Dom DiMaggio Having lost his legendary brother, and with his famous old Red Sox teammate in decline, the last of the DiMaggios stands alone

July 01, 2001

"You and your brother don't even talk to each other."

"We don't have to. We're brothers."

--TOM PERROTTA, The Wishbones

Once there were 11 DiMaggios, Guiseppe, a fisherman born in
Sicily; his wife, Rosalie; and their five sons and four
daughters. Over the decades the family dwindled, as families do,
until finally, by 1997, only two of the sons were left, Joe and
his kid brother, Dom--a great ballplayer and a very good one.
Then, in September 1998, Joe got sick. The press, informed by a
source obsessed with enlarging the myth of the man, made it sound
as if each of Joe's hospital stays was routine, as if the great
DiMaggio would never die. Dom knew otherwise. He had always known
the secrets and the lies and the truths about his intensely
private brother; he knew the facts on subjects about which others
only speculated. The hitting streak. Marilyn. Joe's rules of
omerta. The saga of Joe Jr. The arrangements to be made after Joe
died at age 84 of lung cancer in March 1999. "All the others are
dead," Dom says. "The only one left is me."

Ted Williams thinks Dominic Paul DiMaggio should be in the Hall
of Fame. This implies two things: that Teddy Ballgame, not a man
given to hyperbole, believes Dom should be counted among the most
vaunted players in baseball history; and that the Little
Professor, among the first big leaguers to wear glasses on the
field, has not spent his entire life, 84 years, playing the role
of younger brother to Joseph Paul DiMaggio. He has been his own

They were teammates, Dom and Ted, and they were like brothers;
they worked the Fenway Park outfield together from 1940 through
'52, minus the years they missed for war. DiMaggio, in center,
got most everything Williams, in left, could not. "He was as good
a centerfielder as I ever saw," Williams has said. He saw Joe
DiMaggio's peerless grace, Mickey Mantle's arm, Willie Mays's
speed. Still, this is his opinion. "Dom saved more runs as a
centerfielder than anybody else. He should be in the Hall of

For years Williams has been calling attention to the injustice
(as he views it) of Dom's absence from Cooperstown, particularly
to his fellow members of the Veterans Committee. At the Ted
Williams Museum, in Hernando, Fla., there's a pamphlet available
called Why Dom DiMaggio Belongs in the Hall of Fame. It's filled
with quotes, statistics and an essay about Dom's baseball
excellence. It includes a 1951 quote from Casey Stengel that
reads, "With the possible exception of his brother Dom, Joe is
the best outfielder in the league." (Stengel, of course, was
Joe's manager.) Stats are cited comparing Dom with all other
major league hitters from 1940 through '42 and 1946 through '52
(he was in the Navy in '43, '44 and '45): In those 10 seasons
only Williams scored more runs (1,144 to 1,046), and nobody had
more hits (1,679) than Dom had. The pamphlet points out that Dom
holds the American League career record for total chances per
game by an outfielder, 2.99. The pamphlet urges fans to write to
the Veterans Committee on Dom's behalf.

The marks against Dom are the relative brevity of his career (10
full seasons, all with the Boston Red Sox) and his sub-.300
lifetime batting average (.298). But he had a large number of at
bats, 5,640, and with just one more hit per season he would have
been a career .300 hitter. Williams has been making the case for
Dom, who played in six All-Star Games, for years. The Veterans
Committee votes secretly, and all that can be said with certainty
is that as Dom and Williams grow older, Dom's chances of reaching
the Hall grow slimmer.

