Jack Dittmer (TRADING CARD DB)

Jack Dittmer

This article was written by Darrell Hanson

Jack Dittmer (TRADING CARD DB)Although Jack Dittmer may not have achieved the level of major league stardom many predicted for him, he was an outstanding athlete who was liked and admired for both his performances on the field and his cheerful, outgoing personality. He was a nationally recognized athlete in high school and college who played football, baseball, and basketball for the University of Iowa. Dittmer was the last Hawkeye to earn nine varsity letters.

After turning down an opportunity to play professional football, he rose rapidly through the Braves system and became their starting second baseman less than two years after turning pro. Jack struggled to hit after joining the Braves during the 1952 season but seemed to have proven himself by the end of the 1953 season.

The Braves then surprised the baseball world by paying a big price to acquire infielder Danny O’Connell. For three seasons the Braves pitted Dittmer and O’Connell against each other in a competition that hampered both of their careers. Jack remained a part-time player in the majors until 1957, played in the minors through 1959, and returned to Iowa to become a successful and respected business owner and community leader.

John Douglas Dittmer was born in Elkader, a small town in rural northeast Iowa,1 on January 10, 1928. His parents were LeRoy Dittmer, who was a partner in a car dealership2, and Helen (Schmidt) Dittmer. He had one older sister, Dorothy, who was born on January 28, 1926.

Dittmer attended Elkader High School, where he excelled at baseball, football, and basketball. He was already earning statewide recognition as a freshman.3 Comments in the student newspaper hinted at the reputation he would later earn as an affable and fun-loving person.

Dittmer was a slender athlete who topped out at 160 pounds in high school and was described as having a “Marty Marion build.”4 He was the star running back and receiver on a football team that dominated opponents.5 Elkader was ranked as the top team in Iowa by The Scholastic Sports Institute,6 and Dittmer broke the modern state scoring record. He led the basketball team in scoring every year and almost doubled the school’s previous career scoring record.

In baseball, he starred as a middle infielder and pitcher. By the summer of his junior year, he was being scouted by the Cubs and Indians. Des Moines Register sportswriter Sec Taylor wrote that Cubs scout Cy Slapnicka courted Jack throughout the summer.

The highlight of Dittmer’s high school baseball career was his selection to represent Iowa in Esquire Magazine’s second annual All-American Boys’ Ball Game on August 28, 1945. Sec Taylor selected Dittmer with input from major league scouts.7 The players spent a week working out with major league stars as coaches and played an East-West all-star game in New York’s Polo Grounds. Ty Cobb managed the West team (which included Dittmer), Babe Ruth managed the East, and coaches included Charlie Dressen and Carl Hubbell. The game was played before a crowd of 23,617 and broadcast nationally with Harry Wismer and Red Barber in the booth. The East won the game, 5-4. Dittmer arrived back home from New York as the football season was getting underway and began his senior year by scoring five touchdowns in a 50-0 rout of Maynard High School.

Jack delayed playing pro baseball to enroll in the University of Iowa in 1946. He made the varsity squads in football and baseball as a freshman but did not go out for basketball because he thought three sports would be an excessive load. He played baseball during the summers and worked when he could in his uncle’s drug store in Elkader. In 1947 Dittmer played for the Amana Freezers, a semipro team managed by former major leaguer and White Sox scout Hal Trosky. The following three summers he played for the Elkader Vets, a very successful town team.8

In college football Jack was an outstanding receiver noted for his “relaxed style of play and his excellent catches, often when well-covered.”9 At 6-feet-1 and only 165 pounds, he was nicknamed “Skinny” but also sometimes called “The Thin Man” and, in jest, “Muscles.” He excelled in acrobatic “jump ball” catches, leaping to deflect the ball away from defenders and catching it on the way down, and made headlines with clutch performances.

