Dick Bartell was one of the most competitive and combative players of his era. Never one to back down, he enjoyed an 18-year big league career.
Bartell broke in with the NL champion Pirates in 1927 and became their everyday shortstop two years later. That 1929 campaign was a good for the 21-year old. Bartell hit .302 with 184 hits, 40 doubles, 13 triples and 101 runs scored.
A holdout for the first month of 1930, Bartell nonetheless tallied a career-high 75 runs batted to go along with a .320 batting average. Defensively he led all National League shortstops in chances per game. His time in Pittsburgh was short lived. Stung by the Bartell’s choices in contract negotiations, Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfus shipped him to the Phillies after the season.
This began a pattern of short stays for the fiery Bartell.
The shortstop spent four seasons in Philadelphia highlighted by a league-leading 154 games played in ’31, a .308 average in ’32, and a start in MLB’s first All Star Game in ’33.
Bartell’s legendary aggression angered fans around the league, especially in Brooklyn. In the opening series of 1933 he spiked Dodger first baseman Joe Judge who called it intentional. Later in the season things escalated. Brooklyn pitchers repeatedly knocked him down; Bartell responded by spiking Dodger shortstop Lonny Frey.
The Phillies traded Bartell to the New York Giants in ’34 for four players and cash. Knowing Bartell’s history with Brooklyn, New York skipper Bill Terry was happy to add him to the Giant-Dodger rivalry.
Bartell’s stay in the Big Apple lasted from 1935-1938 and included World Series appearances in ’36 and ’37.
In 1936 Bartell got into another scrape with the Dodgers. After getting knocked down by Van Lingle Mungo, Bartell bunted toward first base hoping to tangle with the pitcher. Mungo complied, hip checking Bartell to the ground. When he got to his feet, Bartell exchanged punches with Mungo as the benches empties. During the melee an errant Bartell haymaker connected with one of Bill Terry’s eye sockets.
In ’37 Bartell had a career-best 6.6 WAR, his second straight season over 6.0. He also continued to agitate and fight opponents.
In an early-June contest in Chicago, Bartell got caught in a rundown and took exception to Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges’ hard tag. The next game Bartell responded with a tag of equal force as Jurges slid into second. Punches followed and both were ejected.
The Giants and their fans loved his ferocity. On June 30 the team showered their shortstop with gifts on Dick Bartell Day at the Polo Grounds. A week later he played in his second All Star Game.
At the conclusion of the 1938 season, Bartell was part of a six-player swap that included his former punching partner Jurges. Bartell wrote in his autobiography Rowdy Richard, “I was shocked…I’d had an off year, but I was only 31…Maybe the fact that…I was traded for Billy Jurges rankled me. I outhit him and was his equal in the field.”
After just one season in Chicago, the Cubs flipped Bartell to Detroit for shortstop Billy Rogell. With the Tigers Bartell appeared in his third Fall Classic in 1940.
After hitting .233 in 1940, Bartell got off to a slow start in ’41. With just two hits in his first 12 at bats, he earned his release five games into his 15th season.
The Giants snapped him up and installed him as their third baseman. Bartell responded by hitting .303 with a .394 on-base percentage in 104 games.
In 1943 the 36-year old Bartell was drafted into the Army. The next two years were spent coaching an Army baseball team. When he returned in 1946, Bartell coached third base for the Giants and played in five games before ending his playing career.
His career statistics include 2,165 hits, 442 doubles, 1,130 runs scored and a .284 average.
In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, the author summed up Bartell.
“Bartell didn’t drink a lot; he didn’t carouse a lot. But he had a big mouth, and he took pride in not backing away from people. Although he was an outstanding player, he bounced from the Pirates to the Phillies to the Giants to the Cubs to the Tigers and back to the Giants. The second half of his career he was a player who was routinely booed in almost every city.”
The image above shows a government postcard signed by Bartell in 1955.