For the past 27 years, or ever since I have lived in Winchester, I’ve been told that, as a baseball fan, I simply had to take a gander at Jimmy Dix’s baseball “museum.” Usually the one doing the pushing has been all-sports junkie and Mr. Pibb aficionado Jeff Milburn.
Well, I’ve known Jimmy quite a long time — as a basketball official, you inevitably got to know Jimmy as timekeeper at Handley’s games — but still, despite Milburn’s prodding, I had never made it to Jimmy’s diamond sanctum sanctorum.
Until Thursday, that is. And for a baseball fan of some depth, it was well worth the wait.
Some of Jimmy’s desiderata resides in his family’s foyer — an Old-Timer that sits on top of a tall china cabinet, for example — but most of his “stuff,” amassed since he was a boy in thrall with what was then America’s Game (more on that later), is in a special room devoted to baseball.
In many instances, the folks who collect such artifacts do so for the value or for the prestige, but Jimmy, a retired banker, is no mere collector, or baseball savant. As he told me in all seriousness, he’s expended time and money on his hobby “just for the love of the game.” Clearly, Jimmy Dix still treasures the sport of his youth, though he is worried about its future.
But the future of memory is safe in that room in The Downs. What does Jimmy, born on the birthday of Cleveland Indians’ second-baseman Johnny Temple (Aug. 8), have? A better question is what he doesn’t have.
Time and space will hardly allow a complete inventory, but here’s a sampling: the autograph of Tom Zachary, the pitcher who surrendered Babe Ruth’s 60th home run in 1927; a ball given him by outfielder Jim Rivera; cardboard soda cups from Griffith Stadium, and various and sundry figures that often were promotional in nature — 18 figurines from Tastee-Freeze (Jimmy has ‘em all), for example, plus the 24 images from Robert Gould (again, he has all two dozen, purchased with money earned as a Star paperboy), the famous Hartland statues, Hall of Fame busts, and a bunch of the inevitable bobble-heads.
True to such baseball memorabilia, a lot of Jimmy’ treasures come in categories — e.g. autographs (“Wahoo Sam” Crawford’s from a way back, Babe Ruth’s (of course), Ty Cobb’s, Lou Gehrig’s widow, Eleanor’s, plus many more), mini-bats popular when Jimmy was a kid and before, and boxes and boxes of baseball cards.
But what renders so many of these inanimate objects so special are the stories that accompany their acquisition. For instance, the mini-bat with Babe Ruth’s signature. Jimmy reached for it quickly, which prompted a story from a man nearby. The bat, which had rolled beneath a piece of furniture back in the ’30s, had just been resurrected. The bat became the property of Jimmy.
The Babe figured in another tale, from right here in Winchester, where Mowry’s Jewelry Store sold the Babe Ruth watch. Jimmy remembers the owner’s son wearing a new or different watch every day to school.
In any case, after Mr. Mowry died, the store sustained a fire. Fortunately, Jimmy traded a display case for one of the Babe Ruth watches, which had never been worn, or even been removed from the box.
Finally, Jimmy received a rare book signed by Connie Mack as the result of a nurse taking especial good care of the famous manager’s mother in her later years.
Jimmy tells all these stories with a certain wistfulness, for he sees the game he so deeply cherishes losing its appeal.
“It’s my favorite sport,” he says, “but it’s a dying sport. We must do something to speed up the game..”
But for Jimmy Dix, the memories will always be there to hold dear — and thanked.