It is so hard being the runt of the litter. You know, the youngest sibling. You are always striving to outdo the others in at least one thing.
It happens all the time. There have been many brothers who have played in the major leagues, one usually excelling over the other, thus claiming more recognition.
For example, if I say Brett, you don't say Ken, right? Of course not, you say George. Oldtimers, if I say Shantz, you would'nt reply Billy, you would say Bobby. If I say Perry you say Gaylord, not Jim. I say Boyer, you would probably say Ken, not Clete or Cloyd. Dean usually gets the response Dizzy, not Daffy. Tony Conigliaro, not Billy. I could go on and on, but I digress.
When one of your brothers is the great Joe DiMaggio, the stakes go up a good deal. How can you compete with someone who grows up to be one of the best players in baseball history?
Thus, is the plight of being the brother of a superstar. It doesn’t matter that you end your own professional baseball career with a .298 batting average. It matters not that you were named to seven All-Star teams in the 10 full seasons you played.
Throw in all that the fact that you played your career alongside a player some regard as the best hitter ever in baseball, Ted Williams.
All those components together mean that the spotlight was not large enough for all three.
Born in 1917, Domenic Paul DiMaggio, went on to become a very good, maybe not great, centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox from 1940 until 1953.
After missing three years serving in the Navy in World War II, he returned in 1946 with his best season yet, batting .316 to place fifth in the league.
There is always that particular part of the brain that makes one wonder, “what if?”
What if Dom hadn’t given up three years of his prime playing years to Uncle Sam, what more accomplishments he may have made?
You could hit .300 every year, hit 30 HR every year and drive in 100 runs and still not be the best DiMaggio, not to mention the best center-fielder in the American League.
It is very difficult to grow up in the shadow of a brother, especially a successful one. I would imagine all his life Dom was asked, “DiMaggio, are you Joe’s brother?”
Even now every time someone meets me they say, “Eastham. Are you related to Ron?” It gets old, people, it gets real old.
His nickname, “The Little Professor” was very well deserved. Dom wasn’t your stereotypical looking baseball player, he looked more like he was taking Chemistry 101 or studying to become a nuclear physicist rather than being one of the best fielders of his era.
He did not just look like a mathematician, he was one. He utilized his mathematical skills to become successful in the business world after his retirement from baseball, and loved to play the stock market.
In most instances, someone with a 34-game hitting streak on his resume would look very good indeed. However, when you turn the lights on and look around and see ol’ Joe over there with a world-record 56-game hitting streak of his own, your streak quickly diminishes in grandeur.
Ironically, it was big bro Joe who caught a sinking liner to end his streak and keep his own record intact.
He was generally regarded as a better defensive player with a stronger arm, than Joe. The younger DiMaggio led the American League in assists three times, putouts twice and double plays twice.
Dom was also selfless and a very giving person. For years he donated all the money he made from signing autographs to the American Professional Baseball Players Association, an organization that helped support older players not covered by a retirement plan.
Dom passed away on May 8 in his home in Massachusetts after battling pneumonia. He was 92.
© Clifton Eastham 2009. All rights reserved.