Someone should write a biography of Jimmie Dykes, who was sort of the “Forrest Gump” of baseball in the twentieth century. Dykes wasn’t a simpleton, and he never stepped foot on a shrimp boat (as far as I can tell), but he was witness to several important moments of baseball history.
Dykes was born in Philadelphia in 1896. As a boy he walked to Columbia Park and watched Rube Waddell pitch for the Athletics. Sometimes, when the game was sold out or when little Jimmie didn’t have the money to buy a ticket, he would climb to the rooftop of a house providing shade over the tiny ballpark’s outfield fence. The team’s manager was a tall man who wore a grey suit and a high collar in the dugout, waving his players in position with his scorecard. That man was Connie Mack, and eventually Dykes was signed to play for him and his hometown team.
For more than two decades starting in 1918, Dykes was in the American League. He played against Babe Ruth, he batted against Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, and Bob Feller. He fielded bunts off the bat of Ty Cobb. He roomed with Mickey Cochrane.
Dykes was, for several years a jack of all trades, sort of the Tony Phillips of his time. Jimmie felt comfortable playing second base, third base, even shortstop or the outfield if Mr. Mack needed him. He played in three World Series, he traveled to Japan as part of a contingency that performed in exhibitions there, and he was on the roster for the first Major League All-Star Game in 1933.
Dykes always hit a lot of doubles: he often pulled the ball down the third base line. He was not particularly fast, but he was strong-limbed and rugged, and he became known for knocking down hard-hit balls with his chest.
Jimmie (or “Jimmy” as he wrote his autographs) was one of Connie Mack’s favorite people, and late in his career the old man obliged Dykes by trading him to the White Sox, who wanted him to be a player-manager. That launched the second half of Dykes’ career, where he managed nearly 3,000 games, though he never finished higher than third place. He was the genius who used Ted Lyons as a Sunday-only pitcher, and he mentored Al Kaline. Dykes gave a tryout to two black players in 1942, though the league was not ready yet. He skippered six different teams and he was always a strong leader. He was also one of the most colorful men to ever sit in a big league dugout.
Once, when a newspaper reported that Ted Williams had always wanted to be a fireman, Dykes and several of his players wore fireman’s coats and hats and rang bells in the dugout during a game when Williams came to the plate. Dykes was a master at filling the notebooks of reporters with great quotes.
In between managerial jobs Dykes usually drew a paycheck as a coach or a scout. He drove thousands of miles to see hundreds of young ballplayers. He was the first manager of the Baltimore Orioles when they returned to the big leagues in 1954. That season his team was terrible, and the front office was just as bad. An overmatched blowhard named Clarence Miles was the president of the club.
Once, Miles cornered Dykes in the clubhouse and engaged him in a long-winded assessment of what was wrong with the team. Finally, as game time approached, Jimmie said, “Mr. Miles I should really get on the field.” Miles nodded, but as Dykes walked away, he said, “Jimmie, why don’t you clean that grass off the seat of your pants?” To which the irritated Dykes replied, “That’s not grass…it’s mistletoe.”
In 1960, Dykes made history when he was part of the only trade of managers, going from Detroit to Cleveland. He later worked for Charlie Finley in Kansas City.
Dykes was there when a 50-something Satchel Paige made a comeback with the A’s, he was there when the young players who would form a new A’s dynasty in the 1970s were coming up.
The career of Jimmie Dykes spanned from The Babe to Reggie. He saw his first major league game before the World Series had even been invented. He attended his last major league game when they were wearing polyester and using a designated hitter.