Sunday, February 1, 2009
William Malcolm Dickey (June 5, 1907 – November 12, 1993) was a Major League Baseball player and manager. One of the most famous catchers in major league history, he played his entire career with the New York Yankees, with whom he appeared in eight World Series and won seven World Series championships.
Dickey was born in Bastrop, Louisiana. He broke into the majors in 1928 and played his first full season in 1929. It was his first of ten seasons out of eleven with a .300+ batting average. Although his offensive production was overshadowed by Yankees greats Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, in the late 1930s Dickey posted some of the finest offensive seasons ever by a catcher, hitting over 20 home runs with 100 RBI in four consecutive seasons (1936 - 1939). His 1936 batting average of .362 is the highest single-season average ever recorded by a catcher (tied with Mike Piazza of L.A. Dodgers in 1997). Dickey was also noted for his ability to handle pitchers and his strong throwing arm. He was also known for his relentlessly competitive nature. In 1932. Dickey broke the jaw of an opposing player with one punch in a 1932 game after the man collided with him at home plate. Dickey received a 30-day suspension and $1,000 fine as punishment.
His mentor was Albert Edwin Dickey. Ed Dickey often sat in the dugout with Bill as his personal coach. It has been said that Ed lost his index finger in a bench clearing brawl when Ty Cobb bit his finger off at the knuckle.
In 1942, while still an active player, Dickey appeared as himself in the film The Pride of the Yankees, which starred Gary Cooper as the late Yankee captain and first baseman Lou Gehrig. Late in the movie, when Gehrig was fading due to the disease that would eventually take his life, a younger Yankee grumbled, in the locker room, "the old man on first needs crutches to get around!"--and Dickey, following the script, belted the younger player, after which he said the kid "talked out of turn."
Dickey had been regarded as Gehrig's best friend on the team, and while the title of Yankee captain remained officially vacant until it was awarded to Thurman Munson in 1976, Dickey was seen by many as the Yankees' new leader on the field.
After several seasons of offensive stagnation and time off during World War II, Dickey became the manager of the Yankees in middle of the 1946 season and led the team to 3rd place in the American League. He retired after the season, having compiled 202 home runs, 1209 RBI and a .313 batting average over his career.
In 1949, Dickey returned to the Yankees as a coach, as first base coach and as catching instructor, to aid Yogi Berra in playing the position. In his trademark fractured English, Berra said, "Bill Dickey is learning me all of his experiences." Already a good hitter, Berra became an excellent defensive catcher. With Berra having inherited his uniform number 8, Dickey wore number 33 until the 1960 season.
Dickey was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1954. In 1972, when Berra was elected to the Hall of Fame, the Yankees retired uniform number 8 for both men. On August 22, 1988, the Yankees honored both catchers with plaques to be hung in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. Dickey's calls him "An elementary Yankee" who "is considered the greatest catcher of all time." This is in dispute, as there have been many fine catchers in baseball history (including, but not limited to, Berra, Johnny Bench and Roy Campanella). Like Berra, Dickey was named in 1999 to The Sporting News list of Baseball's Greatest Players, ranking number 57, trailing Bench (16), Josh Gibson (18), Berra (40) and Campanella (50) among catchers. Also like those catchers, Dickey was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, but the fan balloting chose Berra and Bench as the two catchers on the team.
Dickey is currently the only Yankee with a retired number not yet featured on the YES Network series Yankeeography.
In 2007, Dickey-Stephens Park opened in North Little Rock, Arkansas. The ballpark was named after Bill; his brother, former baseball player, Skeeter Dickey; and two famous Arkansas business men, Jack and Witt Stephens.
He died in Little Rock, Arkansas.