One of my favorite things is to read about baseball players who served in World War II, from Bob Feller in the U.S. Navy to Jerry Coleman in the U.S. Marines.
Dominic made his major-league debut on April 16, 1940, and had little trouble adjusting to the big leagues, hitting .301 and scoring 81 runs in 108 games in his rookie season. Going into spring training, Dom was concerned that he might not get to play because Boston was loaded with good outfielders: Ted Williams in left, Doc Cramer in center, Lou Finney in right, and Joe Vosmik, a 10-year veteran, as backup.But Dom, at age 23, had a solid spring and was able to beat out Finney, a .300 hitter the year before, for the starting right fielder’s job. Later in the season, Dom was moved to center field, and there he remained for the rest of his career. The Red Sox showed confidence in DiMaggio by trading Doc Cramer to the Senators during the offseason.Dom had fond memories of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, and especially the media interest in the DiMaggio brothers in center field. He recalled that the newspapers made a big deal out of the first time in 1940 when the Yankees visited Boston for a five-game series.Dom had 11 hits to Joe’s nine, or as Dom said, “Twenty hits for the family in one series.”One week later in New York, Joe advised his younger brother to move back because the ball carried well in that part of the ballpark. The next day Dom, taking Joe’s advice, was able to run down a fly ball hit 460 feet to deep center – off the bat of brother Joe.
During the ’42 season, as World War II expanded, many ballplayers were drafted into military service. Around this time Dom was labeled the “Little Professor” because of his 5-foot-9, 168-pound frame, his serious expression, and his glasses – necessary to correct his nearsightedness. Dom earned his second All-Star selection that season while on his way to hitting .286 with 110 runs scored, good for third in the league, 272 total bases, and 36 doubles. Early in the season, Dom tried to enlist in the Navy but was told that his vision was an issue. “I had to fight my way into the Navy,” said DiMaggio. “They rejected me because of my eyesight, and for the longest time, I told them I wanted to be in the Navy. I was not about to sit out the war.” Despite a 4-F classification, he was able to enlist after completing the season, and left work and home for a three-year stint in the United States Navy. While in the service, DiMaggio played for the Norfolk Naval Training Station team in Virginia and saw overseas duty as well.Dominic returned to baseball in 1946, along with Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, and many of the more than 500 professional baseball players who had served during wartime. The Red Sox had an amazing year, finishing 12 games ahead of the Tigers and 17 games ahead of the Yankees, with 104 wins and only 50 losses. Dom was once again an All-Star, hitting .316 and driving in 73 runs. The Red Sox were exuberant about playing in their first World Series since 1918 and very confident.
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