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LI'L PROFESSOR IS THE REAL PRIDE OF SAN FRANCISCO
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There was a time when the City of San Francisco was the Crown Jewel of the baseball world. New York may have had three teams, and Southern California has become a gold mine of talent, as has the Sunbelt South. However, in the first half of the 20th Century, The City and the Bay Area was Baseball Mecca.

San Francisco was also home to a large Italian-American population, and at a time when Italians were unfortunately associated with Organized Crime and Fascist dictators, “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio arrived in New York just in time to carry on the Yankee tradition after the retirement of Babe Ruth, and to raise the image of people whose names ended with vowels.

Joe D. was a first ballot, no-brainer Hall of Famer. A couple of days ago, the Veterans Committee added Bill Mazeroski and Hilton Smith to the Halls of Cooperstown, but Dominick DiMaggio was left in the cold.

Dominick is used to being an after thought. He was Joe’s “little brother.” He was also a great ballplayer. Known as the “Li’l Professor” because he wore wire-rimmed glasses, Dom came out of Galileo High School in North Beach and, after starring like Joe with the Seals, became a fixture in center field at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox. He played alongside his brother’s great rival, Ted Williams.

The relationship between Dom and Joe can only be described as Biblical. Ever heard of Cain and Abel?

There were nine children born to Guiseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio. Dom was the youngest, and the third Major Leaguer among them. The family lived on Taylor Street and lived off the hard work of their fisherman father.

Donald Travers, who would become a legendary track coach at Lowell and Balboa in the 1950s, was a year behind Dom at Galileo. “Dario Lodigiani, Dom and I would stand in front of the school and talk sports,” recalls Travers. “Dom was a nice guy, but he didn’t talk about Joe. I think they won the City championship in 1933 and ’34. Dom and Dario were close friends. Neither one of them was very big. They played at Funston Playground in the Marina. Some other schools played at Big Rec.”

In an age when ethnic cliques defined who people on the East Coast, Travers recalls a different mindset in California.

“I had no feeling of ethnic rivalry,” says Travers, whose Balboa track teams would break racial barriers 20 years later.

Dominic hit .307 for the 1937 Seals, and in 1940 hit .400 as a rookie with Boston. In 11 years he patrolled Fenway and became a fan favorite among Beantowners, who created a song to rival the popular “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, we’re so glad you’re on our side.” In Boston they sang, “Dominick DiMaggio, he’s better than his brother Joe.”

                Dom hit .316 in 1946, the year Boston won 41 of their first 50 games en route to the American League title. They lost in seven games to St. Louis in the World Series when the Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter scored from first base on a single because Bosox shortstop Johnny Pesky hesitated before firing home with the relay.

Dom hit 14 homers in 1942, but his greatest contribution in 11 big league seasons was on defense, where he had to make up for the defensive deficiencies of left fielder Williams.

In 1949, Boston was heavily favored to win it all. Joe was sidelined with a bone spur in his heel, but returned for a four-game June series at Fenway. Barely able to walk, Joe D. put on one of the most legendary performances in baseball history, going four-for-four in one game, winning another with a homer, flagging down Williams’ drives in the deep part of center field where the right field seats jut into the alleys, and personally forging the underdog Yankees’ sweep of the powerful Red Sox that propelled New York to the World Championship.  

Joe played his best ball against Boston. The Red Sox fans gave him a standing ovation during that June series. He was determined to better Williams, but his desire to beat Dom played just as big a role.

In 1948, the Yankees, eliminated from the pennant race, had a chance to knock out Boston.

“`We’ll get back at you tomorrow,’” Joe told Dom, as related by Dom to David Halberstam in “Summer of ‘49”. “`I’ll take care of it personally.’”

“I may have something to with that…I’ll be there, too,” was Dom’s sheepish response.

Who can say what drove the complicated Joe? He never wanted anybody else but himself to make money, to gain recognition, to take the spotlight from him. Despite his own heroic image, he resented Dom. Over the years, the resentment became downright hostility and decades of silence.

When Joe was honored at Yankee Stadium before his death a few years ago, Dom was there, but he offered to stay far enough away from Joe to not take the spotlight from him. It was always that way between the brothers. Joe was one of the most selfish human beings in the world.

When Joe passed away, Dominick was kept away. There never was true reconciliation. There was hostility between Dom and Joe’s “lawyer,” the greedy Morris Engelberg. Dom called Engelberg on his vulture-like association with his brother, and there were lawsuits.

Joe’s life is now viewed for its tragic elements: The death of Marilyn Monroe, his lonely vigil as an unheroic hero. Dom continues to be man who possesses all the class his famous brother never actually had, and while he may not be Cooperstown material, he is the DiMaggio that San Francisco can truly be proud of.

 

 

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