. (Hmmmm?)

DiMaggio holds the Red Sox club record still when he hit in 34 straight in 1949. He led the American League twice in runs scored (131 in 1950 and 113 in 1951) and also led the league with 11 triples and 15 stolen bases in 1950, when he hit a career-high .328.

Famed writer Dick Flavin, a friend of Dom, Teddy, and Johnny, wrote and recited the following poem as a tribute to the famed three at Ted’s home in Hernando, Fla., on Oct. 23, 2001. He later recited it again at Fenway Park in 2002 at a memorial to honor Williams' death.

Though mainly about Williams' heroics, I felt it would be an appropriate tribute to a star who lived in the shadows of the game's biggest.


(With apologies to Ernest Lawrence Thayer)

By Dick Flavin (all rights reserved)

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Red Sox nine that day,
The score stood four to two with but one inning left to play.
So when Stephens died at first and Tebbetts did the same
A pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the rest
With he hope that springs eternal within the human breast.
They thought if only Teddy could get a whack at that—
They’d put even money now with Teddy at the bat.

But Dom preceded Teddy and Pesky was on deck.
The first of them was in a slump. The other was a wreck.
So on that stricken multitude a deathlike silence sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Teddy’s getting to the bat.

But Dom let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Pesky, of all people, tore the cover off the ball.
When the dust had lifted, and they saw what had occurred,
There was Johnny safe on second and Dominic on third.

Then from that gladdened multitude went up a joyous yell,
It rumbled in the mountains and rattled in the dell.
It struck upon the hillside and rebounded on the flat,
For Teddy, Teddy Ballgame, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Teddy’s manner as he stepped into his place,
There was pride in Teddy’s bearing and a smile on Teddy’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers he lightly doffed his hat,
(I’m making that part up)
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Teddy at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he wiped his hands with dirt,
Five thousand tongues applauded as he wiped them on his shirt.
Then when the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Teddy’s eyes, a sneer curled Teddy’s lip.

And now the leather covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Teddy stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped.
“That ain’t my style,” said Teddy. “Strike one!” the umpire said.

From the benches black with people went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm waves on the stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” someone shouted on the stand,
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Teddy raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Teddy’s visage shown.
He stilled the rising tumult and bade the game go on.
He signaled the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew.
But Teddy still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two!”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and the echo answered fraud.
But one scornful look from Teddy and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Teddy wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Teddy’s lip; his teeth are clenched in hate.
He pounds with cruel vengeance his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Teddy’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this land of ours the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout.
And they’re going wild at Fenway Park ’cause Teddy hit one out!

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