Dizzy Dean actually had only six full seasons in the majors, but no player packed more accomplishments, excitement, and shenanigans into a shorter time. Dean's meteoric pitching career provided ample reason to immortalize him. His bold and zany antics on and off the field have made him one of the most recognizable characters in American folklore. His popularity and colorful approach to the game continued unabated when he entered the radio broadcaster's booth. His malapropisms and blatant avoidance of the rules of grammar were legendary, and fans loved it. In 1950 he began doing baseball's Game of the Week on national television. He remained in sportscasting for more than 20 years.
The brash fireballer burst upon the major league scene in 1932 and averaged 24 wins a season over his first five campaigns. He was 30-7 in 1934 when he and his brother Paul led the Cards to the World Championship. "Diz" topped the league in strikeouts four times and he once held the single game record of 17. A broken toe suffered in the 1937 All-Star Game led to an arm injury that eventually shortened his career.
Dean was given his nickname by his sergeant in the army, where he picked up the basics of pitching. He was pitching for a semi-pro team in San Antonio when a manager in the Cardinals' farm system spotted him at a tryout camp. The Cardinals signed him, and he split 1930 between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Houston, rolling up a combined 25-10 minor league record before pitching a three-hitter for St. Louis on the last day of the season. Returned to Houston for the 1931 campaign, Dean struck out 303 batters on his way to 26 victories.
As a rookie in 1932, the 21-year-old Dean was joining the "Gas House Gang" World Champions. The Gang included Frankie Frisch, John "Pepper" Martin and Leo "The Lip" Durocher. He won 18 and led the NL in strikeouts, shutouts, and innings pitched. He helped his own cause repeatedly with superb fielding, a .258 batting average, and fine speed on the bases.
Dean and his teammates were legendary for their antics and good humour. For instance, Dean often had trouble retiring Giants' first baseman Bill Terry. One afternoon with Dean on the mound, Terry came to the plate three times and hit three rockets - the first sailed off of Dean's leg, the second whizzed past his ear, and the third rocketed off of his glove. Finally, Pepper Martin called time out, sidled up to the mound from his position at third base, and said to his embattled pitcher, "Hey, Diz, I don't think you're playing him deep enough."
From 1933 to 1936 Dean absolutely dominated batters. During this stretch he won 102 games, led the league in complete games each year, and averaged 50 games and more than 300 innings per season. He was the unquestioned ace of the Cardinal staff and would often come in from the bullpen between starts. In 1933 he struck out 17 Cubs in a game, a major league record at that time.
During spring training in 1934, Dizzy proudly predicted that he and his brother Paul would win 45 games that season. The incredible prediction seemed ludicrous because Paul had never pitched a game in the majors, yet the boast proved conservative: he won 30 and Paul won 19. Dizzy led the league in wins, strikeouts, shutouts, and complete games, was second to Carl Hubbell for the ERA crown, and batted .246. He easily outdistanced Paul Waner for the MVP award. He capped off his spectacular year with two wins over the Tigers in the World Series, including a shutout in the seventh game.
The 1935 season proved a virtual carbon copy of 1934 as the Deans won 47. Dizzy slipped to 28 victories but still led the league in many pitching categories. This time he was edged out by Gabby Hartnett for MVP. Dean won 24 and saved 11 the next year and again narrowly missed the MVP award, losing to Carl Hubbell.
In 1937 Dean appeared headed for another 25-win season by the All-Star break. Exhausted from the toll of so many innings, he asked to sit out the All-Star Game but went at the urging of Cardinal owner Sam Breadon. As the starter for the NL, Dean suffered a broken toe when he was struck by an Earl Averill line drive. Dean tried to come back before it had fully healed, altering his pitching motion to favor the injured foot, but the change brought on bursitis in his valuable right arm.
Traded to the Cubs for three players and $185,000 just before the start of the 1938 season, he replaced his blazing fastball and dazzling curve with a changeup and slow curve. Dean was able to chip in a 7-1 mark with a 1.81 ERA in 13 games, helping Chicago to the NL pennant. Over the next three years Dean appeared in only 30 games. At age 30 he retired and became a broadcaster for the St. Louis Browns. In 1947, after frequent criticism of Browns hurlers all year, Dean took the mound himself three times. In the last game of the season he shut out the White Sox for four innings and got a base hit in his only at-bat.
"The doctors x-rayed my head and found nothing."
"All ballplayers want to wind up their careers with the Cubs, Giants or Yankees. They just can't help it."
"I ain't what I used to be, but who the hell is?"
"I know who's the best pitcher I ever see and it's old Satchel Paige, that big lanky colored boy. My fastball looks like a change of pace alongside that little pistol bullet old Satchel shoots up to the plate."
"It puzzles me how they know what corners are good for filling stations. Just how did they know gas and oil was under there?"
"Let the teachers teach English and I will teach baseball. There is a lot of people in the United States
who say isn't, and they ain't eating."
"Son, what kind of pitch would you like to miss."
"The dumber a pitcher is, the better. When he gets smart and begins to experiment with a lot of different pitches, he's in trouble. All I ever had was a fastball, a curve and a changeup and I did pretty good."
"The good Lord was good to me. He gave me a strong body, a good right arm, and a weak mind."
"Well what's wrong with ain't? And as for saying 'Rizzuto slud into second' it just ain't natural. Sounds silly to me. Slud is something more than slid. It means sliding with great effort."
"As a ballplayer, Dean was a natural phenomenon, like the Grand Canyon or the Great Barrier Reef.
Nobody ever taught him baseball and he never had to learn. He was just doing what came naturally
when a scout named Don Curtis discovered him on a Texas sandlot and gave him his first contract."
"X-RAY OF DEAN'S HEAD REVEALS NOTHING"
"You were attracted by the graceful rhythm of his pitching motion; the long majestic sweep of his arm as he let
the ball fly; the poised alertness after the pitch. That was what counted and you knew it when batter
after batter swung ineptly at pitches they couldn't even see."
Norman Cousins in New York Times
"Well we're all ten years older today. Dizzy Dean is dead and 1934 is gone forever. Another part of our youth fled.
You look in the mirror and the small boy no longer smiles back at you. Just that sad old man. The Gashouse Gang
is now a duet. Dizzy died the other day at the age of 11 or 12. The little boy in all of us died with him. But, for one brief
shining afternoon in 1934, he brought joy to that dreary time when most needed it. Dizzy Dean. It's impossible to say
without a smile, but then who wants to try? If I know Diz he'll be calling God 'podner' someplace today.
I hope there's golf courses or a card game or a slugger who's a sucker for a low outside fastball for Diz.
He might have been what baseball's all about."
Jim Murray in Los Angeles Times on July 19, 1974
|BASEBALL: Scores / Schedules | Standings | Stats | Transactions | Injuries|