Dom and his wife, Emily, spend November to May in a tony little
South Florida development called Ocean Ridge. He passes part of
his day monitoring his investments on a computer in a town house
several blocks from the Atlantic. He and Emily spend the rest of
the year in the timeless summer colony of Marion, Mass., in a
shingled house sandwiched between the superb sailing waters of
Buzzards Bay and the exquisite golf course of The Kittansett
Club, at which Dom is a member. He greatly enjoys Kittansett but
views private-club life with suspicion. Last year he was turned
down for membership at another choosy club, the Everglades, in
Palm Beach, Fla. He was never given a reason for the rejection
but was told by friends who are members that he and Emily had too
many Jewish friends. ("I can tell you that that was not at all
the reason," says club president Bill Pannill. He added that he
did not know why DiMaggio was rejected but said, "It's one of
those club things.") "The hell with them," DiMaggio says. "I've
got a lot more to offer them than they have to offer me."

Williams's house is in Hernando, in central Florida, but Williams
has been hospitalized since January, in New York, San Diego and
now in Gainesville, Fla., owing to various ailments, heart
problems most particularly. He's 82. These days he talks by phone
and in person to a tiny cadre of friends and family, Dom among
them. When the living nominees to the All-Century team were
introduced at the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway, Williams was
brought out in a golf cart. Dom was in the stands, on his feet,
clapping, tearing, remembering. Joe had been nominated, of
course, but posthumously.

For years Dom has been telling a story about robbing Joe of a hit
at Yankee Stadium in Joe's first at bat in Game 45 of his
historic 56-game hitting streak of 1941. Joe needed a knock to
break the single-season record of 44 games, set by Willie Keeler
in 1897. The leaping catch in right center was, as Dom tells it,
like a stake through Joe's heart. "As we crossed paths in the
outfield, I tried to avoid making eye contact with him, but he
was staring me down," Dom says. "If looks could kill, I would
have dropped dead on the spot."

Joe grounded out in his second at bat but homered in his third to
keep the streak alive. Dom made a number of spectacular catches
of drives by Joe, but there is an error in this story:
Rightfielder Stan Spence made the leaping catch. Nonetheless, the
killing look Dom remembers is the deepest kind of truth, as real
to Dom today as it was 60 years ago.

Dom DiMaggio is in an Italian restaurant on a warm Florida night
in May. He's wearing gray trousers, a white Brooks Brothers dress
shirt with French cuffs and heavy starch, silver cuff links, a
striped tie and a blue blazer. The restaurant, Vittorio's, in
Delray Beach, near Ocean Ridge, suits Dom, the way Toots Shor's
suited Joe in New York in the 1940s. They know Mr. DiMaggio at
Vittorio's. He sits down for a six o'clock reservation precisely
on time, and two hours later he's still sitting, sipping his
second drink, telling stories, his menu unopened. The staff does
not disturb the man. He's in a reverie.

"Joe never expressed an opinion, not to me," Dom says, when the
conversation turns to Joe and the Hall of Fame. "I would have
loved him to, but we're not that kind of people. I know that when
people used to ask him who was the best defensive centerfielder
he ever saw, he would say, 'My brother Dom.' But he would never
say, 'Dom belongs in the Hall,' because if he had said that and I
had gotten in, he knew people would have said, 'Dom's only in
because Joe pushed for him.'" It was a complicated business,
being Joe DiMaggio. In many ways the complications trickled down
to Dom.

"I want to thank you," Dom said many years ago to sports
columnist Tom Laird of The San Francisco News. Laird, who covered
the San Francisco Seals--the legendary minor league team that gave
Joe and Dom, as well as older brother Vince, their professional
baseball foundation--was hardly expecting a thank-you. In 1937,
when Joe was a second-year star for the New York Yankees and
Vince a rookie playing daily for the Boston Braves in the
National League, Laird was merciless in writing about Dom,
bespectacled and bony and in his first year with the Seals. Laird
said Dom owed his job to his family name. Over three seasons
Lefty O'Doul, the Seals' manager, taught Dom how to hit, really
hit, and Dom's fielding, always a strength, became brilliant, and
by 1940 three DiMaggio centerfielders were in the majors. "My
desire was just to play professional baseball," Dom told Laird
that day, "but what you wrote made me determined to get to the
big leagues."

