Baseball's Shrine


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Bill Dickey

Of the four Louisiana Hall of Famers, New York Yankee great Bill Dickey’s connection to the state is considered somewhat tenuous. Although he was born in Bastrop, Dickey and his family moved to Arkansas when he was a youth because his father earned a job as a brakeman for Missouri Pacific Railroad. For the rest of his life, Dickey called Arkansas home in general and Little Rock in particular.
Because of that, many Bastrop residents aren’t even aware that a Hall of Famer sprang from their midst, says Bastrop Enterprise editor Marq Mitcham. The one person from Bastrop who did know a good deal about Dickey was former Enterprise writer Wes Helbling, who wrote a pair of articles about the great catcher in 2008.

“Dickey is considered by many historians to be the greatest catcher the game has ever seen,” Helbling wrote in one of those articles.

However, Helbling added, “Little is known of his early years here.”

Dickey’s Major League career ran from 1928 through 1946, during which time the catching great earned 11 All-Star nods and helped the Yankees win seven World Series. Dickey was a key player in the history of baseball’s most storied franchise – his career bridged the gap between the famed “Murderers’ Row” years of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the 1920s and the squad’s subsequent title winners in the 1940s with Joe DiMaggio.

In fact, Dickey emerged as the team’s leader after Gehrig died in 1941, and he briefly managed the squad in 1946 after his military service and before his retirement from baseball. Yankee management invited Dickey back into the fold a few years later when he was tapped to mold the latent but extremely promising talents of an awkward young catcher named Lawrence “Yogi” Berra.

Under Dickey’s tutelage, Berra quickly emerged as the best backstop in the contemporary game and a Hall of Famer in his own right. In addition, Dickey tutored the Yankees’ first black player, catcher Elston Howard, who once said: “Without Bill, I’m nobody. Nobody at all. He made me a catcher.”

Dickey also garnered accolades from opponents, including Hall of Fame speedball pitcher Bob Feller, who called the Yankee great the best catcher he ever witnessed. Hall of Fame voters agreed, electing him to the shrine in 1954.

Dickey died in Little Rock in 1993, after which the New York Times lavished praise on a key figure in Yankee heritage.

“Rated by many as the finest all-round catcher in the history of the sport, Dickey was one of the brightest stars of Yankee teams that held sway over the American League between World War I and World War II,” wrote Times reporter Thomas Rogers. “He was one of the most feared clutch hitters in lineups that included Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Joe DiMaggio. ... Behind the plate, he displayed all the qualities needed by a top-notch defensive catcher.”

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