This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
The term ‘hero’ is tossed around lightly sometimes, especially in baseball when you hear about your favorite player being a ‘baseball hero’. The “Little Professor” was a true hero in every sense of the word. With Dominic DiMaggio’s death last Friday at the age of 92, it seems a bit of living history has slipped away too. He played for eleven seasons in Boston, and missed three full seasons entering the prime of his career when he went off to serve in the US Navy during World War II. Upon returning from the war, DiMaggio helped push the Red Sox into the World Series for the first time since 1918. In the deciding Game 7 of the ’46 World Series, Dom DiMaggio knocked in all three runs that the Red Sox put on the scoreboard. In the game, DiMaggio was removed for a pinch runner and replaced in the field by Lou Culberson. It’s not a sure bet that even DiMaggio would have stopped Enos Slaughter in his ‘Mad Dash’ that won the game and series for St. Louis. Without the “Little Professor”, the game may not have been as close to begin with.
In addition to his 7 All Star selections and a 34 game hit streak(snapped by his brother Joe!), DiMaggio was also a member of the last trio of Red Sox outfielders to hit at least .300 in the same season when he did it alongside Al Zarilla and Ted Williams in 1950. Ultimately, he was one of the remaining connections to an era that seems miles away. Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio are the subject of a fantastic book by the late David Halberstam entitled “The Teammates”, which chronicles the friendships of the aging players near the end of Ted Williams’ life. With rising stars like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and a bunch more on the current roster, a lot focus is on the greatness that Red Sox have now and for the foreseeable future rather than look back at who was leading the way years ago. Though DiMaggio last played in a game nearly 60 years ago, it’s a safe bet that his legacy as an American hero and a baseball hero are secure for the next 60 years and beyond.
“Just like the streak, I did what my job called for.” – Dom DiMaggio (1917-2009)