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05/08/09 11:00 PM ET

Dom DiMaggio dies at 92

Center fielder, youngest of brother trio, starred for Red Sox

BOSTON -- During Friday night's Red Sox-Rays game at Fenway Park, there was a giant circle outlined around the grass in center field with the numeral 7 mowed across the middle. That was groundskeeper Dave Mellor's handiwork in memory of Dom DiMaggio, who died Friday at the age of 92 at his home in Marion, Mass.

DiMaggio, a seven-time All-Star and the youngest of the three DiMaggio brothers who played in the Major Leagues, played for the Red Sox his entire 11-year career, including the pennant-winning team of 1946, which also featured the legendary Ted Williams.

DiMaggio died at 1 a.m. ET, surrounded by his family, his wife, Emily, told The Associated Press. She did not give a cause of death, but she said DiMaggio had been ill lately.

"He was the most wonderful, warm, loving man," his wife of 61 years said. "He adored his children, and we all adored him."

Known as the "Little Professor" because of his eyeglasses and his 5-foot-9, 168-pound frame, DiMaggio played for the Red Sox from 1940-53, missing three seasons while serving in the Navy during World War II.

"Dom DiMaggio was a beloved member of the Red Sox organization for almost 70 years," said Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry. "Even after his playing days, Dom's presence at Fenway Park together with his teammates Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky on numerous occasions reminded us all of a glorious Red Sox era of years past. He was a great teammate and an even better human being. His loss saddens us all, but his contributions to the glory and tradition of our ballclub will forever be etched in the annals of Red Sox history."

The Red Sox paid tribute to DiMaggio and observed a moment of silence prior to Friday night's game at Fenway Park against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Henry said plans already had been in motion to honor DiMaggio before a home game this season.

"He was such a great man," Henry said. "I spoke with him just less than a month ago about what we're going to be doing here shortly. We're going to be honoring him here shortly. It's so tragic that he isn't going to see that. He was just a great part of this organization."

Dom was a center fielder, as were his brothers Joe, a Hall of Famer for the Yankees from 1936-51, and Vince, who played for five National League teams from 1937-46. And like his brother Joe, who hit in a Major League-record 56 games in 1941, Dom had an impressive hitting streak of his own, hitting in 34 straight games -- a Boston club record that still stands -- in 1949.

That streak, though, was broken on Aug. 9, when Joe DiMaggio caught a sinking liner in the eighth inning of a 6-3 Red Sox win over the Yankees.

"I first met Dom in 1936 when I was playing with his brother, Vince," said Hall of Fame second baseman Doerr, DiMaggio's long-time teammate with the Red Sox. "We eventually played together in Boston, and he was a real class guy and a great teammate. My sympathies are with Emily and his family."

Dom DiMaggio led the American League twice in runs scored (131 in 1950 and 113 in '51), and he also led the league with 11 triples and 15 stolen bases in 1950, when he hit a career-high .328. He finished as high as ninth in Most Valuable Player voting, in 1946.

As impressive as DiMaggio was as a hitter, he was perhaps even more lauded for his defense.

DiMaggio led the league in assists three times (1940, '42 and '47), putouts twice (1942 and '48), and double plays twice (1942 and '47). He is one of eight AL outfielders to tally at least 400 putouts in four or more seasons. His 1948 totals of 503 putouts and 526 total chances stood as AL records for 29 years.

He was the youngest of the nine DiMaggio children raised in San Francisco, and he began playing professionally with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League in 1937. His contract was purchased by the Red Sox prior to the 1940 season, and he hit .301 in his rookie year.

He played in one World Series, going 7-for-27 (.259) and tying the score with a two-run double in the eighth inning of Game 7 against the Cardinals. He was hurt running the bases, though, and had to leave the game.

His replacement, Leon Culberson, was the center fielder who fielded the ball and threw it to Pesky when Harry Walker doubled in the bottom of the inning, scoring Enos Slaughter from first base on the so-called "Mad Dash" that won the Series for St. Louis.

DiMaggio and former teammates Pesky, Williams and Doerr were the subjects of the 2003 book, "The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship," written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam.

"Dom and I played together for 10 years, and he certainly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame," said Pesky. "He was a great player and, most of all, a great friend. I will miss him terribly. My prayers and sympathies go out to his wife, Emily, and his family."

DiMaggio remained an avid follower of the Red Sox.

"I think he watched virtually every game," Henry said. "He will always be a part of Fenway Park, and we're going to do something hopefully memorable here shortly to solidify that."

DiMaggio was the first president and founding member of the BoSox Club, the official booster club of the Red Sox, in 1967. He was elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame as part of the team's inaugural class in 1995.

"I can't say that I knew him very well, but I guess maybe I felt like I did because of Johnny [Pesky], listening to some of the stories," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I've heard a lot of really nice things. I didn't get to know him much more than actually meeting him in the dugout a few times or in some ceremonies, things like that. I know he was a gentleman. He was always very kind to me when I met him."

After his playing career, DiMaggio started a company that manufactured upholstery and carpeting for automobiles, which he ran until his retirement in 1983. He remained active in many charitable and civic causes, supporting medical and education institutions, and he also helped found the American Football League franchise that eventually became the New England Patriots.

"Dominic DiMaggio was one of the most successful players of his generation in his post-baseball life," Halberstam wrote in his book. "He had become over the years a man of means, graceful, elegant, and wise."

Joe DiMaggio died in March 1999, while Vince passed on in October 1986.

In addition to his wife, Dom DiMaggio is survived by three children and six grandchildren.

The DiMaggio family has announced that a wake has been scheduled for 4 p.m. ET on Sunday at the J.S. Waterman and Sons Funeral Home, 592 Washington St., Wellesley, Mass. The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. on Monday at St. Paul's Parish, 502 Washington St., Wellesley, Mass. The family also requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the BoSox Club, P.O. Box 1432, Wakefield, Mass., 01880.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Bobbie Dittmeier is an editor/producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.