LAKELAND, Fla. -- The news of Joe DiMaggio's death brought forth a rush of memories from manager Bobby Cox.
"I can remember seeing him downtown on the streets of New York one night," said Cox, who played for the Yankees in 1968-69. "The whole city stopped. It was like God came through. Everybody ran out of the restaurants, the hotels ... I'll never forget it. He had a black suit on, white shirt, tie, he looked like some elder statesman from somewhere."
Cox remembered being a rookie in 1968 and wanting to get a photo made with DiMaggio. But approaching the legend was out of the question, so he asked clubhouse man Pete Sheehy to arrange it.
"He was just a very different, private guy that you just didn't walk up to and say, do you mind signing this?" Cox said. "You just didn't do it. Pete Sheehy set up a photo with him and I asked him ten times, are you sure it's OK? He said, `No, Joe D. wants to do it.' He was in a class all by himself.
"All I think of with Joe D. is class. Very private guy. Commanded respect somehow without asking for it. Different type of guy. Real dignified, graceful; all his mannerisms were graceful. Different from any superstar I've ever met. (I was in) complete awe. He was one of the top players in the game and always will be. There are names that will just never go away and two of them are Ruth and DiMaggio."
Hitting coach Don Baylor played for the Yankees and remembers seeing DiMaggio at oldtimers games.
"I remember watching him coming into the locker room and out of all the players, he was the guy everyone had their eyes on," Baylor said. "Young players and older players. Pete Sheehy was there for 60 years and he stopped what he was doing when Joe D. came in. They sat down over in the corner and I know they talked about old times. So, I used to ask Pete, out of all the Yankee players he saw, who was the best player, and before I could get it out of my mouth, it was Joltin' Joe."
Second baseman Tony Graffanino, who grew up in Amityville, N.Y., recalled hearing of DiMaggio from his father.
"He was a hero, especially to the Italian community," he said. "I never saw him, but I grew up hearing about him. A legend. Everybody looked up to him."
Cox had Otis Nixon in the leadoff spot Monday against the Tigers, but playing in an American League park, he was the designated hitter and Gerald Williams played left field. Cox indicated the pair would share left field this season, though the switch-hitting Nixon is liable to receive the majority of playing time because he hit .321 against right-handers last year.
"We need to get Gerald in there quite a bit," Cox said. "He had a good year last year."
It's a platoon that should work well. Nixon batted only .216 against left-handers last season, while Williams hit .363 against them in 146 at-bats. ...
With a stiff wind blowing in toward the hitters Monday, the Braves failed to homer for the first time in four games. They scored nine runs the old-fashioned way, using a collection of infield hits and five errors by Tigers third baseman Gabe Alvarez. In all, Detroit was charged with seven errors, leading to five unearned runs.
Nixon went hitless in five at-bats, while Williams contributed a pair of hits, scored a run and drove in one. Ozzie Guillen continued to swing a hot bat, collecting two more hits, including a double, and drove in a pair of runs. ...
Little more than two weeks after undergoing testicular surgery, catcher Eddie Perez played in his first game Monday and admitted to feeling some butterflies in the first inning. He was charged with a passed ball in the first inning, which he acknowledged was caused by his injury.
"I was scared in the first inning," Perez said. "Calling the pitch, the pitch I got hit, I think I had a passed ball because I was thinking about that. I was waiting to get hit again. Then the first inning went through and that was it, I didn't think about it again." ...
Keith Lockhart, who underwent shoulder surgery last October, still hasn't played in a game yet and won't for another six days. Cox plans to begin using the second baseman as a pinch hitter next week and if everything goes well he'll start playing in games on March 20.
Even when he finally gets into the lineup, Lockhart will be limited. Doctors have advised him not to dive headfirst into bases and have cautioned him against collisions. Despite his slow recovery, Cox expects Lockhart to be ready by opening day.
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