Bill Dickey, a Hall of Fame catcher and a member of the New York Yankees as a player, manager and coach during four decades, died Friday night at Rose Care Nursing Center in Little Rock, Ark. He was 86. A cause of death wasn't available, a funeral home spokesman said.
Rated by many as the finest all-round catcher in the history of the sport, Dickey was one of the brightest stars of Yankee teams that held sway over the American League between World War I and World War II.
In his 17 years as a player from 1928 until 1946 -- all with the Yankees and all at catcher -- he played in eight World Series and only once had to accept a losing share of the purse.
Joe McCarthy, the manager of the Yankees for most of Dickey's career, once said: "He was a great catcher, great hitter and a great man to have on the ball club. The records prove Dickey was the greatest catcher of all time."
In 1,789 games, the left-handed-hitting Dickey compiled a batting average of .313 with 202 home runs and 1,209 runs batted in. In 11 seasons he batted .300 or better, with a career high of .362 in 1936.
He was one of the most feared clutch hitters in lineups that included Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Joe DiMaggio.
He also was a part of All-Star history in 1934. It was Dickey's single that broke Carl Hubbell's record streak of five consecutive strikeouts against eventual Hall of Famers. Flexible Behind Plate
Behind the plate, he displayed all the qualities needed by a top-notch defensive catcher. He was a sure-handed receiver with speed. And he had the ability to work smoothly with pitchers of all descriptions -- fireballers, spitballers and curveballers. He led the American League in fielding his position five times.
"I never shake Dickey off," Ernie Bonham, a 21-game winner in 1942, said during his career. "I just let him pitch my game for me."
"Dickey never has bothered me, never has shaken me off," pitcher Red Ruffing said. Ruffin, who was a 20-game winner for four of the seasons he pitched to Dickey, added: "He just lets me pitch my game." A Familiar Batter
Dickey's knowledge of opposing hitters was legendary. After the 1943 World Series, he was in an elevator when a soldier said he bet that Dickey did not remember him.
"Sure I do," said the catcher. "We used to pitch you high and inside. If we pitched you outside -- Wham! It was the ball game."
The soldier was Joe Gantenbein, an infielder who played with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1939 and 1940.
While playing for the Yankees, Dickey's roommate on the road was Lou Gehrig. Like Gehrig, Dickey was a model of consistency, setting a major league record by catching 100 or more games for 13 straight years.
Like Gehrig, too, Dickey was quiet and reserved away from baseball. On the field, however, Dickey was fiercely competitive, once drawing a 30-day suspension and $1,000 fine in 1932 for breaking the jaw of Washington's Carl Reynolds with one punch after a collision at home plate.
Dickey and Gehrig were close friends, and Dickey was the first teammate to know that Gehrig was ill. Later, Dickey was the only active player to play himself in "Pride of the Yankees," a movie about Gehrig that starred Gary Cooper. Joined Yanks in 1928
William Malcolm Dickey was born on June 6, 1907, in Bastrop, La., the son of a railroad worker, and he spent his childhood in Kensett, Ark. His family moved to Little Rock when he was 16, and he maintained his home there until his death.
Dickey showed fine baseball potential while attending Little Rock College. His path to the Yankees began when he was purchased from Little Rock for $12,000 in 1927 while out on option with Jackson in the Cotton States League. The next year, Yankees Manager Miller Huggins sent him to two minor league teams before he joined New York for 10 games.
Dickey became the starting catcher in 1929 and played in more than 100 games each season through 1941. In 1943, his last full season, he batted .351 in 85 games.
He spent 1944 and 1945 in the Navy, serving as an organizer of recreational activities in the Pacific. He left the service with the rank of lieutenant senior grade.
Dickey attempted to return to baseball as an active player in 1946, but his plans were disrupted on May 24 when McCarthy resigned as manager because of ill health. Dickey was named to succeed him and for the most part gave up his playing career.
But the Yankees that year could never catch the streaking Boston Red Sox. When New York had been officially eliminated from the pennant race in early September, Dickey submitted his resignation to the Yankees. Johnny Neun, a coach, served as manager for the remainder of the season.
After one year as manager of Little Rock of the Southern Association and one year working at his automobile seat cover business in Little Rock, Dickey returned to the Yankees in 1949 as a coach under Casey Stengel, the new manager. The Mentor of Berra
As a coach, he was credited with teaching Yogi Berra, an awkward youngster, the basic skills of catching.
"Bill is learnin' me his experience," said Berra, who went on to become an adept fielder and a member of the Hall of Fame. The Yankees have retired the uniform No. 8, worn by both Dickey and Berra. On Aug. 21, 1988, a plaque honoring him, along with one of Berra, was placed in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium that recognized Dickey as "First in Line of Great Yankee Catchers. The Epitome of Yankee Pride."
At his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1954, Dickey declared the honor "the nicest thing ever to happen to me."
In February 1958, Dickey announced that he would not return as a Yankees coach. He instead became a scout working out of his home in Little Rock.
In 1977, Dickey retired from his job as a securities representative from Stephens Inc. in Little Rock, the largest brokerage firm off Wall Street.
He married Violet Arnold of Passaic, N.J., on Oct. 5, 1932. They had a daughter, Lorraine, in 1935.