William Malcolm Dickey
For a long time, the debate over who the greatest catcher of all time revolved around two names - Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane. In later years, sabermetrics involved another name - Gabby Hartnett - in the debate, and of course the offensive performances of Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella and Josh Gibson have made the debate far more interesting.
Still, Dickey was unquestionably one of the game's greatest receivers. Dickey excelled at the plate, batting over .300 in 10 of his first 11 seasons while hitting 202 homers during his career. He was also an expert handler of pitchers - witness the quality of pitching in the Yankees' 1936-1939 dynasty - and possessed a deadly-accurate throwing arm.
He was a keen handler of pitchers, especially the erratic Lefty Gómez. He was the first Yankee to find out about Lou Gehrig's illness and was the only active player to play himself in the Gary Cooper movie "Pride of the Yankees." 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.
The rangy Yankee backstop was a durable and tireless worker. He set a record by catching 100 or more games 13 years in a row, and his career spanned the glorious Yankee years from 1928 to 1946, when he taught his replacement - Yogi Berra - how to carry on the Yankee tradition of superb, offensive-minded catchers (a tradition that would later include Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada). He played in 38 World Series games.
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.
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 Benbaugh wore number eight. When he came back to coach, Yogi Berra was wearing it.
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