Baseball lore is full of tales of misread signs that led to disaster, but Third Baseman Jimmy Dykes's career was almost an anthology of major detours. Connie Mack traded him to the White Sox in 1933, and Dykes, who had played under Mack for 15 seasons, figured he had taken the A's signs with him. When Chicago next played the A's, Dykes thought he saw Mack give the bunt sign. Dykes charged the plate with the pitch and nearly got his head removed by a line drive.
"After you left us," Mr. Mack gently explained later, "we changed our signs."
Dykes became manager of the Chicago White Sox the following year. His first baseman was a slow, clumsy rookie named Zeke Bonura. Late in a close game, with a Chicago runner on second, Dykes flashed the bunt signal to Billy Webb, his third-base coach. Webb relayed the sign to Bonura, who stepped out of the batter's box looking bemused.
Webb repeated the sign; Bonura continued to gape. They went through it again. Finally Dykes, watching impatiently from the dugout steps, had had enough. "Bunt, you meathead," he shouted. "Bunt. Bunt. B-U-N-T."
A glint of recognition lit up Bonura's face. On the next pitch, he bunted.
In 1938 Dykes traded Bonura to Washington. The first time the Senators visited Comiskey Park that season, Sox Coach Bing Miller advised Dykes to change his signs because Bonura knew them. "Why should we?" asked Dykes. "He couldn't remember them when he was with us."
Bonura wound up on third during one of the games. He glanced into the home dugout, where Dykes was waving a scorecard at a buzzing mosquito. As the pitcher wound up, Bonura wobbled down the third-base line like an errant truck and sent the catcher sprawling.
Bonura was safe, and when asked why he stole home, he said, "I saw Dykes give the sign to steal, and I forgot I wasn't on his team anymore."