Dittmer led the Hawkeyes in scoring as a junior in 1948. The Chicago Bears expressed interest in him, but he said he preferred pro baseball because “I’m not in the mood to tangle with eleven guys. Baseball is more of a man-for-man sport.”10 In his final football season he broke the conference record for total receiving yards in a season, set five Hawkeye single-season and career records, and received Iowa’s Most Valuable Player award.11

In baseball, Dittmer became the Hawkeyes’ starting second baseman during his freshman season and co-captain as a junior, and was named to the All-American second team.12 Iowa baseball coach Otto Vogel said he was the greatest player he ever coached and had a better chance of playing major league baseball than any Hawkeye since Mace Brown. Northwestern University coach and former major leaguer Freddie Lindstrom called Dittmer the best player in the conference13 and the best all-around second base prospect since Charlie Gehringer.14 Dittmer received offers from the Indians and Red Sox, but said, “I don’t plan on signing anything until I get my diploma next spring. I kinda want to act independent when we start talking terms.”15

In 1945 Dittmer, a left-handed pull hitter, became the target of what the Des Moines Tribune called “probably the first full-fledged shift in the history of college baseball” in a game against Minnesota. With Jack at the plate, Minnesota’s coach, former major leaguer Dick Siebert, repositioned the fielders to something “close to a ‘Ted Williams shift.’” Siebert said, “Now let’s see you get on, Jack,” with “both grinning ear to ear.” Despite the shift, Dittmer still reached base — by getting hit by a pitch.16

Jack displayed an easygoing nature and sense of humor during interviews. Asked to name his greatest thrill as an athlete, he replied “There’s no use getting excited. It’s bad for your blood pressure. But my baseball experience came in handy last year in the Wisconsin game when I caught a pass off Clarence Self’s headgear for a touchdown. The ball would have gone for a double if I hadn’t caught it.”17

Reporters often used terms like cool, loose, lackadaisical, or calm when writing about Jack. One wrote that he was “relaxed as Charlie McCarthy without Edgar Bergen” both on and off the field.18 He was described by reporters and teammates as “a laugh-producer,” “just plain nuts,”19 and a “delightful idiot.”20 A newspaper profile titled “Roomies Dittmer, McKenzie Have Iowa in Stitches” reported that “[h]is batting stance looks as though it is about to collapse any second. Out on the base paths, he values his rest. Say an argument develops at home plate. Look toward second base and there will be Dittmer with his head on the sack and his legs crossed.”21

Not everybody was impressed by Dittmer’s laid-back personality. Some major league scouts wanted to cross him off their lists because they thought his relaxed demeanor on the field was a sign of laziness and indifference. Hawkeye coaches worked to convince the skeptics that Dittmer possessed intense competitive desire despite his easygoing nature. 22

In a surprise move, Dittmer went out for basketball as a senior. He earned a varsity letter, making him the only Hawkeye since 1940 to earn nine varsity letters and one of only six players ever to do so. Jack graduated with a degree in physical education after receiving several Hawkeye awards.23 He received offers from 12 major league teams and signed with the Boston Braves on June 23, 1950. Braves scout Eddie Dancisak handled the signing for Boston. Dittmer received a $6,000 bonus and was assigned to the Denver Bears in the Class A Western League.

The 22-year-old Dittmer joined the Bears in mid-season and hit .373 with a .506 slugging average and 59 RBIs in 72 games.24 Chet Nelson, sportswriter for the Rocky Mountain News, described the “hustling, aggressive Dittmer” as “the hottest rookie in the Western league at the moment.”25 On December 9, 1950, Jack married Darlene Dougherty from Elkader. They would have three children: Lisa in 1954, Jan in 1957, and Douglas in 1970.

Sent to the Atlanta Crackers in the Class AA Southern Association, Jack finished fifth in the league in batting average among those players with at least 300 at bats26 and was voted onto the league’s All-Star team. That winter he played in the Puerto Rican league. He hit .327 for the Senadores de San Juan, made the All-Star team, and was voted the most popular player on the team by the fans. Darlene remembered their winter in Puerto Rico as “a wonderful experience. The league was allowed six American ballplayers on a team and we all stayed on the 6th floor of the Normandie Hotel.” The Americans were a racially mixed group of both National and American League players. “We had a great time living together. Wives were not allowed to attend the ball games because of the rabid fans (excitement could mean a gun going off). We had Sam Jones, George Crowe, Don Liddle, etc. All good people.”27

Continuing his rapid rise up Boston’s minor league ladder, Dittmer opened the 1952 season with the Class AAA Milwaukee Brewers. That was where he first teamed up with his future major league double play partner, shortstop Johnny Logan. It was also Jack’s first experience playing for manager Charlie Grimm, who took over as Boston’s manager in early June and would be Dittmer’s skipper for most of his time with the Braves.

