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Bill Dinneen: World Series Stalwart as Player and Umpire

In this eight-part series, Gabriel Schechter looks back at the few individuals who had careers as both players and umpires in the Major Leagues. The series begins with a look at Bill Dinneen, who began his playing career in the nineteenth century and went on to umpire eight World Series.

By Gabriel Schechter , January 26, 2017
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Original artwork by Joey Enos.

The average Major League umpire learned early in life that he didn’t have the talent to make the big time as a player. Love of the game made him pursue the less glamorous path to the most thankless job in baseball—but one that would put him in the center of the action.

Of the 10 umpires elected to the Hall of Fame, only two—Hank O’Day and Jocko Conlan—played in the Majors. A handful of Hall of Fame players tried umpiring but didn’t last, such as Ed Walsh, who umpired 87 American League games in 1922, five years after his last game as a pitcher. The next year, he left the abuse behind to don a uniform again as a White Sox coach.

I’m intrigued by the men who had significant careers both as players and as umpires. There haven’t been many, fewer than a dozen, and you have to go back more than a century to find the most important and fascinating of them: Bill Dinneen. The hero of the first World Series, Dinneen won 170 games from 1898 to 1909. One week he was a Major League pitcher, the next week a Major League umpire, and he became the dean of American League arbiters during the following 28 seasons.

A Syracuse native born in 1876, William Henry Dinneen was 19 years old when he broke into pro ball. Two years later, he was a 21-game winner for Toronto of the Eastern League. In 1898, “Big Bill,” six-foot-one and 190 pounds, reached the Majors with the Washington Nationals, and two years later he was traded to the Boston team in the National League, where he enjoyed the first of his four 20-win seasons. After a losing season in 1901, he was lured to Boston’s new team in the American League, and there he found his greatest success.

He won 21 games in 1902 and again in 1903—including a no-hitter—joining Cy Young and Tom Hughes as the pitching staff’s anchors. The 1903 edition romped to the AL pennant, 14½ games ahead of the runner-up Athletics, and prepared to face the Pittsburgh Pirates in the inaugural World Series. The Pirates featured a pair of 25-game winners—Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever—along with future Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke.

Most observers figured the Pirates would have little trouble with the upstart league’s top team in the best-of-nine showdown, especially after Phillippe beat Young easily in Game 1. They were wrong. In Game 2, Dinneen subdued the Pirates, 3–0, allowing just three singles and striking out 11. Phillippe won the next two games, including a 5–4 victory over Dinneen in Game 4. That was Pittsburgh’s last hurrah.

Young and Dinneen alternated wins in the next four games, the first three of which were played in Pittsburgh. In Game 6, Dinneen helped his own cause with a two-out single in the third inning that launched a three-run rally, and he scattered 10 hits to win, 6–3. Back in Boston for Game 8, he faced Phillippe and his three-win resume, but it was no contest. Dinneen pitched another shutout, a four-hitter, and the 3–0 triumph brought the first “world” title to Boston. He finished with a flourish, striking out Wagner with a fastball for the final out, giving him 28 strikeouts and a 2.06 ERA for the Series.

Winners of the first World Series—the 1903 Boston Americans.

Dinneen’s most remarkable season was 1904, when he keyed Boston’s second straight AL title. He started 37 games and finished every one of them, establishing an AL record by logging 335 2/3 innings that season without being relieved (following four straight complete games in the 1903 Series). His record was a solid 23–14 with a 2.20 ERA, and he saved his best for last.

On the season’s final day, Boston took a game-and-a-half lead to New York to face the Highlanders, who needed a sweep to win the pennant. In the opener, Dinneen faced New York’s 41-game-winner, Jack Chesbro. The score was 2–2 heading to the ninth inning, when Chesbro’s wild pitch handed Boston the lead. Once again, Dinneen finished strong, getting the final out by fanning Patsy Dougherty, who had driven in six runs in a pair of Dinneen’s World Series wins before being dealt to New York. Boston had clinched the pennant, but John McGraw refused to let his Giants participate in what would have been the second World Series, so Dinneen had to rest on his 1903 Series laurels.

Dinneen acknowledged later that the strenuous pitching load curtailed his career. From 1899 to 1904, he averaged 321 innings per season, but his arm weakened and he posted just one winning season after that. In 1909, toiling for the St. Louis Browns, he went 6–7 to finish with a career record of 170–177, having completed 87 percent of his starts with 24 shutouts and a 3.01 ERA. He pitched his final game on August 26 and began his umpiring career on September 12. In his first game behind the plate four days later, the Browns lost, 5–0.

“I was mighty green . . . when I broke in,” he admitted. “The tutoring I received from Jack Sheridan, Tommy Connolly and Billy Evans helped me a lot while I must say the players, through their consideration of my inexperience, aided me more than a little.” It didn’t take him long to establish his credentials, earning a World Series assignment after his second full season in 1911.

