Johnny Pesky didn’t have the heart to travel to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Friday night. Pesky, 89, has been losing friends here and there, and he learned earlier in the day that one of his closest, 92-year-old Dom DiMaggio had passed away due to complications from pneumonia.
Johnny Pesky didn’t have the heart to travel to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Friday night.
Pesky, 89, has been losing friends here and there, and he learned earlier in the day that one of his closest, 92-year-old Dom DiMaggio had passed away due to complications from pneumonia.
Pesky and DiMaggio had been especially close, playing for the Sox together from 1942-52, each skipping the 1943,’44 and ’45 seasons to serve their country. They were so close that they were honored in David Halberstam’s 2003 book, “The Teammates,” along with Ted Williams.
A banner depicting the cover shot of that book, the three close friends and teammates, hung from the Green Monster as the Sox took on the Rays, and DiMaggio was honored not only with a moment of silence, but also with his number, 7, being etched into the center field grass.
The great ones are leaving us, and DiMaggio was at the head of that class. A non-inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was a seven-time All-Star, one of the league great leadoff hitters who batted over .300 four times and led the American League in triples and doubles in 1950. He led the A.L. in runs twice and scored more than 100 runs six times. His 34-game hitting streak of 1949 remains the club’s high-water mark.
“Dom’s teammates said he was the perfect player,” said Red Sox Vice President and team historian Dick Bresciani. “He was a great leadoff hitter. He had power. He led the league. He was a tremendous outfielder. He could really go back and get balls. Back then the outfield flagpole wasn’t covered over and he was amazing at getting around that flagpole. Kids would say that one day he’d climb the pole to get to a fly ball.”
Bresciani recalled that DiMaggio, playing in “the smallest ballpark in the major leagues, had 503 putouts one year (1948). He was great in the field.”
DiMaggio was a ballplayer’s ballplayer, and not simply because he had the stats to back it up. This was a man who stood 5-9 and wore glasses, hence his nickname, “The Little Professor.”
“He was one of the first guys wearing glasses,” Bresciani said. “He had to overcome that stigma, but the Sox took a chance on him.”
He had more to overcome. He was one of three baseball-playing brothers who grew up in California and played in what was the Pacific Coast League, which was almost as strong as the majors. Among them: his much more well-known brother Joe, who became a star with the Yankees. One other older brother, Vince, played 10 seasons in the majors, including his first two for the Boston Bees, who became the Boston Braves.
He also carried the stigma of having NOT carried the Red Sox to the 1946 World Series title.
“He was a great player on a great team,” Bresciani said. “He once told me that two feet coast him the World Series and better opportunities. He hit a two-run double against St. Louis in the 1946 World Series that missed a home run by two feet. Enos Slaughter (of the Cardinals) ended up scoring the winning run. If Dom had hit that home run we might have won the game.”
DiMaggio racked up his great numbers despite having missed the war years, just like Pesky and Williams. Yet he never was enshrined in the Baseball Hall.
“Dom and I played together for 10 years,” Pesky said in a statement (he was reportedly awakened by a television reporter in the morning and given the news), “and he certainly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He was a great player, and, most of all, a great friend. I will miss him terribly.”
Here’s the real beauty of the man, though: Everybody who speaks of him leaves the same impression. He was a wonderful person.
DiMaggio, who lived in Marion, loved life and loved the game. He was fixture at Fenway whenever there was an event. Sox manager Terry Francona didn’t know him well, but enjoyed his occasional meetings in the dugout. “I felt like I knew him,” he said.
Sox owner John Henry had spoken to DiMaggio less than a month ago and told him that he would be honored one day during the season. “It’s tragic that he isn’t going to see it,” said Henry. “He was a great part of this organization. He would always call me with advice and tips. He will always be a part of Fenway Park.
“He was such a great man. He loved the Red Sox. He’s got 70 years in this organization and after he stopped playing (1953) he was still a part of this family.”
He will leave a legacy that ordinary fans might understand, according to Bresciani. “He was a terrific guy. I remember in the winter of 1966-67 the Red Sox were looking for help selling tickets and raising money.
They hired what they thought was a fiery young manager, Dick Williams. They were looking to stimulate sales. That’s how the BoSox club was founded. He agreed to become the first president. He got the club going and it helped the Sox.”
It was said often Friday: “He will be missed.” DiMaggio made an impression.
The Patriot Ledger