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Bill Dickey

Baseball great William Malcolm "Bill" Dickey, a native of Bastrop, was a Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees.

Bill Dickey

Baseball great William Malcolm “Bill” Dickey, a native of Bastrop, was a Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees, often seen as a link between the storied franchise’s early title teams of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the 1920s and 1930s, and the Joe DiMaggio era a generation later. Dickey hit over .300 in ten of his first eleven seasons, and the Yankees won seven World Series titles with him as catcher. In addition to his own prowess behind the plate, Dickey was largely responsible for training the man whom many believe was the greatest catcher in major league history, Yogi Berra. “I always say I owe everything I did in baseball to Bill Dickey,” Berra once said. “He was a great man.”

Dickey was born on June 6, 1907, but his family moved from Bastrop to Kensett, Arkansas, when the future baseball star was a young boy. After flourishing at Searcy High School in Searcy, Arkansas, and in the minor leagues, playing for the Little Rock (Arkansas) Travelers and the Muskogee (Oklahoma) Athletics, Dickey made his major league debut with the Yankees in 1928. At that time, the famed “Murderers’ Row” of hitters made the Yankees famous. While not particularly a home run hitter himself, Dickey was very capable at the plate, batting .313 for his career. He also was highly regarded for his defensive skills as a catcher and for his handling of Yankee pitchers.

After Ruth and Gehrig left the game, Dickey remained with the Yankees, becoming their spiritual leader and de facto on-the-field captain before DiMaggio blossomed in the 1940s. But while Dickey was extremely affable and approachable off the field, in the heat of a game, he could be a tempest. One incident, in which he broke a base runner’s jaw with a punch, earned him a sizable punishment from the league and a perhaps undeserved reputation as combative between the baselines.

Dickey spent two years in the Navy during World War II before returning to the Yankees for one season in 1946 as player/manager. Baseball’s most famous franchise brought Dickey back in 1949 as a first base coach and tutor for a young Berra. The Yankees would eventually retire the uniform number eight, which was worn by both Dickey and Berra.

By the time Dickey completed his baseball career, he was named to eleven All-Star teams as a player, and as a player, manager, and coach combined, he earned fourteen World Series rings. That was enough to get him elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1954. He died in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1993 at the age of 86.