Dittmer continued to shine at the plate with the Brewers and received praise for his fielding. When the Braves called him up to the majors on June 16, Jack had the second-highest batting average in the American Association and was leading the Brewers in RBIs. He had also helped turn 49 double plays in 57 games.28 He said goodbye to Milwaukee with a flourish by hitting a double and home run in his final game, capping off a five-game spree during which he had gone 10 for 18 with 12 RBIs. The next day he flew to Boston just in time for that day’s doubleheader, not even having time to eat lunch or shave before joining the starting lineup.

In addition to his performance, two other factors contributed to Dittmer’s quick ascent to the majors. One was Boston’s perceived weakness at second base, especially in turning double plays. The Braves had struggled to find a satisfactory second baseman ever since trading Eddie Stanky after the 1949 season. While Dittmer was rising through the minors, the position changed hands seven times as four different players took turns being declared the Braves starter.29 There were persistent reports that the team was trying to acquire Red Schoendienst from the Cardinals.The second factor was his ineligibility for military service. During the Korean War many young players lost playing time while serving the nation. However, Dittmer suffered from asthma and hay fever and was rejected after pre-induction exams.

Dittmer’s first major league season was a big success defensively but a disappointment at the plate. The Braves were happy with his fielding, especially his ability on double plays,30 but he struggled at the plate through August. He was hitting only .164 with three home runs going into September but the Braves stuck with him because of his fielding.31 Jack finally started hitting in September and finished strongly enough to solidify his hold on the second base job for the next season.32

In 1953 the Boston Braves relocated to Milwaukee. Dittmer had enjoyed Milwaukee and was happy to return. The Braves took advantage of their proximity to Iowa by holding Jack Dittmer Day on August 23, which was also Darlene’s birthday. Approximately 1,500 fans from Iowa either drove or rode a special 19-car excursion train to see him play. Jack and Darlene were showered with gifts including wristwatches, luggage, a combination television-radio-phonograph console, a $1,000 savings bond, and several floral arrangements. Reminiscing in 2014, Darlene remembered it as “a very special day” and spoke of “wonderful memories of our time in Milwaukee. Those years were just wonderful. We had many friends on the Braves.”33 Johnny and Dottie Logan were among those good friends. When the Logans were married after the 1953 season, Darlene served as Dottie’s matron of honor and Jack was an usher.

Another friend on the team, Ernie Johnson, remembered Jack as “a good, bear-down ballplayer,” but “quite a prankster” as well. “I’ll never forget an incident that happened one night in St. Louis. While ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was being played, the stadium lights were turned out. Dittmer then gave Manager Charlie Grimm a hotfoot by setting fire to his shoelaces. Grimm let out a yell, saying ‘Dittmer!’ when he felt the fire. He knew right away it was Jack who did it.”34

Dittmer again struggled at the plate at the start of 1953 but remained in the lineup and continued to receive praise for his skill on double plays. An Associated Press writer wrote in mid-June that “[t]he Logan-Dittmer combination ranks with the best on the double play.”35 Jack finished a distant second behind Schoendienst in the balloting for the 1953 All-Star team.

Dittmer made news that season with an unusual appeal of an error charged to Logan. Jack wrote to the scorekeeper and said, “I would like to request that you change the scoring on this play and give me the error instead. I should have handled the ball…I hope you can see it my way and take the error away from Johnny.” The scorekeeper joked that Dittmer’s letter belonged in the Hall of Fame, but he didn’t change his ruling.36

Once again Dittmer’s bat heated up late in the season. From August 1 until the end of the year he hit .313 with 25 RBIs in 40 games.37 Beginning in an August 30 doubleheader, the Braves hit 16 home runs in four games to break several NL records and tie a major league record. Jack contributed two of the Braves’ record-breaking homers.38

Thanks to Dittmer’s late-season hitting surge, his 1953 record was comparable to most second basemen of that time even if it didn’t live up to expectations created by his minor league success.39 He was still regarded as skilled at double plays, but the reputation he had earned as a sterling fielder in his rookie year was somewhat diminished when he led the majors in errors at second base in 1953. There was little talk of any big threats on the horizon for Dittmer, although rumors about Milwaukee’s interest in Schoendienst continued to surface. There was also some speculation that a young second baseman named Henry Aaron might be ready to compete for his starting job.40 However, the Braves had different plans for Aaron.