Dinneen’s former catcher with the Red Sox, Bill Carrigan, described the transformation. “Bill sure gave the umps hell at times, but he didn’t mean anything by it. . . . If Dinneen plagued umpires, don’t forget that when he became an umpire, and a great one, he took plenty from us. He remembered how he had baited the ‘umps’ and when we baited him, he showed us far more leniency than we deserved.” As Fred Lieb put it, “He wasn’t touchy, and didn’t have rabbit ears, and often preferred not to hear when a player thought uncomplimentary words aloud. But when he said, ‘That’s enough,’ it was enough.”

“An umpire, to be successful,” Dinneen explained, “must use diplomacy. You cannot treat them all alike. You must be rough with some while others you can turn back with a smile or quiet remark.” Nevertheless, Dinneen handed out 58 ejections over the next 28 seasons. He nailed Hall of Fame managers Hughie Jennings, Clark Griffith, Bucky Harris, and Miller Huggins twice each and gave the heave-ho to Lou Gehrig, Tris Speaker, and Babe Ruth. The Ruth ejection was part of an ongoing battle between the two in 1922, which resulted in a five-game suspension for Ruth.

“Bill Dinneen was one of the greatest pitchers the game ever produced, and . . . He is one of the cleanest and most honorable men baseball ever fostered.”
~AL President Ban Johnson in a letter to Babe Ruth following his ejection.

As both a pitcher and an umpire, Dinneen was especially respected for his command of the strike zone. “Having been a pitcher for fifteen years,” he admitted, “I still find myself pitching every game in which I work as an umpire. I know what the batters can hit and what they cannot hit. Consequently, I say to myself, ‘if I were pitching, I would hand this bird a curve, low and on the outside, etc.’”

Dinneen umpired eight World Series and logged 10 games behind the plate. Picture him working the hitters in his head as he stood behind catchers for these gems:

  • 1911, Game 4: Chief Bender of the Athletics beat Christy Mathewson and the Giants, 4–2, in a rematch of Game 1, won by Matty, 2–1.
  • 1914, Game 1: Bender was the loser this time, defeated 7–1 by Dick Rudolph to launch the shocking sweep by the “Miracle Braves” of Boston.
  • 1916, Game 2: In the longest duel in World Series history, Babe Ruth of the Red Sox took 14 innings to outlast Sherry Smith and Brooklyn, 2–1. Ruth went hitless but drove in the tying run in the third inning with a ground ball.
  • 1920, Game 4: Stan Coveleski tossed a five-hitter to post the second of his three wins for the victorious Indians, stifling Brooklyn, 5–1.
  • 1924, Game 7: It wasn’t a masterpiece, but Dinneen was front and center as Walter Johnson finally became a World Series champion, working four shutout innings in relief as the Senators defeated the Giants in the 12th inning on Earl McNeely’s bad-hop double. In their only encounter as pitchers, in 1908, the 20-year-old Johnson beat Dinneen, 2–1.
  • 1926, Games 1 and 5: Herb Pennock of the Yankees defeated Bill Sherdel twice, 2–1 and 3–2. Lou Gehrig drove in both runs in the opener, and Tony Lazzeri’s 10th-inning sacrifice fly made Pennock a two-time winner.

Dinneen was also an eyewitness to history in Game 5 in 1920, stationed at third base when Cleveland’s Bill Wambsganss pulled off his unassisted triple play. He wasn’t far from Pete Kilduff, who ran to third on the line drive and was doubled off second by Wamby.

Dinneen is shown here at third base in the 5th inning of Game 5 of the 1920 World Series during the only triple play in World Series history.  
Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

In addition to calling (mostly) strikes for Babe Ruth’s 1916 marathon sparkler, Dinneen was on hand for both the most celebrated and the most ignominious of Ruth’s World Series feats. The latter occurred in 1926, when he called Ruth out at second base in Game 7, the only time a Series ended on a failed stolen base attempt. He was again at second base for Ruth’s “called shot” at Wrigley Field in Game 3 in 1932 and watched the drive sail over his head on its way to the center-field bleachers.

After receiving the honor of working the plate for the first game in three World Series (1914, 1926, 1932), Dinneen drew that glamorous assignment for the inaugural All-Star Game in 1933. In the first inning, he called Ruth out on strikes. Two innings later, Ruth blasted a two-run homer that proved decisive as the American League won, 4–2. After the top of the fifth inning, the umpires rotated and Dinneen moved to third base as Bill Klem took over behind the plate.

By the time he retired after the 1937 season at age 62, Dinneen had completed 28 full seasons as an arbiter and called balls and strikes in 1,939 games. Bill McGowan, who succeeded Dinneen as the “dean” of American League umpires, paid his colleague a tribute upon his retirement: “Players loved to rile Dinneen for a minute or so just to see his neck get red. When agitated, Bill simply boiled. He was quick to cool off, however, and never held any malice. The players knew this and had lots of fun with the umpire they nicknamed ‘Redneck.’”

The man who achieved the most as both a player and umpire retired to his hometown of Syracuse, where he died in 1955. In the 1939 Hall of Fame balloting, he received seven votes, tied with teammate Kid Nichols, who won twice as many games, and one more than Jack Chesbro, whose best season he ruined with a pennant-clinching defeat. Those writers knew something; what about today’s?

Bill Dinneen was behind the plate when Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run of the 1927 season.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain




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