Yankee Catching Gr8s
I have decided to use this time during the offseason to look at the great catchers of past Yankees teams, along with the present ones. Today, I’m looking at the Hall of Fame Yankee backstops – Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra.
The first great Yankee Hall of Fame catcher was Bill Dickey, and he is admittedly the one I know the least about. This has less to do with how long ago he played and more to do with who he played with. Dickey’s career spanned from 1928 until 1946, although he spent 1944-1946 in the U.S. Navy. Throughout his career, Dickey was overshadowed by teammates like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, and others.
Dickey’s career started when he replaced Benny Bengough as the Yankees’ everyday catcher in 1929. Bengough is one of those players whose time with the Yankees was sandwiched between a couple of Hall Of Fame players. He was handed the starting catching job on the same day that Wally Pipp replaced Gehrig. Bengough was a very strong defensive catcher, but his weak offense and an ongoing shoulder problem cleared the way for Dickey.
Dickey started in the White Sox minor league system and was waived in 1927 when the Yankees scooped him up for $12,000, which would be just short of $180k today. It was a wise investment as Dickey proved to be that rare catcher who excelled behind and at the plate. Dickey’s .362 batting average in 1936 was the highest single-season average for a catcher until Joe Mauer hit .365 in 2009.
If Dickey had played for any other team, the 11 time All-Star with a career .313/.382/.486 line and 57.3 WAR would have been the centerpiece. Instead, his career overlapped with so many Yankee greats it makes your head spin. Dickey’s impact obviously didn’t stop with his career on the field, as he spent time as a Manager and coach. In fact, he played a significant role in the development of the next Yankee HOF catcher, Yogi Berra.
When I was growing up there were two legendary players whose careers were long over, but very much shaped my burgeoning Yankee fandom. The first was Mickey Mantle and the second was Yogi Berra. Yogi was a great ambassador for both the Yankees and the game of baseball even beyond his passing in 2015. People who aren’t baseball fans will still recognize his Yogisms.
Picking up where Dickey left off, Yogi was another catcher who could hit the seams off of the ball. Between 1946 and 1963, Yogi appeared in 14 World Series and had 10 Championships. The scrappy catcher from St. Louis hit well from both sides of the plate and became a solid defensive catcher. Most notably, he caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
At this point, I think his persona has become more memorable than his game, which is a testament to what he did for the game at large. For those of us growing up in the 80s and 90s, Yogi’s presence around the Yankees and baseball provided a direct connection with some of those great Yankees teams we never got to witness but made up the basis for Yankee myth and legend.
When you look at Dickey and Yogi, they were both great players with a bat and behind the plate. They each had the full package that today’s Yankees have spent the past decade searching for. Yankees fans of the 30s, 40s, and 50s didn’t need to worry too much about ineffective defensive catchers or a great catcher with no bat.
At this point in time, the Yankees only have two catchers who are Hall of Famers, but there is a handful who I believe deserve more consideration. But I will save those for next time.