THE FORGOTTEN DIMAGGIO
"Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away…"
Lyrics by Paul Simon
The great Yankee outfielder had long been enshrined in the pantheon of American icons by the time Simon and Garfunkle hit the charts with the song, "Mrs. Robinson" in the late 1960s. His career was the stuff of legends. It overshadowed the legacy of brother Dom, who starred for the Boston Red Sox for eleven seasons and almost completely obscured any memories of another brother who played in the major leagues.
Vincent Paul DiMaggio was actually discovered by scouts before Joe and Dom. After logging five years in the minors, where he hit well over .300 and slugged a few homeruns, Vince was traded before the 1937 season to the Boston Bees.
The forgotten-DiMaggio made his major league debut in April 1937. For the next two seasons, he averaged 141 games in the outfield and stroked 27 homeruns playing half-the-time in spacious Braves Field. He also struck out 245 times but sparkled in the field, finishing second in the National League in putouts both years. Possessor of a rifle arm, he topped the league with 21 assists in '37 and again in '38 with 19.
The Bees traded DiMaggio to the Yankees (!) after the 1938 campaign. For a few months, he and Joe were members of the Yankee family but Vince was assigned to the club's Kansas City Farm team where he played for most of the 1939 season.
The Bombers were loaded with talent, so despite Vince's potential, they dealt him to the Reds in August of '39. Cincy used DiMaggio sparingly and turned-around and traded the outfielder to the Pirates in May 1940 for Johnny Rizzo.
In Pittsburgh, Vince DiMaggio blossomed. Over the last five months of the '40 season, DiMaggio hit .289 and belted 19 home runs, playing home games in another spacious park, Forbes Field.
In 1941, Vince hammered 21 homeruns and plated 100. No one was paying a lot of attention because that was the year that brother Joe captured the nation's attention with his 56 game hitting streak.
By 1942, many front-line major leaguers were in the armed forces as World War II raged. DiMaggio continued to play but served the war effort by working in the off-season at the California Ship Building Corporation. During the war, to conserve badly-needed cork and rubber, baseball switched to Balata-cored balls. The centers made of the milky juices of tropical trees weren't nearly as lively and home run totals plummeted.
In both 1942 and ‘43, Vince DiMaggio managed to drill 15 home runs, not bad numbers for this mini "dead-ball" era. As a National League All-Star in '43, the oldest DiMaggio stroked three hits, including a 9th inning home run.
Nagging injuries limited DiMaggio's playing time in 1944 although he was selected to the All-Star team again.
Vince trained with the Pirates in the spring of 1945 but just before opening day, the Bucs dealt the aging outfielder to the Phillies for pitcher Al Gerheauser. The 33-year-old DiMaggio wasn't thrilled about being traded to one of the worst franchises in baseball but used it as an opportunity to prove he still had a little bit of gas in his tank.
In 127 games for Philly, Vince knocked-in 84 runs on 19 home runs. He continued to play well in the field, making just two errors and compiling 16 assists.
It would be the "last-hurrah" in the majors for the least-known DiMaggio. He wrapped-up his big league playing days in 1946, playing a total of 21 games for the Phillies and the Giants. Many of the front-line players were back from the war, most of them younger and a bit faster, and DiMaggio's services were no longer needed.
Vince wasn't through with baseball, however. Back during a time when minor league teams weren't merely branch offices for big league teams, DiMaggio played in the Far West League from 1948-50. His stroke was gone (.230 over three seasons) but remarkably enough, he pitched in 45 games for Class D Eugene in 1950, winning 14. He must have received a lot of offensive help from his fellow Larks, as DiMaggio's earned-run-average was quite high (5.81), allowing 245 hits in 209 innings.
DiMaggio hung-up the spikes after the 1950 season. His famous brother Joe called it a career in 1951 after hitting just .263 in an injury-plagued season. The youngest DiMaggio, Dom, patrolled the Red Sox outfield until 1953.
After his retirement, Joe stayed in the spotlight over the next couple of decades. A genuine celebrity, his life was followed closely by the media. Several books and countless articles were written about the man whom many believe was the greatest baseball player of all-time.
After his retirement, Vince disappeared from the scene. A quiet and religious man, the forgotten DiMaggio preferred his obscurity and never resented the accolades bestowed upon Joe (and to a lesser extent, Dom). He knew his brothers were better baseball players and was proud of their accomplishments.
But he had a lot to be proud of, too.
He was a fine baseball player and from all accounts, a good and decent man.
A Baseball Almanac exclusive written by Yahoo! contributor Chris Williams.
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