On December 26, 1953, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh announced a headline-grabbing trade that changed the trajectory of Dittmer’s career. Milwaukee acquired promising young infielder Danny O’Connell41 for the surprisingly high price of $100,000 in cash plus six players (Sid Gordon, Max Surkont, Sam Jethroe, and three minor league pitchers).42 Most of O’Connell’s professional experience had been at third base, but he had also played shortstop and second base. Grimm announced, “We’ll start him at second base but he’ll have to take the job away from Dittmer.”43

Many years later, Ernie Johnson said, “I think the Braves made a big mistake…Dittmer had enjoyed a good year, and was only 25 years old. Then, all of a sudden, the club dropped a bombshell…The deal didn’t help either Dittmer or O’Connell. Danny played a little more than Jack, but I could never understand why the Braves thought they needed to make a change.”44

Based on press reports, the Dittmer-O’Connell training camp competition was intense, with both players hitting above .300. Sportswriters assumed from the start that O’Connell was the heavy favorite, both because of his past performance with the Pirates and the huge amount spent by the Braves to get him.45 When O’Connell was designated as the starter, one headline announced, “Dittmer Outhits and Fields Danny But May Lose Battle.”46

From 1954 through 1956 O’Connell was clearly Milwaukee’s preferred option at second, but the Braves exhibited little patience with him and were quick to make a change whenever he stopped hitting or Dittmer had a hot streak. One of them would be named the starter until he slumped, and then he would be yanked and the other would take over until that player went cold.47 Dittmer was on a much shorter leash than O’Connell, but neither player had reason to feel secure in the lineup and neither thrived under those circumstances.48 Dittmer resented having to ride the bench behind O’Connell. He said, “I’d have been happy to sit for Red Schoendienst, because Schoendienst was a great player. But O’Connell was a different story.”49

Dittmer became increasingly unhappy with his situation. In February 1956, The Sporting News claimed that an anonymous “close friend” said Jack had asked to buy his contract so that he could try to sign with the Giants or Phillies, who were looking for second base help.50 Dittmer wouldn’t confirm or deny the report but admitted that he would like to buy his contract. He made it clear that a trade would be welcomed, but “[f]rom what I understand, they can’t get me out of the National League [on waivers]. Someone else thinks I can play up here, or they’d have got me out a long time ago.”51 There were also reports during that time that Dittmer was the subject of trade negotiations with New York and Philadelphia, but nothing materialized. He became even more unhappy in June 1956 when Milwaukee replaced the amiable Charlie Grimm with fiery disciplinarian Fred Haney. Dittmer respected Grimm but intensely disliked Haney.52

In the space of a few days late in the 1956 season, Dittmer’s status bounced from the low of almost being released to the high of returning to the starting lineup. As he had in his first three seasons, Dittmer got hot in September,53 and he went back in the starting lineup after O’Connell slumped.54 The Braves fell just one game short of the pennant, but it was noted that Dittmer “turned in his best performance in years.”55

With the Braves established as a pennant contender and Dittmer confident that his September performance had earned him more playing time, he looked forward to the possibility of playing in the 1957 World Series.56 Instead, Haney and general manager John Quinn announced they “will go along with Danny” and Dittmer was traded to the Tigers.57 Tigers executive John McHale praised Jack’s “aggressive attitude” and said they had received a positive recommendation from Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson. McHale said they had been actively trying to deal for Dittmer for over a year, but the Braves set “a high price tag” on his contract.58 “I feel as though I’m getting a brand new start,” Dittmer commented. “I made a lot of friends in Milwaukee and the fans always treated me fine, but it’s been pretty discouraging sitting on the bench the last three years. There’s a good chance that I’ll get more opportunity at Detroit, and that’s all I ask.”59

