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This is one of what will be an extended series of posts that will run over the summer. I will do one post covering the top 5 Yankees by WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at each position, plus a second profile piece on one player at each position. At the end of the summer, I’ll put together a post ranking the top 60 Yankees of all time. I will be using the career WAR found at baseballprojection.com, with only WAR garnered as a Yankee being included in the calculations.
Bill Dickey is a bit of a forgotten man in Yankee lore, as he was followed behind the plate by the great Yogi Berra and was therefore overshadowed by the sheer force of Yogi’s fame and skill. Even Dickey’s number was usurped by Berra, leading the team to retire the number #8 twice. Dickey is the only Yankee with a retired number to not be featured by YES Network’s Yankeeography, which is illustrative of his status of something of a forgotten man in Yankee lore. Dickey was a fantastic player even by Yankee standards, and he deserves greater recognition.
Dickey had a cup of coffee with the Yankees at in 1928 at 21, but first became an everyday player in 1929. Bill hit .324 in his rookie season, putting up an OPS of .832 and emerged as a strong defensive presence behind the plate. Dickey had his best stretch of seasons from , as he was worth at least 5.3 wins in each year and helped the Yankees win the title in every year during that span. 1937 was likely his best year, as he hit 29 homers and notched 133 RBI while putting up an amazing .332/.417/.570. He had a fantastic .313/.386/.484 line for his career, and garnered MVP votes in 9 different seasons. He made 11 All-Star teams, was among the top 10 among position players in WAR 6 times, and never struck out more than 37 times in a season. In all, he played in 8 World Series, and the Yankees won 7 of them, and he later coached on 6 additional champions. Dickey never played any position at catcher, which likely contributed to his decline at age 33. His 1943 season seemed to represent a recovery for him, but he got called to military service and only played 54 games after the war.
Dickey was known for having an intense on-field persona, and was suspended in 1932 after breaking the jaw of Carl Reynolds after a collision at home plate. He was also a close personal friend of Lou Gehrig, and took Yogi Berra under his wing as a coach for the Yankees in 1949. He is often credited with turning a raw defensive product in Berra into one of the top defensive catchers in the game. He also managed the club for a brief time in 1946 while wrapping up his playing career, but retired from both roles after the season, and coached for the club under Casey Stengel from .
Although Dickey was a great offensive player, his most highly regarded skill during his playing days was his game-calling ability, as the following anecdote illustrates:
Once, after the 1943 World Series, he found himself in an elevator with a soldier. The serviceman said to Dickey that he’d bet Bill didn’t remember him. Bill Dickey looked at the man and said, “Sure I do. We used to pitch you high and inside. If we pitched you outside-WHAM! – it was the ballgame”. Indeed, the fellow was an infielder who had played years before for the Athletics.
Dickey was a great Yankee, and is likely one of the top 10 catchers of all time. As his plaque in Monument Park reads, he was the first in the line of great Yankee catchers, and he should be recognized as such by the fanbase and the organization.
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