Vincent Paul DiMaggio, two years older than Joe and five older
than Dom, played for 10 years, for five teams. He was twice an
All-Star. Vince ran the bases well and played center like a
DiMaggio, but his career average was .249. "Vince missed his
calling," Dom says. "He could have been an opera star. If you
asked him to sing, you couldn't get him to stop if you wanted
to--which you didn't. What a voice."

The DiMaggios were musical people. Dom likes to listen to Nat
King Cole and Louis Armstrong. Joe loved Luciano Pavarotti. A
recording of Pavarotti's singing Ave Maria was playing as Joe
took his final breaths. This fact was reported in the book Joe
DiMaggio: The Hero's Life, Richard Ben Cramer's exhaustive and
controversial biography published in 2000. Cramer spent five
years researching the book, talking to hundreds of people, but
not to Joe and, as a result, not to Dom. Since Joe wouldn't talk
to Cramer, neither would Dom, out of loyalty to Joe before his
death and in honor of his memory after it. It's a measure of
Dom's decency that Cramer, in the book's acknowledgments, thanks
Dom for being "kind enough to put up with me," even though he
"didn't want to help."

Where Dom would have no problem with the book is on the subject
of Morris Engelberg, Joe's lawyer and personal manager for the
final 16 years of Joe's life. Cramer portrays Engelberg as
relentlessly pushy, overwhelming his client while enriching
him--his estate is estimated to be worth well over $50 million.
Dom has no use for Engelberg. (Engelberg says he has "only warm
feelings for Dom.") "He's the most despicable person I've ever
had the displeasure of being forced into contact with," Dom says.
As Joe neared his end, Dom says, Engelberg wanted him to remain
in Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Fla.; Dom was
insistent that his lone surviving sibling, whose house was
nearby, be brought home to die, and home is where he died.
(Engelberg maintains he also wanted Joe to return home.)

The funeral was in San Francisco. "Engelberg wanted the body
flown out on American Airlines, with the freight," Dom says, "but
all the funeral arrangements were to be at my discretion. I told
Engelberg, 'I'm taking my brother out on a private plane.' I
invited him to fly with us. He didn't, of course." (Engelberg
says he wanted to fly the body out on American because "American
was Joe's airline.")

Dom invited baseball commissioner Bud Selig and American League
president Gene Budig to the funeral, despite Engelberg's
objections. Dom felt those invitations were proper and what Joe
would have wanted. Dom didn't invite Yankees owner George
Steinbrenner, whom Engelberg thought should have been invited.
When Dom was looking for a private plane to fly his brother's
body to San Francisco, he called Steinbrenner, but Dom says he
received no call back. (Steinbrenner doesn't recall any message
from Dom and says had he received such a request, he would have
done what he could to help. The commissioner's office paid for
the charter, at a cost of $75,000.) When Dom didn't hear from
Steinbrenner, he ended the DiMaggio relationship with him.

Dom's reaction was a manifestation of a central aspect of the
DiMaggio code, a code rooted in old Sicilian notions of respect
and how it is shown. It was a code so complex that even family
members could violate it. Joe's first wife was Dorothy Arnold,
an aspiring actress. They married in 1939, and two years later
their only son, Joe DiMaggio Jr., was born. In 1945 Dorothy and
Joe divorced. "When the kid came of age, he picked his mother
over his father," Dom says, "and that was the end of it. Joe Jr.
said repeatedly, 'If my father calls for me, I will come.' But I
knew my brother. He would not do that. If Joe Jr. would have
called his father, my brother would have accepted him with open
arms." Joe Jr.'s life was a horrid saga of drug abuse,
homelessness and isolation. But he put on a suit for his
father's funeral and served as a pallbearer. Five months later
he was dead, at 57, from an overdose of heroin and crack.

A key to maintaining a relationship with the elder Joe was being
exceedingly discreet: knowing when to talk, knowing what not to
talk about. In the years after she and Joe were divorced,
discussion of Marilyn Monroe was forbidden. If you so much as
mentioned her name to Joe, your relationship with him was over.
Joe never cooperated with any of the writers or producers working
on the dozens of books, articles and films about Monroe. He
expected his family and friends to do the same, and they did, Dom
especially, out of respect and out of fear that if they didn't,
Joe would cast them out.

