The all-star Game is a recognition by professionals of the best performances during the first half of the season. That recognition goes to players alone—but if an All-Star manager were also elected, the votes for standout performance in the first half of 1959 would have to go to Jimmie Dykes, the salty little Irishman who has restored Detroit's faith in its Tiger.
Jimmie came to the city in early May, the new manager of a team with a record of two wins and 15 losses. The Tiger lay in a dark corner, beaten and sniffling Jimmie Dykes picked it up, wiped its nose, gave it a kick in the rear and told Detroit the Tiger would reach the .500 level by All-Star time. That time is now here and the Tiger is over .500, just a few games out of first place.
It is possible you already know Jimmie Dykes from some place; Philadelphia, perhaps, in those roaring years following the first war, or Chicago, during FDR's long inning. More recently, Jimmie has been in Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, and it may be that you got to know him in one or another of those towns, especially if you spent any time at the ball park.
Dykes has spent much of his life at the ball park. He is a professional baseball man, in his time a player, a manager and a coach. Thirty seasons ago he was Connie Mack's boy; a tough little infielder who helped the Athletics win three straight pennants. He played 22 years, the last seven for Chicago, and he was the American League's starting third baseman in the first All-Star Game ever played, in 1933. He became the manager of the White Sox in 1934 and held the job for 12 years. Since leaving there, his career has been a hodgepodge of baseball jobs, some managing, some coaching. He began this season, at the age of 62, as a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But on May 2, as he was taking a shower in the Pittsburgh locker room, the phone rang, and 10 minutes later, Jimmie Dykes was the manager of the Tigers.
On Sunday, May 3 Detroit was to play the Yankees in a double-header. Two hours before game time Dykes held a brief clubhouse meeting. As a rule he is against such gatherings.
"They're like golf lessons," he has said. "You get the players to thinking about so many things, they forget to hit the ball."
But this first day seemed to demand some sort of talk. Dykes stood before the disheartened team and told them: "I can't hit, I can't throw, and God knows I can't run, so I can't help you." That was about all he said. The Tigers went out and beat the Yankees in both games and were on the way back.
Six weeks later Jimmie Dykes was in Baltimore, dressing for a game. Hoyt Wilhelm was scheduled to pitch against Detroit that night and, so far, Wilhelm was undefeated. This, however, did not bother Dykes. Nothing could have bothered him. His Tigers were winning.
As he dressed, cramming his stocky body into his heavy gray flannel uniform, a gathering of reporters, photographers and old acquaintances stood by. The world loves a winner, who was it said, and Jimmie Dykes was the latest example.
Dykes reached into his locker and produced a box of expensive cigars. Nobody in baseball smokes more cigars than Jimmie. He is rarely without one. He opened the box and placed it on the table.
"Help yourself," he said.
"You pay for these, Jimmie?" an acquaintance asked him, reaching into the box.
Dykes gave him a sharp look. "You bet your fanny I didn't. These cigars are 35¢ apiece. Dykes does not go that high. I'd have to manage for more than a year to afford these. No, I got these from a friend in New York."
Somebody mentioned that Wilhelm would be pitching that night.
Dykes shrugged his shoulders. "Nobody ever won them all. Somebody has to beat him and it might as well be us. At least the wind is right for it tonight. It's blowing in from behind him. That makes his knuckler less effective."
"You given the boys any special instructions?" someone asked.
"Hell, no," Dykes shouted. "I just told them to meet the ball, not to try to kill it."
Some people left and a new group arrived. One of them was a lean man with dark hair. Dykes saw him and got to his feet.
"Good to see you, Dick," he roared. "This is the Rev. Richard Armstrong. Dick used to be my publicity man at Philadelphia. I'm going to have to watch my language now."
Dykes removed his black hornrimmed glasses and put them away. He produced another pair with yellow lenses, night glasses, he explained.
"I'm surprised to find that everywhere we go, people are rooting for us. Why, of those 50,000 people in Yankee Stadium yesterday, 35,000 must have been cheering the Tigers."
Dykes did not leave for the dugout until 10 minutes before game time, and only then did the locker room crowd disperse.
The game began and, wind or no wind, Wilhelm's knuckle ball was effective. Ray Narleski, Detroit's pitcher, was tough, too, and through four innings there was no scoring. Then, in the fifth, Baltimore got a run.
In the Detroit dugout Dykes watched the game from a catcher's crouch, balanced on the cement steps. Occasionally he rose and paced the aisle in front of the bench, but he always returned to his crouch. His deep bullfrog's voice kept up a constant roar of encouragement. Between shouts he spanked his hands together.
In the sixth inning the Tigers rallied for three runs. When they scored two more in the seventh, Wilhelm was driven out. Narleski retired the Orioles in the seventh, but in the eighth they scored a run and put runners on second and third with two out. That sent Jimmie out to the mound.
IVY VS. IVY
It was necessary that Narleski be taken out, for he was tired and Dykes could not afford to let the two runners score. Warming up in the bullpen were Dave Sisler, a right-handed Princeton graduate, and Pete Burnside, a left-handed Dartmouth graduate. The day before, in Yankee Stadium, Sisler had relieved Burnside, probably the first time in baseball history that one Ivy League pitcher has relieved another. Now Dykes had to choose one. The next batter, Billy Klaus, was a left-handed batter, but Dykes knew that if he put in the Dartmouth boy, Klaus would be removed for the dangerous Gus Triandos, a right-handed batter. So Dykes chose Princeton.
