Vince DiMaggio: The Oldest DiMaggio Brother

Joe DiMaggio is considered one of the greatest players in Major League Baseball history. He played from 1936 to 1951 (as well as serving in the military between 1943 and 1945 due to World War II). He was named an all star every season of his career, won nine World Series titles, and won the American League MVP in 1939, 1941, and 1947. He finished his career with over 2,200 hits, 361 home runs, and a .325 batting average. He may be most well known for his consecutive-game hitting streak of 56 games, a record that still stands today and is considered unbreakable. He was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.

At the same time, Joe’s younger brother, Dom DiMaggio, was having a great career for himself with the Boston Red Sox. Dom played every season of his career with the Red Sox from 1940 to 1953 (also missing time between 1943 and 1945 to serve in the military). He was a seven-time all star, won one American League pennant in 1946, and was part of the legendary Red Sox group known as “The Teammates” along with Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Ted Williams. Dom would finish his career shy of 1,700 hits and a .298 batting average. He was elected into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995.

What many may not know is that Joe and Dom had an older brother that also spent time in the major leagues: Vince DiMaggio.

Vince was born on September 6, 1912, two years before Joe and five years before Dom. Vince, Joe, and Dom were the three youngest of a nine-child family. They were the only ones in the family to play professional baseball. Vince was the first, signing with the San Francisco Seals minor league team in 1932. Famously, that same year, he suggested the team sign Joe, as well. “Maybe if I had kept my mouth shut, I’d be remembered as the greatest DiMaggio,” Vince was quoted as saying years later. This would jumpstart Joe’s career, as he had three stellar seasons with the Seals before being promoted to the New York Yankees in 1936.

Vince and Joe would only play together for half of the season in 1934 before Vince was cut and signed by the Hollywood Stars. He would play for the Stars for two seasons before the team moved to San Diego and changed its name to the Padres. In the three seasons with the Stars and Padres, Vince batted .286 with 60 home runs. He made his MLB debut with the Boston Bees the year after Joe in 1937.

In Vince’s MLB debut, he struck out twice. In his first seven games, he struck out seven times. He tried tweaking his stance and mechanics to fix the problem. It worked at first, leading to a 10-game hitting streak. But, old habits prevailed, and he went 0-for-15 immediately after.

“Why, that fellow DiMaggio is missing pitches by so wide a margin that I can see a foot of daylight between the ball and the bat,” Bees manager Bill McKechnie reportedly said about Vince. “I can’t understand how someone can swing at a ball so many times without even ticking it once.”

Vince finished his rookie season with a .256 batting average and a league-leading 111 strikeouts. Defensively, he led National League center fielders in putouts, assists, and errors. He and Joe also set a new MLB record for most home runs hit in a season between brothers at 59: Joe with 46 and Vince with 13.

He upped his strikeout rate in 1938, whiffing another league-leading 134 times. He only had 14 home runs and 61 RBIs. His power numbers didn’t justify the amount he struck out, and he was demoted to Double-A Kansas City at the beginning of the 1939 season.

Frustrated with the demotion, Vince went hot at the plate, smacking 25 home runs in his first 53 games, and finishing the year with 46 home runs and 136 RBIs. Due to this explosion of play, Vince’s contract was bought by the Cincinnati Reds for the end of the major league season. He struggled, only tallying one hit in eight games with 10 strikeouts. The Reds would get swept by Joe and the Yankees in the World Series. Since he was a late-season addition, Vince wasn’t eligible to be on the playoff roster.

In early 1940, the Reds dealt Vince to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was with them that Vince had his most success. He hit .289 with 19 home runs in 110 games with the Pirates in 1940. In 1941, he hit a career-high 21 home runs, along with tallying a career high in RBIs at 100, and a .267 batting average.

Vince’s 1941 Play Ball Baseball Card. / Vintage Card Prices

In 1943, at a time when most of the ballplayers were leaving to fight overseas, Vince wasn’t eligible for military service. He was exempt from the draft due to a stomach ulcer. Rather, he stayed in the league and had a stellar season, leading him to make his first all star team. In the game, he had a home run, a triple, two runs, and one RBI. The American League would win, 5-3.

He repeated as an all star in 1944. This game was less eventful for Vince, as he only appeared as a defensive replacement. The National League won this time around, 7-1.

Despite the all star nods, the Pirates were growing impatient with Vince’s frequency of striking out. The constant harping management made about his hitting did not please Vince. In July 1944, the franchise was made aware that he ran up a $9 tab at a nightclub because of a steak (double the player food allowance) after a series. When confronted, Vince felt like he was being picked on, demanded a trade, and left the team.

He worked in a California shipyard until the early part of the 1945 season, when the Pirates traded him to the last-place Philadelphia Phillies. He led the league for the sixth time in his career in strikeouts that season. He finished batting .257 with 19 home runs. Four of those home runs were grand slams, tying a major league record for most grand slams in a single season.

DiMaggio lost his starting center field job at the beginning of the 1946 season, and he was traded to the New York Giants on May 1. His stay with the Giants didn’t last long, as he went 0-for-25 with five strikeouts. He was soon sent back to the San Francisco Seals, bringing his career full circle.

After finishing the season with the Seals with a .264 batting average and as the backup outfielder, Vince was released. He would bounce from minor league team to minor league team throughout the rest of his career, even becoming a player-manager for a while. By 1951, the 38-year-old brother of Joe and Dom was out of baseball.

The three brothers would go extended lengths of time without talking to each other after all of their careers were over. Occasionally, they would gather for special events, such as a San Francisco Seals reunion game in 1956. Over time, Vince and Joe had a falling out, and Dom was the one connection trying to reunite the family. In 1986, Dom convinced Vince and Joe to go to Old Timers Day at Fenway Park and make amends. They agreed, and the two brothers were able to put old grudges aside for good.

Vince (Left), Dom (Center), and Joe (Right) at Old Timers Day at Fenway Park in 1986. / The Coastal Star

Shortly after this reunion, Vince was diagnosed with colon cancer, passing away on October 3, 1986, at 74.

Even in his later years, Vince was happy with who he was, both in his family and as a baseball player. “I’ll tell you this, I never felt I played in the shadow of either of them,” he once said. “Joe was a better batter, but I could play rings around him as far as knowledge of the game and plays in the outfield.

“No club owner ever paid me on the basis of what my last name was.”

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