Baseball Urban Legends Revealed #33

This is the thirty-third in a series of examinations of baseball-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the previous baseball legends.

This is a special themed edition! All legends involving Jimmy Dykes!

Let’s begin!

BASEBALL LEGEND: A former White Sox player stole home because he thought he saw the “steal home” sign…from his former manager, Dykes!

STATUS: I’m Going With False

Jimmy Dykes is one of the most colorful characters in the history of baseball – and Dykes hung around baseball for a very long time. Born in 1896, Dykes broke into the Major Leagues in 1918 but soon had to serve in the military at the end of World War I. He returned in 1919 and became a stalwart of the Philadelphia Athletics, playing third base for the team for the next fourteen years (the Athletics won three pennants and two world titles in that time). After being sold to the Chicago White Sox in 1932 (along with star players Mule Haas and Al Simmons, the trio were sold for $100,000 – Athletics’ owner Connie Mack needed the money, but the White Sox also needed some good players if they wanted to keep fans interested during the Great Depression), Dykes remained popular enough to be named to the first two All-Star Games in 1933 and 1934.

Also in 1934, Dykes was named player-manager of the White Sox, and he would remain manager (he retired as a player in 1939) of the team until 1946. While he won no pennants with the team, the White Sox were more successful with Dykes than they had been in years (since the infamous 1919 “Black Sox” scandal, the White Sox were an awful baseball team). Dykes was a fiery fellow, but he was generally very well liked by his players. He was known as a great motivator. He was also known as a practical joker, with exploding cigars being a main stock of his trade. He also was not a big fan of umpires…

While there are a number of great stories about Dykes from his long history as a player and manager (he would go on to manage five other teams in his career), the story I am opening with involves baseball signs, and more importantly, remembering the signs your former team used.

As you may or may not know, baseball teams frequently use elaborate hand signals (or “signs”) for the manager and coaches to inform the players what they want them to do. For instance, let’s say the manager wants the batter to bunt the ball. There will be a secret series of hand signals that will denote “bunt.”

Dykes had a player who he often had a hard time teaching signs to. Henry “Zeke” Bonura was one of the greatest Italian-American athletes of his generation (he is a member of the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame). A powerful athlete, at the age of 16 in 1925 he became youngest male athlete ever to win an event at the National Track and Field Championships (in the javelin throw). His power translated to the major leagues – he was a prodigious hitter. He broke in with the White Sox the same year Dykes became manager of the team. He set a then-record for most home runs by a White Sox rookie (27). He also had the White Sox record for most runs batted in in a season (138) that eventually fell to Albert Belle in 1998 (Frank Thomas also passed it in 2000).

Bonura, though, had a hard time following the signs. One famous story involved Dykes trying to get Bonura to bunt but it just wasn’t getting through. From a Franz Lidz article in Sports Illustrated in 1982, “Webb repeated the sign; Bonura continued to gape. They went through it again. Finally Dykes, watching impatiently from the dugout steps, had had enough. “Bunt, you meathead,” he shouted. “Bunt. Bunt. B-U-N-T.” A glint of recognition lit up Bonura’s face. On the next pitch, he bunted.”

I can’t confirm or deny that one, but in that same section, Lidz has a few more stories about Dykes and signs, including the one that we’re specifically discussing today.

First, he tells a story about when Dykes left the Athletics…

Connie Mack traded him to the White Sox in 1933, and Dykes, who had played under Mack for 15 seasons, figured he had taken the A’s signs with him. When Chicago next played the A’s, Dykes thought he saw Mack give the bunt sign. Dykes charged the plate with the pitch and nearly got his head removed by a line drive.

“After you left us,” Mr. Mack gently explained later, “we changed our signs.”

Dykes has confirmed this story over the years and I believe that it is true, but it’s also not something I can necessarily confirm or deny. It wasn’t so notable to make newspaper accounts of the game and it is not something that would show up in a box score. But it seems reasonable enough.

Now later in the article, though…

In 1938 Dykes traded Bonura to Washington. The first time the Senators visited Comiskey Park that season, Sox Coach Bing Miller advised Dykes to change his signs because Bonura knew them. “Why should we?” asked Dykes. “He couldn’t remember them when he was with us.”

Bonura wound up on third during one of the games. He glanced into the home dugout, where Dykes was waving a scorecard at a buzzing mosquito. As the pitcher wound up, Bonura wobbled down the third-base line like an errant truck and sent the catcher sprawling.