Klaus hit Sisler's first pitch for a single, and both runners scored. Now it was 5-4 and the tying run was on base. Gene Woodling, Baltimore's best hitter and a left-handed batter, was up. In the press box some people thought Dykes would now bring in Burnside, for Baltimore would surely not pinch-hit for Woodling. But Dykes stayed with Sisler, and the tall pitcher got Woodling out.
In the ninth the Tigers scored an insurance run. Then Sisler took the mound and got the first two Orioles out. However he fell behind the third batter, two balls and no strikes.
"He'll be taking this pitch, Dave," boomed Dykes from his crouch. His words came from the depths of his throat and sounded more like grunts.
Sisler threw a strike and the batter took it.
"That a boy, Dave. Come on, Dave."
Sisler threw a third ball, then strike two.
One pitch away. "Get it over, Dave," roared Dykes. "Make him hit it." Sisler got set. Dykes got set. The pitch was a ball. The batter walked, and the tying run came to the plate. "Damn," growled Dykes. He had lost a battle. He rose and stretched himself, then returned to his crouch. Another battle was about to begin.
A minute later it was over. The batter grounded out, and Dykes and the rest of the Tigers were in the locker room with another victory. Within seconds the manager's quarters were filled with well-wishers.
Dykes peeled off his jersey, then plopped in his chair and poured some beer in a glass. He was already smoking a cigar. A photographer began taking pictures of him.
"You'd better not take any of me drinking this beer," he warned. "Cronin will fine me 500 bucks if you photograph me drinking in uniform. Of course the beer company may send me a thousand for the advertising."
A Baltimore reporter wandered in and wanted to know if Dykes had had somebody throwing knuckle balls to the Tigers in batting practice.
"Hell, no," yelled Dykes. "Batting practice is a time for fun. If I have somebody throw a knuckler and they can't hit him, they're likely to get discouraged. I've got two of the best batting-practice pitchers there are, Hitchcock and Hudlin. They can't get anybody out. Makes the batters feel good."
Dykes sipped his beer, then rubbed his eyes. They were red. He looked tired.
The phone rang, and Charlie Creedon, the traveling secretary, answered it. Then he handed it to Jimmie. "Daytona Beach," he said.
"Daytona Beach?" asked Jimmie. "Don't know anyone from there, do I? Hello. What? Thank you. Well, let's not go that far ahead. Yeah, we beat Wilhelm." Dykes held the phone away from him and shrugged his shoulders. The guests in the room remained silent. "Well, we'll do our best," Dykes told the phone. "Who? Kuenn? Just a minute." Dykes put down the phone. "Somebody get Kuenn. He wants to speak to Kuenn."
Dykes returned to his chair. On the table were two telegrams that had arrived the day before. One was from a Montana Yankee hater. The other was from a Detroit barbershop. In it were congratulations and a suggested lineup change.
"I'd better throw this away," muttered Dykes. "He may be righter than anyone knows."
He finished his beer and got ready for a shower. The king's court began to leave. Dykes took one more puff from his cigar.
"You know," he said, "when you're winning, the beer tastes better and so do the cigars." Then he went to his shower.
At 10 o'clock the next morning, Jimmie Dykes, dressed in a neat blue pin-stripe suit, sat in the elegant dining room of the Lord Baltimore Hotel. He was in a good mood. He ordered a large orange juice, a poached egg and coffee. When the waitress left, he tucked the large white linen napkin under his collar.
"I smoke about 20 cigars a day," he said. "I start right after breakfast and continue until bed. I do not smoke in bed. Once in a while I'll smoke lying down on a couch. I'll close my eyes and my wife will come by and take the cigar from my fingers. Then, without opening my eyes, I'll say, 'Now you can put it back, Mary,' and she'll say, 'I thought you were asleep.' I've told her that if I ever burn something with one of my cigars, I'll buy her whatever she wants."
Jimmie and Mary McMonagle Dykes live in Norristown, Pa. during the winter, not far from Philadelphia and within driving distance of their three children and 12 grandchildren.
"One Christmas we had the whole family under one roof," Dykes said. "I nearly went crazy."
A husky man walked by the table and said good morning to Dykes. "That's Tommy Henrich," Jimmie said, "one of my coaches. He was a Yankee, the dog."
The conversation turned to the game the night before. Why, he was asked, had he left Dave Sisler in to pitch to Gene Woodling?
"He had only thrown one pitch," the manager said. "If I took him out then, I might ruin him. That would be a good way to wreck his morale."
The waitress brought Dykes his poached egg. "You're Mr. Dykes, aren't you?" she asked. Jimmie nodded. "I remember you when you managed the Orioles," she continued. "I think that was 1954."
"Yes, it was."
"I just want to wish you the best of luck. Everybody is so happy about how well you're doing."
Jimmie thanked her and she left. He was silent.
"This must be baseball at its best, isn't it?" he was asked. "I mean this last six weeks?"
Jimmie Dykes took a cigar from his pocket and lit it. Then he nodded his head and smiled.