Jewish World Review Oct. 15, 2003 / 19 Tishrei, 5764

Mike Barnicle

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For DiMaggio brothers, sibling rivalry is immortal | He remembers it all. Even today, with the same two teams locked in a total tong war that has dominated their game for decades, he can almost hear the same loud snarl coming from the seats behind the visitors' dugout, a sound that only grew nastier as afternoons limped into evening while the Red Sox dueled New York in the green hollow of Yankee Stadium all those years ago.

"Did you hate them? The Yankees?" he was asked.

"With a vengeance," Dom DiMaggio said right away. "And I don't particularly like 'em now, either."

He is 86 years old, a sweetheart of a man who played his entire career in one town - Boston - for one club - the Red Sox - prowling one position - center field - with such skill and grace, it is inexcusable he is not in the Hall of Fame. He also had a brother who played the same game - baseball - fairly well, too. The brother's name was Joe. Maybe you've heard of him.

"We loved playing against one another," Dom DiMaggio was saying. "Just loved it. Felt grateful to be playing. Loved to compete against each other."

"Were you treated well in the Stadium?"

"Absolutely," he replied. "The fans were great to me."

"And the mood?"

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"Oh, the atmosphere was tense, thick. You could feel it. It was different from any other Series."

"And Joe, in Boston?"

"Let me tell you about that," said Dom DiMaggio. "Last game of the 1948 season; we were going into a playoff with the Indians and we were playing Joe and the Yanks in Fenway.

"What a day my brother had. I think he went four for five and drove in three runs. He got a base hit his last time at bat, in the ninth. Bucky Harris was managing them and he put a pinch runner in for Joe. You should have heard that crowd roar for my brother when he came off the field that day. What a tribute.

"They appreciated him. They were cheering a great player, didn't matter that he was with the Yankees. They treated him wonderfully."

Through most of his playing career, Joe DiMaggio lived in midtown, at the Madison Hotel. The brothers were close, respected each other's skills and dedication, but did not run out after every Red Sox-Yankee game to have dinner and drinks together. "It was different then," Dom pointed out. "There wasn't a whole lot of fraternization. Even among brothers.

"Every time I played in Yankee Stadium, the adrenaline would build up. I would try to outdo myself. And I would try to outdo Joe.

"He loved it, too. I do recall one night, though, when we had dinner during a Series. I think it was in 1949. As we were eating, Joe mentioned that he thought I was playing rather close, too shallow in center field, that there were wind currents in the Stadium that I ought to be aware of. I thanked him for the observation and next afternoon moved back a few steps when he came to bat. Well, he walloped the ball and I took off after it, catching it over my shoulder. After the game, Joe just muttered to me that maybe he shouldn't be giving me any more tips. I robbed him of an extra-base hit."

All these years later, the matchup of the two teams remains a vision of Hardball Heaven. Players come and go, free agency creating a vagabond aspect to our most permanent game, but the bitterness, resentment, wild rivalry, deep passion and huge excitement of a Red Sox-Yankee series - with the league title on the line - continues to be the most popular postcard baseball can offer the land.

As they slug out it out in a hardball version of a heavyweight title bout, it is difficult to comprehend how so many of those charged with running the sport allowed its popularity to slip through their fingers. The game today is nearly identical to that played by Dom and Joe DiMaggio but greed, powerful agents, an even more dominant players union and foolish owners all have been accessories to a theft of popularity rooted in revulsion over exorbitant salaries handed to athletes who seem sometimes not to care what town's uniform they wear so long as there are enough zeroes in their long-term, guaranteed contracts.

It's more than too bad, because there is no better entertainment for anyone of any age interested in baseball than what takes place when the Olde Towne Team squares off against the Yankees.

"I'll tell you something," Dom DiMaggio was saying. "I was in Oakland awhile ago with my wife and we went to see the A's play the Yankees.

"They brought me down to the field, and I had a nice meeting with Joe Torre. I met the center fielder, wonderful young man, Bernie Williams, and [Jason] Giambi. Fine players. Fine fellows. I liked them all.

"It's the pinstripes I don't like. Never did. Never will."

JWR contributor Mike Barnicle is a columnist for the New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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