Despite his hopes for more playing time, Dittmer was used primarily as a pinch-hitter in Detroit. He made news off the field, however, by confirming suspicions that his former Braves teammate Lew Burdette threw spitballs. Pittsburgh manager Bobby Bragan claimed that during spring exhibitions, “Dittmer told us Burdette didn’t use it very often, but he used it when he got into a jam.”60

In late June the Tigers sent Dittmer to the Birmingham Barons in the Class AA Southern Association, where he saw regular action and performed well.61 At the end of the 1957 season he was traded to the San Francisco Giants and assigned to Phoenix of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League (PCL). Dittmer had an outstanding 1958 season in Phoenix, tying for the ninth-best batting average in the PCL, and helping his team win the league title.62 In an interesting twist, San Francisco’s starting second baseman was Danny O’Connell. O’Connell hit only .194 after July 1, yet Dittmer was never called up to San Francisco despite his strong performance in the PCL.

After the 1958 season Parade polled over 600 baseball writers to compile an all-star team of AAA players who were the most likely to become major league stars, and Dittmer was the selection at second base. But he turned 31 years old in the offseason and that second chance never materialized. Many years later he commented, “After that season I really thought I’d be back up there, but when it didn’t happen then, I was really discouraged.”63 Although he still hoped to return to the big leagues in 1959, those hopes went unfulfilled. In his major league career, he had appeared in 395 games over six seasons, compiling a .232 batting average with 283 hits, 24 home runs, 117 runs scored, and 136 RBIs.

Dittmer began the 1959 season with the Seattle Rainiers, the Cincinnati Reds’ PCL affiliate. In July he returned to the Braves organization as a member of their PCL affiliate, the Sacramento Solons. Darlene recalled that at the end of that season they “drove home and never looked back.”64 In November Jack announced his retirement from baseball. Kansas City’s PCL affiliate acquired Jack’s contract, but he stuck with his decision.

Back in Elkader he worked in his father’s car dealership. His father died suddenly in 1962 and Jack took over the dealership despite having very little experience in running the business.65 He became a very popular and well-respected dealer. Customers may have been attracted initially by the opportunity to meet the most famous person in Elkader and chat with him about his days with the Hawkeyes or the Braves — but what kept them coming back was his easygoing, no-pressure approach to sales and his reputation for fair dealing.

Jack and Darlene became very active in their community, volunteering for a variety of committees and projects. He enjoyed participating in Braves old-timers games and actively supported youth athletic programs in Elkader. Favorite pastimes included golf, playing cards, and rooting for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He never lost his self-deprecating wit and impish sense of humor, and he continued to enjoy pulling pranks on others (and getting pranked in return).

The Dittmers stayed in touch with close friends from their baseball years, especially the Logans. “John and Dottie Logan remained good friends forever,” according to Darlene. “Ernie Johnson and wife Lois spent time with us after retirement. Andy and Ellen Pafko kept in contact with us until she died. We had some great friends everywhere.”66

Jack sold the dealership in 1985 but continued to manage the business for many years. Even after stepping down as manager, he could still be found in the dealership almost every day, selling cars until he retired in 2009 at the age of 81.

In 2014 one longtime friend said the Dittmers “have been pillars of the community for a long, long time. It seems like almost everywhere I go around the area people still know the name Jack Dittmer.”67 Another longtime friend and former neighbor said, “Even when he was still playing baseball, Jack and Darlene just acted like regular people. If you didn’t know he’d been famous, you’d never guess it by talking to them.”68

Jack and Glenn Drahn, his high school and college teammate, received the local high school’s first “Outstanding Graduate” awards in 1970. He was inducted into the Iowa Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978, the Des Moines Register Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 1988, and the Iowa Lettermen’s Club Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993.

In 2010 Jack was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He spent his final years in a care center but remained accessible to friends and fans. According to Darlene, “He loves to sign things for fans. He sends out photos at his own cost, and even baseballs some times.”69

Jack Dittmer passed away at the age of 86 on May 31, 2014, at the Lutheran Home in Strawberry Point, Iowa, and was buried in St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Elkader. He was survived by his wife of 63 years, Darlene; his three children, Lisa Ihde, Jan Garms, and Doug, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

 

This biography is a condensed version of a more detailed biography available in the Jack Dittmer room of the Carter House Museum in Elkader, Iowa. An electronic copy of the more detailed version is also available by contacting Darrell Hanson.

