Jimmie Dykes put down his cigar and put on his eighth major league uniform in Bradenton, Fla. the other day and thus became the longest-running one-man show now performing in organized baseball. He reported at the training camp of the Milwaukee Braves to serve as a member of Manager Birdie Tebbetts' coaching staff, a step down from the managerial status he held at Cleveland last season, but not—by the grace of Birdie—a stepping-out from the game in which he has been loudly active without interruption since 1916.
It was the second time that Dykes's longtime friend had decided that the show must go on. In 1955 there seemed to be no demand for Dykes's services in either major league. He sat out spring training at home in Norristown, Pa. and finally agreed, over the telephone, to become a baseball announcer for a television station in Philadelphia. A few minutes after he had accepted the announcing job, the phone rang again. It was Tebbetts asking if he'd like to coach at Cincinnati. Dykes accepted promptly, called in his resignation as a television performer and hastened to join Birdie, with whom he served four seasons, finishing the last one as temporary manager when Birdie was fired in August.
Dykes arrived in Bradenton by way of Garmisch ( Germany), Paris, London and a final fling at the poker table in the men's bar of Philadelphia's Bala Golf Club. He had been abroad helping conduct baseball clinics for the Air Force; he had been at the poker table at Bala almost every other waking hour during the winter, a pleasurable and sometimes profitable activity that he considered to be well worth the 35-mile round-trip drive from his home.
Locker room atmosphere, at golf clubs and ball parks, thick with his own cigar smoke and heavy-handed masculine humor, suits Dykes at age 65 as well as it did when he became the bush-league property of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1916. One day recently, just before leaving for Florida, he showed up at his club with a guest and introduced him around as a man from the FBI. There was no reason for anyone to doubt the visitor's identity and he was received respectfully. Dykes posted him behind a poker-playing fellow member, Mike Tierno, with instructions to stare steadily at Tierno for a time and then ask him, "Sir, do you keep a record of your winnings at cards?" This had the effect of completely unnerving Mr. Tierno, who cried out, "I never win!" as he threw in his hand and rushed to the bar to compose himself.
That same afternoon, Bing Miller, the great outfielder of the old A's, dropped in and pulled a chair up to the poker table. He had brought Dykes a hat, a duplicate of his own, which Jimmie had admired while lunching at The Tavern in nearby Bala-Cynwyd. Bing puts in three or four hours a day there, acting as greeter and glad-hander for the proprietor, Jack Everhart.
"Would you say, Bing," asked a club member, "that Jimmie here was the greatest infielder in baseball when he was in his prime?"
"Why," said Bing, speaking slowly and choosing his words carefully, "I'd say that in his prime, at his peak, during his best days with the Athletics, Jimmie Dykes was the worst infielder of all time. The only way he could field a ball was to knock it down with his chest."
The interrogator nodded solemnly. "Am I to infer, then," he said, taking a sip from his glass, "that Dykes's great reputation in baseball stems from his cunning as a manager, his mastery of baseball strategy, the lightning-fast workings of his steel-trap mind?"
"As a manager," said Bing, "Dykes established a new low. He was so bad that Mr. William O. DeWitt of the Detroit Tigers went to Mr. Frank Lane of the Cleveland Indians and got down on his knees and begged Mr. Lane to take Dykes off his hands. Mr. Lane can't stand tears and so, as you know, he swapped Joe Gordon for Dykes. It was the only time in baseball history that a manager got bad enough to be traded."
Dykes puffed on his cigar butt and drew another cigar from his pocket to light from it.