Red Sox CF: Dom Dimaggio
To truly understand Dom DiMaggio’s Hall of Fame case, you need to put his career into context. On the surface, his numbers certainly aren’t good enough. His 33.6 WAR would be the ninth-lowest of any Hall of Famer, and his games played (9th lowest) and hit total (19th) would also rank near the bottom.
Yet many of the factors that led to Dimaggio’s short career were out of his control. Even as the famous Joe Dimaggio’s brother, Dom had trouble garnering attention from scouts due to his lack of size (5-9, 168 LB) and his glasses, which were viewed as a significant disadvantage. Because of these perceived shortcomings, Dimaggio didn’t have his first full season until age 24.
Even with the late start, Dimaggio was a great player right out of the gate, making the All-Star team in each of his first two seasons. Then came World War II, which cost him three years of his prime.
Dimaggio returned with a vengeance in 1946, posting a career-high OPS+ of 123 and leading the Red Sox to the AL pennant. Over the first seven years after the war, Dimaggio slashed .302/.388/.413 and scored over 100 runs a season.
Dimaggio had a slightly down 1952 season, posting a career-low 102 OPS+ and 1.8 WAR. Yet nobody could have foreseen that his career would last just three more games. After a disagreement with manager Lou Boudreau, Dimaggio retired early in the 1953 season. At just 36, Dimaggio walked away from the game with plenty left in the tank.
Throughout his career, Dom was known most as one of the many contributing players who got on base in front of legend Ted Williams. Dimaggio, though, was a terrific player in his own right who was never truly appreciated.
His ten full years in the game were as good as any outfielder in his era. Over that span, he never had an average below .283 or an on-base percentage below .360. A keen base stealer in an age where nobody stole bases, Dimaggio ranked in the top ten in steals seven times.
He made seven All-Star teams and would have surely brought home some Gold Gloves had the award been invented, as his 2.98 chances per game is a record for AL outfielders.
What really hurt Dimaggio was missing his age 26-28 seasons while serving in the military. Many baseball players left baseball for the war, of course, but few missed as many prime seasons as Dimaggio.
He had 5.7 WAR in the year before the war started and 4.7 WAR in the first year upon his return. If he had averaged 5.0 WAR a season for those three missed years, his career WAR would be 48.6, ahead of Hall of Famer outfielders Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice, and Lou Brock. Is that fair? Probably not, but neither is missing three of your best seasons for something outside your control.
This isn’t to say Dimaggio is a surefire Hall of Famer. If every player were elected to the Hall of Fame based on what their career could have been, there would be nobody NOT in Cooperstown.
Yet to completely dismiss Dimaggio’s case would be to punish him for things outside of his control. Dimaggio couldn’t control being disrespected by scouts, missing three years of his prime for the war, or being forced to retire by an incompetent manager.
What Dimaggio could control was being a great player when he was on the field. And when he played, Dimaggio was one of the best outfielders of his time. As the Veteran’s Committee continues to evaluate the cases of players overlooked by the BBWAA, Dimaggio deserves to have his career reexamined.