 

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Darlene Dittmer and the late Jack Dittmer for providing valuable information including access to family scrapbooks and newspaper clippings, and to Darlene for reviewing and commenting on a draft copy. Jan Garms and Tom Schmidt helped fill in some family details. Bill Nowlin reviewed an unfinished draft and provided feedback and advice. Gregory H. Wolf provided information and advice about BioProject style requirements as well as editing suggestions. R.J. Lesch provided editing suggestions. The story was subsequently reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Alan Cohen.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the notes, the author made use of the NewspaperArchive.com and ProQuest newspaper databases.

 

Notes

1 Elkader’s 1940 population was 1,556.

2 The business was founded around 1896 as a farm implement dealership by Jack Dittmer’s grandfather, Martin Dittmer, in partnership with Martin’s brother-in-law, Jacob Stemmer, who was eventually bought out by Martin. By 1911 Martin had taken his older son Walter (born in 1890) into the farm implement business and they had expanded to also sell Studebaker and Velie autos. Martin died in 1914 when LeRoy was 13 years old. At the age of 22 in January 1923, LeRoy joined his brother Walter as partner in the business, which became a Studebaker and Chevrolet dealership named Dittmer Bros. It was this dealership that Jack Dittmer took over after his father LeRoy died in 1962.

3 For example, as a freshman he was recognized by the Iowa Daily Press Association and the Des Moines Register in their annual All State basketball awards. The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald described him as “Elkader’s sensational freshman forward.” “Tri-State Prep Parade,” Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Feb. 10, 1943: 7.

4 Esquire All-American Boys’ Ball Game program, 1945.

5 The team was undefeated in the 1944 and 1945 seasons and outscored opponents, 656-66. In 1945 the team scored 404 points in only eight games, believed to be the highest total in the country, and gave up only 32 points. In their final three games they outscored their opponents by a combined 150-0.

6 “Elkader Rated Top Grid Team in Iowa,” Dubuque (Iowa) Telegraph Herald, December 16, 1945: 15. The Scholastic Sports Institute was a New York-based organization that rated football teams in 13 states.

7 According to Taylor, the major league scouts who advised him in making the choice included Cy Slapnicka of the Cubs, Bill Essick and Bobby Mattick of the Yankees, Edward (Dutch) Zwilling of the Indians, and Eddie Krajnik of the Phillies. Sec Taylor, “Dittmer Iowa’s All-American in New York Game,” Des Moines Register, June 24, 1945: 13

8 The Elkader Vets was organized in 1947 and compiled a 119-22 record through 1950.

9 “Iowans Name Dittmer Best of ’49 Eleven,” Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1949: C1.

10 Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 3, 1949: 19.

11 Dittmer was also named to the Associated Press All-Conference second team and received Honorable Mention in the All-American voting. In a 1964 history of Hawkeye football Dittmer was called “one of the best pass-catching ends to play for the Old Gold” and named to the 1940’s “Best of the Decade” list and the all-time Hawkeye squad for their first 75 years. Dick Lamb, and Burt McGrane, 75 Years With The Fighting Hawkeyes (Dubuque: William C. Brown Co., Inc., 1989).

12 In his junior season Dittmer led the team in batting average, hits, triples, home runs, and RBIs, and committed only one error.

13 “Dittmer To Join Iowa Cage Team, Seeks 9 Letters,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 9, 1949: 33.

14 Daily Iowan, June 2, 1949: 2.

15 “Football Dittmer’s Sideline: ‘Keep Limp;’ That’s Iowa End’s Trick,” Des Moines Tribune, October 13, 1949: 41.

16 “Gopher ‘Shift’ for Dittmer Fails,” Des Moines Tribune, May 22, 1950: 16.

17 “Football Dittmer’s Sideline: ‘Keep Limp;’ That’s Iowa End’s Trick,” Des Moines Tribune, October 13, 1949: 41. He was referring to the touchdown catch that gave Iowa a 19-13 win over Wisconsin after trailing 13-0 at the half. In the same interview he was asked why he was still playing football when he was looking at a pro baseball career, and he answered “I have itchy fingers between seasons. Catching a football keeps the numbness away from my fingers.”

