Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A 1918 Semipro Championship Ring from a Forgotten Former Dodger at Legendary Auctions - Remembering Dodger Scout Artie Dede

Yesterday, I shared a bunch of Dodger memorabilia pieces I came across while perusing Legendary Auctions current offering.  You can check out that post here. But, I wanted to take some time to write this post about one particular item that I thought deserved some special attention.  The collectible itself isn't a Dodger item, but it once belonged to an important former Dodger who has long been forgotten by time.

This 1918 Semipro New York Section Shipbuilding Baseball Champions Ring was given to former Dodger catcher and highly regarded Baseball scout Artie Dede.
(Auction Link)

Artie was one of the great scouts that littered the Dodger ranks in the 40's and 50's.  He was credited with inventing a spring training innovation called the Sliding Dolly, a player would lay down on a platform with wheels and cords designed to show the proper sliding position for his feet and legs, and was a constant presence on New York borough ballfields in hopes of finding a future Dodger. 

In fact, he found one.  Dede was an important voice in the Dodgers pursuit of future Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.  The Baseball Hall of Fame scouting page credits him with signing Sandy.  I'll go into this a little later.

How Artie Dede became a Dodger is the stuff of legends.  He was one of those Moonlight Graham kind of players -- having recorded just a single at-bat in his Major League career.  In fact, Frank Graham Sr. (a sportswriter for the New York Sun) wrote in his 1981 book titled, "A Farewell to Heroes," that:
Dede was one of the sweetest men alive, everyone's idea of a gentle, twinkle-eyed, wisecracking grandfather.  None of us minded that his jokes were pure cornball; it was the manner and not the substance of his patter that brought out the laughs.  He had been a catcher for the Bushwicks and other semiprofessional teams of the World War I era and, responding to some long-forgotten emergency at Ebbets Field, had played in a single game for the Dodgers in 1916.
As I understand it, Dede was never really on the Dodgers playing roster.  Instead, he was a well regarded semipro catcher from Brooklyn who, based on his reputation as a knowledgeable player, got a gig as a 20-year old bullpen catcher for both the NY Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.  His work with those clubs gave him the opportunity to catch Major League pitchers, such as; Christy Mathewson, Rube Marquard, Al Demaree, Sherrod Smith, Jack Coombs and Nap Rucker.  He was also known to have traveled with the teams on occasion; having bunked with Jim Thorpe. 

Fortunately, the circumstances surrounding his lone Major League at-bat has not been lost to time; as Frank Graham had mused above.  Through the wonder of the internet we find a July 17, 1947 Brooklyn Daily Eagle story about it from Jimmy Murphy

In 1916, during the second to last game of the season, Dede had his chance to enter the record books.  The Dodger catchers (Chief Myers, Otto Miller and Mack Wheat) had banged up fingers, so the team decided to give them a spell.  They brought in Artie Dede as an emergency catcher out of the bullpen. The Dodgers were on their way to winning their very first pennant of the century, and they likely decided it was best to rest their backstops before their World Series matches against the Boston Red Sox. 

Artie Dede faced Giants pitcher Slim Sallee, and also got onto the field for an inning.  Other than recording an out, I do not know what was the outcome of his at-bat.

Dede would continue playing for and coaching various semipro league teams in the New York area for several decades.  During WWI he enlisted in the Motor Transport Corps and remained in the trucking business for 24 years, thereafter.  Then, a Dodger scout by the name of Turk Karum, recognizing Dede's reputation, passed along his name to Mickey McConnell, Director of Dodger Promotional Works, in 1941.  They quickly signed him up and had him running tryout camps in Lodi.  He stayed with the team until the Dodgers departure for Los Angeles in 1958.  He then became a Yankee scout til his death in 1971. 

Over the years, he has been credited with signing Cal Abrams, Billy Loes, Joe Pignatano and Joe Pepitone.  And, to return back to Sandy Koufax, Ed Gruver, wrote in his 2000 book entitled "Koufax", the following:
Upon reading the Campanis Report and conferring with Dodger scout Art Dede, team president Walter O'Malley gave Brooklyn general manager Buzzie Bavasi permission to sign Koufax.

"Everyone was high on him," Bavasi remembered.  "I hadn't seen him play of course, but his father came in asked for $14,000.  So I called Arthur in and said, "Arthur, Mr. Koufax wants $14,000."

He said, 'If I had it, I'd give it to him.'

"That was enough for me."
Clearly, if not for Artie Dede, Sandy Koufax might not have been a Dodger.

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* Dodgers Blue Heaven home page *

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