On that May night at Vittorio's, however, Dom is ready to talk
about Marilyn, for reasons he does not know himself. His dinner
guest makes a reference to "Joe's second wife." Then Dom says the
name: "When it was first announced that Joe and Marilyn were
getting married"--to hear the name Marilyn spoken, not as an icon
or a reference in an Elton John song but in connection to a real
person, is startling--"I hoped for the best. But I thought, I give
them a year. I was wrong. The marriage lasted nine months.

"She was a nice-looking person, but I didn't approve of her
thinking," Dom says. "Her career was first. Joe could not condone
the things that Marilyn had to do. Joe wanted a wife he could
raise children with. She could not do that. When they separated,
I wrote to them that it was important for them to stay together,
to try to make it work, that the whole world looked upon their
marriage as the ideal. I know Marilyn accepted the letter and
read it to Joe, but it did not help. Joe had wanted that
relationship to work. He held on to it for the rest of his life.
At his funeral my daughter said, 'My uncle was a lonesome hero.'
She hit it right on the button."

Dom has things in life that Joe only dreamed about. For starters,
he got marriage right the first time. He and the former Emily
Frederick have been married for 52 years. They have three
children, Paul, Emily and Peter. They all went to college--Brown,
Stanford and New Hampshire, respectively--and all three finished.
(Joe Jr. attended Yale, but dropped out.) The three children have
all gone on to find their way in the world. There's also Dom's
thriving business career. He was very successful in textile
manufacturing, a pursuit in which his surname was of no value.
Today Paul runs the business, Delaware Valley Corp., in Lawrence,
Mass. It has about 50 employees and annual revenues of $12
million. Dom and Emily have six grandchildren, and there are
trust funds to pay for their college educations. "I've led a
tremendously fulfilling life," Dom says.

He then says: "Sometimes Teddy will say to me, 'Dommie, I haven't
done much with my life.' He feels he should have achieved more
after his playing days were over. Financially. Other ways, too. I
say to him, 'Teddy, you have done more than 99.9 percent of the
corporate CEOs in this country. When you played, you were
crucified by the writers, but you stood your ground. You served
your country in war not once but twice. You almost gave up your
life for your country. If anyone ever suggests otherwise, you
spit that person right in the eye. You are your own man. You
always have been.' I hope to God the doctors aren't just keeping
Teddy alive. I saw that with Joe. He went though hell. It's no
way to end a life. Teddy deserves better than that."

DiMaggio takes a sip of his drink, opens his menu and says, "All
the old-timers are fading out." The words do not sound sad. A
waitress appears, right on cue, and Dom orders dinner. The food
is Italian, and the atmosphere is proper Old World. For whatever
reason, and who can say about such things, he looks like the
picture of contentment.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY RICHARD SCHULTZ SAFE AT HOME DiMaggio, who enjoys the quiet grace of Ocean Ridge, doesn't dwell on not being in Cooperstown. B/W PHOTO: FRANK SCHERSCHEL/TIMEPIX GLASS ACT Dubbed the Little Professor, the bespectacled DiMaggio was a superb hitter as well as one of the game's top centerfielders. COLOR PHOTO: CORBIS/BETTMANN FAMILY STYLE Though they traveled far from mother Rosalie's table, Joe and Dom sustained the DiMaggio code of loyalty. COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD SCHULTZ NUTTY PROFESSOR DiMaggio shows off his arm in Fenway.

In the 10 seasons from 1940 through '42 and '46 through '52, no
big leaguer had more hits than Dom.

"She was a nice-looking person," says Dom of Marilyn Monroe, "but
I didn't approve of her thinking."

Dom, who has things that Joe only dreamed about, says, "I have
led a tremendously fulfilling life."