Bonura was safe, and when asked why he stole home, he said, “I saw Dykes give the sign to steal, and I forgot I wasn’t on his team anymore.”

That is a great story and it is a very popular tale of baseball lore (it pops up in many “wacky baseball stories” books), but for this one, we DO have the answer.

Bonura played against the White Sox nineteen times in the 1938 season, nine of them in Comiskey. He had zero stolen bases in those games. In addition, in a 1957 Baseball Digest article on Dykes, the above story is repeated up until the point where Dykes says “He couldn’t remember them when he was with us.” And the story ends “No signs were changed. Bonura never intercepted one.”

It is almost certain that the stolen base against the White Sox is just a variation on an actual Bonura story back when he was playing with the White Sox. As I mentioned earlier, Bonura had a hard time following signs, and at times he would mis-read the signs and think he was supposed to steal (and he not being a fast guy exactly, he was rarely asked to steal by the manager – he had only 19 career stolen bases, and who knows how many of them were accidental). And in a game against the New York Yankees in August of 1935, Bonura did, in fact, steal home (he had four stolen bases against the Yankees in his career with the White Sox).

Chicago sportswriter Irving Vaughan wrote about it in a story on Bonura in 1936, “All of a sudden, a cloud of dust started to raise between third and home. It was Zeke calling on his legs to carry out a Ty Cobb thought.” Yankee catcher Bill Dickey remarked, “What’s this game coming to? If a big lumberman like that can steal home, then we had best fold up.”

So almost certainly that’s the game that was mixed up with Bonura returning as a Senator to steal home to beat his former team.

Thanks to Franz Lidz for the article, Irving Vaughan for his article and Otto Bruno of the great website, The Old Ball Game, for finding Vaughan’s article! Thanks, Otto!

BASEBALL LEGEND: Jimmy Dykes was once traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Cleveland Indians…when he was a manager!!

STATUS: True

Dykes’ long run as Chicago White Sox manager ended in the late 1940s (he was replaced by Ted Lyons, the Hall of Fame pitcher whose late career revival was heavily due to how Dykes handled him – Dykes had him pitch once a week, and the veteran pitcher responded beautifully to the extra rest). Dykes was hand-picked by Connie Mack to replace the Hall of Fame manager in Philadelphia (where Dykes had starred as a player). His tenure in Philly would be short-lived, however, and in 1954 Dykes became the first manager in Baltimore Orioles history.

That term, too, would be short-lived. Dykes ended up working as a coach for the Reds in the late 1950s (when they were going by the Redlegs because of fear over Communism) and even served as their interim manager in 1958.

He went back to the American League in 1959 to become the manager of the Detroit Tigers.

Here’s where things get REALLY interesting.

With the Tigers and the Cleveland Indians both in a funk in the 1960 season, Indians General Manager Frank Lane proposed a trade…a trade of MANAGERS!

Lane sent the Indian manager, Joe Gordon, to the Tigers for Dykes!

Neither team responded particularly well to the trade. The Indians were actually over .500 with Gordon, but under .500 with Dykes (and finished the season at .458).

Dykes would manage the Indians for the 1961 season, where they would improve, but still finish under .500 (Dykes was let go at the end of the season).

He hung around for a few more years as a coach for other teams before finally calling it quits in 1964.

BASEBALL LEGEND: Jimmy Dykes was the first person to wear zippers in his uniform.

STATUS: True

In 1937, the Chicago Cubs debuted new uniforms.

Here they are, sketched out in the Chicago Tribune in an article by Ed Burns…

The Cubs were the first team to have zippers be part of their standard uniform. It was a trend that would soon spread to at least half of the teams in the league, before they all one by one went back to the buttoned up jerseys that you see today (the Philadelphia Phillies were the last team to wear zipped-up jerseys, and that was in 1986!). However, they kept the zippered pants.

In any event, the IDEA behind the zippered jerseys came from Jimmy Dykes!

You see, in 1936, he was the manager of the crosstown Chicago White Sox, and Dykes liked to be able to get the heck out of the clubhouse and get himself to a drinking establishment as fast as possible after the game (remember, Dykes was still only in his late 30s when he began managing the Sox).

So Dykes had a zippered jersey made for him, and the Cubs were inspired to use it themselves, and soon a trend was born!

Jimmy Dykes – he was involved in a lot of baseball history!

Thanks to Ed Burns for the 1937 article!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

One Response to “Baseball Urban Legends Revealed #33”

  1. This is the least erotic article I’ve ever read about dykes in my life. Entertaining though!

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