Year Inducted: 1954 (BBWAA, ballot #9, 202/252)
Yogi Berra became the full-time catcher for the Yankees at the height of their dominance, and would go on to be a part of a record 10 World Championship seasons. Berra, of course, would for a time be considered the best catcher of all-time. And yet, even he would admit that, while he was an excellent hitter, he had to learn how to be a strong defender from someone. Berra’s predecessor, whom he completely overshadowed in a matter of weeks of taking up the reigns from him, was one of the best catchers of all-time in his own right. That, of course, was the legendary Bill Dickey.
Dickey played his entire 17-year career with the New York Yankees, and yet was still nicknamed “The Man Nobody Knows”. How does that happen? Well, Dickey didn’t have the boisterous personality of Babe Ruth, nor did he have the grace of DiMaggio nor the dominance of Gehrig. All Dickey did was hit the ball hard, play a strong defense at catcher and quietly lead by example. Dickey hit .313/.382/.486 (as a catcher!) with a wRC+ of 126. When he first came up, Dickey tried to be a power hitter like Babe Ruth, but Miller Huggins said to him that Ruth was the only guy in the league paid solely to hit homers, so he should focus on line drives instead. Dickey took the advice to heart and went on to hit 343 doubles, 72 triples and 202 homers. Dickey would hit in the lower part of the Yankee’s order, so his chances to drive in runs were somewhat diminished. Nonetheless, Dickey’s solid approach to hitting resulted in 1209 runs and scored 930 runs, both impressive totals for a catcher. Dickey wasn’t a strong baserunner, swiping only 37 bases in his career, but catchers tend not to be burners on the bases so he can be forgiven for that.
Dickey was known in his career for having a strong throwing arm, and was thought of as being a great game caller and framer. Unfortunately, there aren’t going to be any stats from back then to collaborate that (framing stats are just now in their infancy), so his defensive rating on Fangraphs is probably not fully encapsulating of his ability behind the dish. Having said that, his 72.7 defensive runs above average are a solid total, especially with only 1708 games played.
Dickey was not anywhere near the hitter that his successor was, nor was he the defender that players like Bench and Carter were. However, for a time, he was easily the best catcher in the game and probably the best catcher in history until that point. He may have been surpassed quickly, but he is still an important player in history. He was also an important part of the Yankees, besides being Berra’s (and Elston Howard’s) teacher. Dickey became a close friend and confidant to Lou Gehrig, and he helped shield the Iron Horse from criticism during his final season. Dickey was one of two team reps at Gehrig’s funeral and was the lead of a ceremony in Gehrig’s honor in 1941 following his former roomate’s death. Dickey was a great man, player and teammate and deserves to be remembered as such.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 11/24/16:
#53- The Ignitor
#52- This sweet swinging outfielder hails from Alabama