Dom DiMaggio, who died Friday at 92, was a proud man. Proud of his baseball career, which should have, his teammate Ted Williams always said, landed him in the Hall of Fame. Proud of his career as a successful textile manufacturer. Proud to be the kid brother of Joe, and the keeper of his secrets. Proud to be a member of an old-line New England golf club, Kittansett, a fantastic seaside course on Buzzards Bay in Marion, Mass., and the home club to many Titleist executives.
I was lucky enough to spend some time with Dom DiMaggio in 2001 for a story for SI. You couldn’t imagine a more solid, or discreet, person. You could imagine my shock when Mr. DiMaggio started talking about Marilyn Monroe by name. (“I hoped for the best. But I thought, I give them a year. I was wrong. The marriage lasted nine months.”)
You could tell right away how deeply offended he was by the injustices Italian Americans of his generation endured. The subject came up in relation to a golf club he tried to join. (Dom was an enthusiastic golfer in the Yogi Berra tradition: short, but crooked.)
DiMaggio and his wife spent their winters in Delray Beach, Fla., and at one point they were put up for membership at the very fancy Everglades Club in Palm Beach, where there’s a friendly little golf course with the fingerprints of a half-dozen legendary architects all over it. They got turned down. The next paragraph is from my 2001 story:
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.”
Now, Everglades is a private club, and the people there can do as they please. But you would have to be deeply suspicious of any club that wouldn’t have Dom and Emily DiMaggio.
The Hall of Fame is a private club, too, and he didn’t get in there because of baseball’s old numbers game. He batted .298 over a career that spanned 13 years, from 1940-1952, but he played just 10 full seasons because of a three-year stretch in the Navy during World War II. One more hit per year over 10 seasons and he would have been a .300 hitter with a spot in Cooperstown today. Casey Stengel, Joe’s manager, once said that Dom, who played for the Boston Red Sox, was the best centerfielder in baseball.
Anyway, now’s not the time to dwell on the clubs that would not have him. The man’s going straight north, if you believe in such things. Dom DiMaggio wasn’t a saint and didn’t pretend to be. He was a man motivated by pride. Tiger Woods is exactly the same way. As a way of life, there’s a lot to be said for it.