Wednesday, November 30, 2011

'56 of the month: Murry Dickson

I subscribed to Baseball Digest last year. It was an offering in one of those magazine-drive things, and it had been years since a magazine came to my mailbox. Feeling nostalgic for both Baseball Digest and periodicals arriving on my porch, I took a chance.

It wasn't the same. Baseball Digest isn't a monthly anymore. It's bigger, but contains fewer pages. I also find that I'm just not interested in some of the Digest articles that are simple, extended recitations of a player's statistics. I didn't renew my subscription.

The best parts of the magazine remained the various lists throughout the magazine, and especially the fans' letters.  A lot of the letters are of the "baseball was better in my day" variety. But I appreciate those submissions from older folks because they cause me to investigate players that I know only by name.

The recent issue -- and my last issue of Baseball Digest -- brought up Murry Dickson, a pitcher for several teams during the 1940s and '50s. The letter writer mentioned that Dickson delivered pitches from four different arm angles -- overhand, three-quarters, side-arm and submarine.

That got my attention, so I did the smallest amount of research possible (I'm fighting a stomach illness and am not up for anything involved) and came up with these other notables on Murry Dickson:

  • His career lasted 20 years, from 1939-59, although he missed two seasons because he was serving in World War II.
  • His first name, "Murry" -- I wonder how many times it was misspelled "Murray" -- was also the name of the country doctor who delivered him.
  • While Dickson was pitching for an American Legion team at a prison in 1933, convicts took over the stands and took the warden hostage in a bid to escape. Prison guards halted the game and and thwarted the escape try.
  • He was nicknamed "Thomas Edison Jr." by manager Eddie Dyer because of his inventions on the mound. Not only would Dickson throw from four arm angles, but he had six pitches and threw from both sides of the rubber.
  • He came up with the Cardinals and was a member of the 1942 World Series championship team, but didn't pitch. The following year, the Cardinals played the Yankees in the Series again. Dickson was drafted into the Army, but he received a special furlough from the commissioner so he could pitch in the World Series.
  • During World War II, he rose to the rank of sergeant and participated in the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Rhine. His unit fought through France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. He was a member of a reconnaissance unit that went on top-secret missions behind enemy lines. He earned four battle stars.
  • Faced with another dinner of K-rations on Thanksgiving Day during the war, Dickson said he took out his slingshot and brought down several chickens for the meal.
  • Dickson returned to the Cardinals in 1946, won a spot in the rotation despite abundant competition, and went 15-6. The Cardinals tied the Dodgers for the N.L. pennant and played a best-of-3 series. Dickson pitched the decisive Game 2, leading St. Louis to the Series and an eventual title vs. the Red Sox.
  • Dickson pitched Game 7 of the '46 World Series, but was taken out in the eighth inning. He didn't see Enos Slaughter's famous score from first base because he was so upset at being removed that he listened to the final inning on the radio while driving in his car.
  • Dickson was sold to the Pirates in 1949 and led the league in losses for three straight seasons. But he also won 20 games for a seventh place team in 1951.

  • Dickson was an amateur magician and entertained teammates with his tricks during long road trips.
  • After 1953, he was sent to the Phillies, where he lost 20 games in '54, but turned it around for a respectable 1955 season.
  • He returned to the Cardinals in 1956 and increasingly relied on the knuckleball.
  • He played in the American League for both the A's and Yankees while past age 40. When asked about his longevity, he credited his eating habits --  he had just one meal a day, keeping his weight down. (His cigarette habit also kept his weight down).
  • He played for a fourth World Series team in 1958 with the Yankees, working as a relief pitcher against the Braves.
  • Dickson briefly led the majors in most home runs surrendered during his career. He surpassed the record in 1957 set by Red Ruffing, but Robin Roberts broke the mark a year later. Jamie Moyer now holds the record, meaning three of the last four pitchers to hold the mark have connections to the Phillies.
  • He worked in carpentry after his career and continued his fishing hobby. His wife died of cancer in 1963 and a second marriage didn't work out. His son was an American Legion star, but small like his dad and didn't receive any looks from scouts.
  • I think his 1958 Topps card is great.

Dickson died in 1989 at age 73 of emphysema. But he's just more confirmation for me, that players lived a lot more full and interesting lives back then than players do today.

Maybe those crotchety Baseball Digest letter-writers are right.

(Thanks to SABR for most of these facts).

1 comment:

  1. Something tells me that those "old-time" fans were likely around in years past. In the 1950s, they were telling how Ruth and Cobb were better than the "kids" playing at the time. And in the 1920s, some of them would have been clamoring for the style of play that the old Baltimore Orioles had, rather than the "aim for the fences" power displays.