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Kevin Cullen

Not even in same league

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / May 11, 2009
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Two summers ago, Bobby Doerr, the Hall of Fame second baseman, was at Fenway for one last visit and spied his old pal Johnny Pesky sitting at a table in the EMC Club.

"Is Dom here?" Doerr asked.

Pesky shook his head.

"Couldn't make it," Pesky said. "Legs are bothering him."

Dom DiMaggio was 90 years old and 60 miles away, at his house in Marion.

Doerr was crestfallen.

"Don't worry," Pesky told him. "Emily's taking good care of him."

Doerr lost his Monica after 65 years of marriage. Pesky had his Ruthie for 61, the same number of years that Dom and Emily DiMaggio were married. So add it up: between the three couples, there was 187 years of marriage.

That lunch at Fenway would have been the final gathering of the men who often set the table for Ted Williams, the men David Halberstam so perfectly described simply as The Teammates. But age catches up even to boys of summer, and so it never happened. The lunch that didn't happen stands today, the day they will bury Dom DiMaggio, as a poignant coda to a bygone era.

Losing Dom DiMaggio, who was a terrific centerfielder and a better human being, is all the sadder because the way he played the game and comported himself off the field is so jarringly juxtaposed against somebody who patrolled the outfield for the Red Sox more recently: Manny Ramírez.

It is beyond ironic that DiMaggio died the day after Manny's reputation did. In an attempt to get more in touch with his feminine side, Manny took female fertility drugs. Manny didn't appeal his 50-game suspension but insists it was all an innocent mistake. Those who know about such things say what Manny did is commonly done by those coming off a cycle of steroids.

That may explain why Manny, long thought of as being just goofy, started acting like a professional wrestler last year, dope slapping Kevin Youkilis in the dugout and manhandling 64-year-old traveling secretary Jack McCormick in the clubhouse.

So, if you're picking a team today, whom do you take in their prime? Dom DiMaggio or Manny Ramírez? The statistics say Manny. That's the wrong choice. Dom DiMaggio was a class act who brought out the best in his teammates. He respected the game because he respected himself and others. Manny respects neither teammates nor the game.

You would think that Manny's teammates would be mortified, appalled, and furious with him, that he would never be welcomed back to their clubhouse.

Hah.

The Dodgers are counting the days until he comes back, because that might mean a championship and millions more for all their bank accounts. Meanwhile, the Yankees are thrilled to have A-Roid, their DH - designated hypocrite - back in the lineup. They're back in business in the Bronx.

Baseball is more than our national pastime. It is a reflection of what we are as a people. And right now the reflection isn't very pretty. Comparing Dom DiMaggio and Manny Ramírez is not merely a reflection of the characters of two baseball players, but a reflection of what we have become.

Americans have always loved winners. Now we tolerate jerks, as long as they can hit a fastball. We love to bask in the reflected glory of grown men who get paid millions to play a kid's game. Dodgers fans used to taunt another cheater, Barry Bonds, mercilessly. Now, everybody at Chavez Ravine is busy concocting excuses for Manny.

Players like Dom DiMaggio thought nothing of putting their careers on hold and going off to war. How many players would do that today? Manny couldn't even be bothered to visit the wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when the Sox went to the White House to celebrate their 2007 World Series win.

If Dom was part of the greatest generation, what does that say about Manny's?

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.

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