Bill Dickey

The premier catcher of the late 1930s and early 1940s, the lefthanded-hitting Dickey was the soul of the Yankee dynasty bridging the Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio eras as a player, and the Mickey Mantle era as a coach. He was a keen handler of pitchers, especially the erratic Lefty Gomez, as quiet as his roommate, Gehrig, consistent, setting a major league record for catching 100 or more games in 13 straight seasons, and never played another game at another position. He was the first Yankee to find out about Gehrig’s illness and was the only active player to play himself in the Gary Cooper movie “Pride of the Yankees.” The Yankees retired his number 8, but ironically Dickey didn’t wear that number at the start or the end of his Yankee days. When Dickey first came up, Benny Bengough wore number eight. When he came back to coach, Yogi Berra was wearing it.

Dickey’s quiet demeanor off the field belied fiery behavior behind the plate. On July 4, 1932 he was suspended for 30 days and fined $1,000 for breaking the jaw of the Senators’ Carl Reynolds with one punch, after a collision at home plate. In the 1934 All-Star Game, Dickey broke Carl Hubbell‘s strikeout string with a single. After six straight .300-plus seasons, Dickey dipped to .279 in 1935, but came back the next season with a fury. From 1936 to 1939, Dickey, who had never hit more than 14 homers in a season, belted 102 in four years. He had a career high of 29 in 1937, including grand slams on consecutive days, August 3 and 4. His batting average bloomed as well, with a career-high .362 in 1936, followed by a .332 mark in 1937.

Dickey continued his batting onslaught in the second game of the 1936 World Series against the crosstown Giants when he hit a two-run homer and knocked in five runs. On July 26, 1939 he slammed three straight homers against the Browns in a 14-1 win. In the four-game World Series sweep that year against the Reds, Dickey slammed two homers and drove in five runs, including the winning run in the bottom of the ninth in Game One. Dickey also caught more World Series games than any catcher, 38.

Both Dickey’s average and power dropped drastically in 1940 and 1941, totaling only 16 homers in two years. In 1942, Dickey caught only 82 games, and only 85 in 1943, but drove in the only two runs with a homer in the fifth and final game of the World Series against the Cardinals, avenging the Yankees’ loss the year before. At the end of the season, at age 36, Dickey enlisted in the Navy. He came back for a final go-round in 1946, but appeared in only 54 games. Midway through the season, he took over the managerial reins from Joe McCarthy, who had gone to manage the Red Sox. He guided the Yankees to a 57-48 mark, but resigned right after the season. He came back as a coach under Casey Stengel from 1947 to 1957, passing along his knowledge to Berra. He scouted for the Yankees in 1959 before retiring.