18 “Football Dittmer’s Sideline: ‘Keep Limp;’ That’s Iowa End’s Trick,” Des Moines Tribune, October 13, 1949: 41.

19 Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 3, 1948: 35.

20 “Roomies Dittmer, McKenzie Have Iowa in Stitches,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, December 18, 1949: 100.

21 “Roomies Dittmer, McKenzie Have Iowa in Stitches.”

22 After Dittmer turned pro, his first minor-league manager described him as “one of those guys who’d sooner cut his right arm off than lose a ball game.” Daily Iowan (Iowa City), July 6, 1950: 5.

23 In addition to his nine varsity letters, Dittmer received the University athletic control board’s Cup for Excellence in Athletics and Scholarship and was named “Iowa’s Most Versatile Athlete” by the Daily Iowan and “Most Popular Athlete” by the Hawkeye Rooters.

24 Batting and slugging average from Baseball-Reference.com. RBI total from the Berkshire Evening Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), December 9, 1950: 12.

25 “Calls Dittmer Hottest Western Loop Rookie,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 29, 1950: 29.

26 With AA Atlanta in 1951 Dittmer hit .334 with a .491 slugging average, 42 doubles, 11 triples, and 9 home runs in 153 games. Baseball-reference.com.

27 Darlene Dittmer, written correspondence, April 20, 2019.

28 With the AAA Milwaukee Brewers in 1952 Dittmer hit .356 with a .419 on-base percentage and .545 slugging average, 8 home runs, and 55 RBI in 57 games. Baseball-Reference.com.

29 The Braves’ search for a second baseman began when they traded Eddie Stanky after the 1949 season. Connie Ryan started 1950 at second base but Roy Hartsfield won the job during the season. In late 1951 Sibby Sisti took the job away from Hartsfield. In 1952 Billy Reed opened the season as the primary starter but lost the job to Hartsfield after 12 games. Hartsfield kept it for a few games, Sisti was given another chance for seven games, and then Hartsfield was back in the starting lineup for 27 games before Dittmer’s arrival.

30 In late July a United Press story noted “the new defensive strength the team has found in the Logan-Dittmer combination. Johnny at shortstop and Jack Dittmer at second are making the double play a routine occurrence and robbing the opposition of legitimate hits.” “Boudreau May Play Third as Sox Face Indians Tonight,” Lowell (Massachusetts) Sun, July 29, 1952: 12.

31 “The Braves had brought Second Baseman Jack Dittmer up from the minors because he was a hitter. But they kept him because of his fielding.” Roger Birtwell, “Cholly Finds His Keystone Duo for ’53,” The Sporting News, September 24, 1952: 13.

32 Through the end of August Dittmer’s batting average was only .164. But from September 1 through the end of the season, Dittmer hit .266 with a .349 on-base percentage, .447 slugging average, and 4 home runs in 27 games. Baseball-Reference.com.

33 Mike Chapman, “A Hero for the Ages,” Iowa History Journal, July/August 2014.

34 Ron Maly, “Ex-Brave Dittmer in Register Sports Hall of Fame,” Des Moines Register, July 10, 1988: 23

35 “Braves’ Plight One Happy Enigma That Encourages Guessing Games,” New York Times, June 14, 1953: S3.

36 Tom Meany, “The Old College Try,” Baseball’s Miracle Braves (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1956), 158-159. See also “Dittmer Asks for Error,” The Sporting News, April 29, 1953: 6.

37 Baseball-Reference.com.

38 The Braves’ spree broke the NL record and tied the major-league record for most homers in one game and broke the NL records for most home runs in two, three, and four consecutive games and in a double header.

39 Among 13 major-league second basemen with at least 400 plate appearances in 1953, Dittmer’s .266 batting average ranked seventh. Among all second basemen he ranked sixth in home runs and tied for fifth in RBIs. However, his .293 on-base percentage tied for 11th among the 13 second basemen with at least 400 plate appearances. Complete Baseball Encyclopedia database, 2013

40 Red Thisted, “Miracle Braves to Buy or Deal in ’54 Flag Dash,” The Sporting News, September 30, 1953: 17.

41 O’Connell had hit .293 in less than two complete seasons in the majors while playing third base, shortstop, and second base.

