"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 omert�. 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 Ball-game, 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 man.
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 Fame."
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.