Brave Jack Dittmer Recalls ‘Humble’ Hank Aaron

Posted February 18th, 2011 by Tom Owens and filed in Boston Braves, Hank Aaron, Jack Dittmer, Milwaukee Braves
Dittmer’s Pen Still Flashes
That Dazzling “D” Today!

Fellow Iowan Jack Dittmer sent me a fascinating reply to my letter.

Dittmer is an Iowa sports legend, earning nine letters in three sports at the University of Iowa. Did he ever imagine himself as a Green Bay Packer, not a Milwaukee Brave? He confessed:

“Football has always been my favorite sport but I only weighed about 160 lbs in college – not big enough.”

Dittmer’s rookie season came as a BOSTON Brave. He debuted with a franchise in flux. Worse still, all the
fellow Iowans, all the U of I rooters, faced a cross-county trip to see their Hawkeye. I was sure that the move to Milwaukee offered fringe benefits. He added:

“The last year for the Boston Braves team was not a good one. I was called up in June and did not do very well.

The first year in Milwaukee was great! In August of 1953, the Iowa fans planned a big “Jack Dittmer Day” in Milwaukee and hundreds came to the game and honored me and my wife with their presence and gifts.”

A year later, Dittmer witnessed the arrival of a future home run king. He remembered:

“Rookie Hank Aaron did not come to Milwaukee until my second year (1954) and was sensational. He and his wife were great people, very humble, but did not socialize with many because, as I recall, she did not stay all summer in Milwaukee.

I have signed autographs with hank (after baseball) and participated in Hank Aaron fundraising golf tournaments in Milwaukee. He is a great guy.”

So are you, Jack Dittmer!

See the state-wide salute Dittmer received in 2005 upon entering the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame.

Additionally, I was stunned by the collection of Dittmer-related artifacts at this aptly-named website.

Tomorrow: Two important questions I’ll be asking former players I write to this season.

Hearing A Different Harry Caray

Posted December 31st, 2010 by Tom Owens and filed in Hank Aaron, Harry Caray, Joe Cunningham
Signature off Topps contract,
an indicated by “Jr.”

Joe Cunningham raised an interesting point about broadcaster Harry Caray.

I asked about the former Cardinals mikeman. I assumed Joe and all the Redbirds owned a funny story about the boisterous broadcaster.

Cunningham replied:

“Harry Caray was a good announcer. Just don’t go into a slump –“

Sounding like a fellow fan remained Caray’s famed style. Until Joe, I had never thought how it would have felt (or sounded) having the “fan” with the microphone disappointed in you.

Speaking of disappointments…

I risked a question asking about 1959. Cunningham received all-star honors for his career year at the plate. His .453 on-base percentage astounds me. How close was the Cardinal to a batting title at .345? He answered:

“I was batting against Aaron in 1959 and we went down to the last game. Then, he went into a playoff and got a few hits and beat me out.”

Catching Pitcher Stan "Big Daddy" Williams

Posted July 21st, 2010 by Tom Owens and filed in ESPN, Hank Aaron, Sal Maglie, Stan Williams

Pitcher Stan Williams proves my hunch.

Let’s see a current or former player convince us that fan reaction doesn’t matter. Did you see those Yankees in the pre-game introductions giggling over the boos from the California crowd? Everybody cares.

When I wrote to the fabled hurler, I began by quoting ESPN to him. Did he know he was part of their “All-Wired” team? How did he feel about the implication that he was a testosterone-driven maniac on the mound?

Williams responded with an amazing two-page reply, writing:

“Tom: you caught me at an extremely busy time. I’m back working again (Washington Nat’s), and I’m way behind getting my reports into the P.C. (Finally figured how to do it.)

‘MOST WIRED TEAM (ESPN) (1st heard of it): Please know baseball was an utterly different game then. We knocked down a lot of hitters, but just to gain an edge. We weren’t ‘head hunters.’ If some needed to be hit, you got him in the ribs or butt. We (I) didn’t need any extra runners on base. The Aaron story is true, but it was ‘tongue-in-cheek’ intimidation. Aaron was such a great hitter.”

The lesson from Coach Williams? Read up on the person you’re writing. Quote an article. Or quote the potential autograph signer back to himself. You might get more than a signature. You could land your own one-of-a-kind slice of baseball history.

Tomorrow: Stan belted five homers as a Dodger. He recounts his favorite blast, courtesy of Sal “The Barber” Maglie.