This is Chapter Eleven in a developing series titled “Who Remembers…..” that aims to highlight the careers of colorful and intriguing ball players, who made their mark on the game not only with their impressive stats, but also with the sheer force of their personalities.
WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE PROFILED NEXT…………..
“When ole Diz was out there pitching it was more than just another ballgame,” said teammate Pepper Martin. “It was a regular three-ring circus and everybody was wide awake and enjoying being alive.”
Dizzy Dean won 65% of the games he started in the Major Leagues. Over a span of four years beginning in 1933, he won twenty games or more each season and reached a plateau of 30 victories in 1934, the same year he led the St. Louis Cardinals and his teammates tagged as The Gashouse Gang to a World Championship.
But, his developing and brilliant career virtually came to an abrupt end when, in 1937, Dean suffered an injury after being hit in the toe by a line drive. Trying to return from the injury too quickly, Dean hurt his arm and largely lost his effectiveness. A mere four years later, he was gone from baseball.
But over the span of his career, he made contact with the game in ways that few have ever achieved. Brash, colorful, and talented, he commanded the spotlight with the force of his nature and personality leaving behind not only a Hall Of Fame induction but an entrance into the lore of baseball that will never be forgotten……..
Jan Hana Dean was born in 1910 in Arkansas and was hired by the Cardinals as a “free agent ” twenty two years later. Upon meeting Branch Rickey, the architect of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Gashouse Gang, he announced, “I’m the fella that’s gonna win you a lotta ballgames.” He set about proving his point as soon as he hit St. Loo, celebrating every victory by leaning out of taxi cab windows and hollering at strangers on the street: “I’m the Great Dean. Want me to sign something for you?”
Years later, people would say that Joe Namath reminded them of Dizzy Dean when he flashed his bravado predicting a win over Johnny Unitas in the 1967 Super Bowl. But maybe Dizzy explained it best when he said simply…..”It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.”
He claimed to have everything he needed for the job of pitching a baseball: “A good body, a strong arm, and a weak mind.”
Ironically perhaps, he found himself on a team of hillbillies like himself . Soon, the sports writers would coin them the Gashouse Gang. They slid headfirst and sang country music, crashed into walls and came up swinging at the slightest provocation. Medwick fought Detroit’s Marv Owen right there at third base during the 1934 World Series. Why not? He’d already fought just about everybody on his own team. He knocked one Cardinal pitcher cold, and when Dizzy accused him of being less than energetic in pursuit of a fly ball that fell for a base hit, Medwick decided to flatten the loquacious pitcher, too. Daffy Dean (his brother) leaped to his feet, ready to aid Dizzy in combat, so Medwick grabbed up a bat and invited the brothers to meet their doom together. Hard as it is to believe, cooler heads ultimately prevailed.
Just three years later though, the strong body that the good Lord had given him abandoned Dizzy in the 1937 all-star game when Earl Averill, the Cleveland Indians’ slugger, hit a line drive off his left foot. The doctor told him his big toe was fractured. “Fractured, hell!” Dizzy said. “The damn thing’s broken.”
Sports medicine had yet to be born as of yet and Dean couldn’t imagine a little thing like a toe injury being a problem for the greatest pitcher who ever lived of course…………so he pronounced himself healthy and returned on his own. As often happens though when a early return from a injury occurs, strain is placed on another part of the body while compensating for the first injury. For Dean, this meant a shoulder injury and there was no Dr. James Andrews around to fix it. Game over at the age of 31.
Well, not so fast because Dean could still talk and he would almost seamlessly move into a second career as a broadcaster that would almost prove to be a bigger and more entertaining adventure than his playing days.
A runner didn’t slide into third base, he “slud.” A hitter who swung at a bad pitch —”he shouldn’t hadn’t oughta swang.” While doing the Game Of The Week on CBS, didn’t see the problem with telling the viewers, “I don’t know why they’re calling this the game of the week, there’s a better game on over on NBC.” Sentences were often abbreviated and mixed with a series of “ain’ts and shoulda’s while names of players were often mangled. No matter, Dizzy Dean was rapidly becoming the Mark Twain of baseball.
He drove English teachers crazy with it, and when one wrote to complain, he used the broadcast booth as his bully pulpit: “A lot of folks who ain’t sayin ain’t, ain’t eatin’. So, teach, you learn ’em English and I’ll learn ’em baseball.”
Another time when he was seemingly bored with the game on the field, Dizzy told listeners, “Doggone, I don’t know what this game’s a-comin’ to. I swear I could beat nine out of 10 guys that call themselves pitchers nowadays.” To silence the cries of outrage, the Browns’ management signed Dizzy to a $1 contract to pitch the final game of the season. His fastball was a memory, but he still shut out the Chicago White Sox for four innings—and got a base hit, too—before he pulled a muscle in his leg and left the game to the cheers of the very people he’d made so angry.
Like the man had said many years before………..”It ain’t braggin if you can back it up “….. And that he did……because he was after all the Great Dizzy Dean……….
Special thanks to John Schulian whose excellent article on Dean appeared on Deadspin and proved to be invaluable in writing and recording the details in this entry.
ENJOY THIS TOO…..DIZZY DEAN AND PEE WEE REESE NBC’S GAME OF THE WEEK VIDEO (1961)