42 In later years it was often mistakenly reported that Milwaukee had paid $200,000 in the deal. The origin of this higher figure is unclear.

43 Edward Prell, “Down on the Farm with Charlie Grimm,” Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1954: B1.

44 Ron Maly, “Ex-Brave Dittmer in Register Sports Hall of Fame,” Des Moines Register, July 10, 1988: 23.

45 Red Thisted, “Cholly Figures Out Right Combination for Braves’ Hitters,” The Sporting News, March 3, 1954: 15, Red Thisted, “Cholly Smiles Over Smalley Swap — But Will He Keep Roy?” The Sporting News, March 31, 1954: 7, and “Dittmer Playing Well but Danny to Get Nod,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), April 6, 1954: 13.

46 “O’Connell Seems Set at 2nd Base: Dittmer Outhits and Fields Danny but May Lose Battle,” Dixon (Illinois) Evening Telegraph, April 6, 1954: 8.

47 For example, when O’Connell was benched in late May 1956 and Dittmer hit very well for a few games, The Sporting News reported that Jack “had run O’Connell off the second base job” but Dittmer was benched again on June 9. See Bob Wolf, “Cholly Jolly No Longer—Jaw Sags with Bat Marks in Braves’ Home Stumble,” The Sporting News, June 20, 1956: 10.

48 During their three-year competition for the starting second base job, O’Connell hit only .249 with a .317 on-base percentage and .332 slugging average, and Dittmer hit only .221 with a .286 on-base percentage and .328 slugging average. Baseball-reference.com.

49 Jack Dittmer, conversation, circa 2003-2005.

50 “Major Flashes,” The Sporting News, February 29, 1956: 28.

51 “Dittmer Irked at Prospect of Bench Duty,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 8, 1956: 58.

52 Jack Dittmer, conversation, circa 2003-2005.

53 From August 28, 1954, through the end of that season Dittmer played almost every day and hit .321 with a .405 on-base percentage and .491 slugging average. From August 31, 1956, to the end of the season, Dittmer hit .316 with a .333 on-base percentage and .447 slugging average and took over as starting second baseman for the final two weeks while the Braves were in the thick of the pennant race. Baseball-reference.com.

54 Bob Wolf, “Braves’ Pennant Drive Slows as Mound Aces Run Out of Gas,” The Sporting News, September 26, 1956: 6.

55 Bob Wolf, “Braves Sparked to Wire by Vets Spahn and Pafko,” The Sporting News, October 3, 1956: 6.

56 Jack Dittmer, conversation, circa 2003-2005.

57 “Danny O’Connell To Get Big Chance with Braves,” Daily Defender (Chicago), February 13, 1957: 18.

58 Watson Spoelstra, “Tigers Tried for Year to Buy Dittmer,” The Sporting News, February 20, 1957: 13.

59 Bob Wolf, “’Like Brand new Start,’ Dittmer Beams Over Deal,” The Sporting News, February 20, 1957: 24.

60 Les Biederman, “’Lew Applies Dew to Ball’ Says Ex-Pal,” The Sporting News, May 8, 1957: 7.

61 With AA Birmingham in 1957 Dittmer played regularly at second base and hit .309 with a .361 on-base percentage and .563 slugging percentage, with 15 home runs in 75 games. Baseball-reference.com.

62 With AAA Phoenix in 1958, Dittmer missed five weeks with an early-season knee injury but hit .315 with an on-base percentage of .345 and slugging average of .563. Baseball-reference.com.

63 Jack Dittmer, conversation circa 2003-2005.

64 Darlene Dittmer, written correspondence, April 20, 2019.

65 Darlene Dittmer, written correspondence, April 20, 2019.

66 Darlene Dittmer, written correspondence, April 20, 2019.

67 Mike Chapman, “A Hero for the Ages,” Iowa History Journal, July/August 2014: 9.

68 DeLauris Hanson, former Elkader resident, interview, December 2018.

69 Mike Chapman, “A Hero for the Ages,” Iowa History Journal, July/August 2014: 9.

Full Name

John Douglas Dittmer

Born

January 10, 1928 at Elkader, IA (USA)

Died

May 31, 2014 at Strawberry Point, IA (USA)

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