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Dizzy Dean

Dizzy Dean

Position(s):
P
Born:
January 16, 1910
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 2"
Weight:
182 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-28-1930 with SLN
Allstar Selections:
1934 MVP
Hall of Fame:
1953

One of the most colorful and charismatic pitchers ever to play the game, Dizzy Dean rivaled Carl Hubbell as the National League's finest hurler during the mid-1930s.  Although an injury prevented Dean from continuing his period of excellence for more than a few short seasons, the legendary St. Louis Cardinals righthander experienced a level of success between 1932 and 1937 that gained him admittance to Cooperstown when his playing days were over.  The last pitcher to post a 30-win campaign in the senior circuit, Dean was at his very best from 1934 to 1936, compiling an overall record of 82-32 during that three-year period, winning one Most Valuable Player Award, finishing second in the balloting two other times, and leading the Cardinals to victory in the 1934 World Series.  Had a sore arm not limited Dean's effectiveness in subsequent seasons, eventually bringing his career to a premature end, the small-town country boy with the bold and brazen, yet endlessly engaging personality may well have gone on to establish himself as one of the very greatest pitchers in baseball history.   

Biography:

Born in Lucas, Arkansas on January 16, 1910, Jay Hanna Dean had no formal training in baseball, learning to pitch primarily by spending much of his youth playing ball on his family's farm with his younger brother Paul.  As sportswriter Red Smith once wrote, "As a ballplayer, (Dizzy) 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."

Curtis, a manager in the St. Louis Cardinals' farm system, first spotted Dean pitching for a semi-pro team at a tryout camp in San Antonio.  After being signed to a contract by the Cardinals, Dean split the 1930 season between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Houston, posting a combined minor league record of 25-10.  The 20-year-old righthander with the blazing fastball made his major league debut with the Cardinals on the season's final day, winning a complete-game three-hitter and allowing only one earned run.  Dean then spent the entire 1931 campaign back in Houston, compiling 26 victories and 303 strikeouts, before rejoining the Cardinals prior to the start of the 1932 season.

Pitching for the defending world champions, Dean posted a record of 18-15 as a rookie, along with a 3.30 ERA, 16 complete games, and a league-leading 191 strikeouts, 286 innings pitched, and four shutouts.  He followed that up by finishing 20-18 for the fifth-place Cardinals in 1933, compiling an ERA of 3.04 in 293 innings of work, and topping all N.L. hurlers with 199 strikeouts and 26 complete games.

Despite posting a somwhat mediocre record of 38-33 over the course of his first two full seasons, Dean remained supremely confident heading into the 1934 campaign.  Joined in the St. Louis starting rotation by his younger brother Paul (also known as "Daffy"), Dean boldly predicted, "Me and Paul will probably win 40 games."  As it turned out, the Dean brothers won 49 games between them, supporting Dizzy's contention that   

"It ain't braggin' if you can back it up."  

Paul had a fine first year, winning 19 games and placing among the league leaders with 150 strikeouts.  But Dizzy was the driving force behind the Cardinals' pennant-winning performance.  The elder Dean compiled a record of 30-7, topped the circuit with 195 strikeouts and seven shutouts, and also finished among the leaders with a 2.66 ERA, 24 complete games, 312 innings pitched, and seven saves, en route to earning league MVP honors.  Dean then capped off his magnificent season by posting two victories for the Cardinals in the World Series, including a complete-game shutout over the Detroit Tigers in the decisive seventh contest.

Dean's great year made him one of the most popular men in America.  As the southernmost and westernmost team in the major leagues at the time, the Cardinals were the favorite team of virtually everyone who lived south of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi River.  Southerners, in particular, found themselves drawn to players such as the Dean brothers and Pepper Martin, all of whom emanated from that part of the country. Furthermore, the determination and grittiness of The Gashouse Gang very much epitomized the attitude of most Americans, who drew inspiration from the Cardinals as they continued to struggle through the Great Depression.  

As a result, Dizzy Dean became a folk-hero of sorts, inspiring confidence in his fans with his assertive statements, while simultaneously entertaining them with his down-home, country boy charm.  Among his bolder remarks, Dean once proclaimed, "Anybody who's ever had the privilege of seeing me play knows that I am the greatest pitcher in the world."

Ordinarily, such comments would have rubbed many people the wrong way.  But Dean's sense of humor, ability to laugh at himself, and fun-loving manner enabled him to endear himself to virtually everyone who followed the sport.  Teammate Pepper Martin once noted, "When old Diz was out there pitching it was more than just another ballgame.  It was a regular three-ring circus and everybody was wide awake and enjoying being alive."

Even the newspapers had fun with Dean.  After being knocked unconscious with the return throw to first base while trying to break up a potential double play in Game Four of the 1934 World Series, Dean was taken to the hospital for x-rays.  The next morning's newspaper headline read: "X-RAY OF DEAN'S HEAD REVEALS NOTHING."

Dean followed up his extraordinary 1934 season with another two sensational years in 1935 and 1936.  He compiled a record of 28-12 in the first of those years, leading all N.L. hurlers in strikeouts for the fourth consecutive time, with 190.  Dean also topped the circuit with 325 innings pitched and 29 complete games, while placing among the leaders as well with a 3.04 ERA.  He finished second to Chicago's Gabby Hartnett in the league MVP voting.  Dean placed second in the balloting again the following year, this time to Giants lefthander Carl Hubbell.  In addition to finishing second in the league to Hubbell with 24 victories, Dean finished second with 195 strikeouts, while also topping the senior circuit with 315 innings pitched, 28 complete games, and 11 saves.

Well on his way to another 20-win campaign in 1937, Dean's days as a dominant pitcher came to an abrupt end midway through the season when a line drive off the bat of American League outfielder Earl Averill at the annual All-Star Game struck him in the foot, breaking his toe.  Attempting to return to the mound too soon following the injury, Dean subsequently changed his pitching motion in an effort to put less pressure on his toe when he landed after completing his delivery to home plate.  The change in his pitching mechanics caused Dean to hurt his arm, resulting in the loss of his once overpowering fastball.  He spent the remainder of his career primarily as a junk-ball pitcher, depending mostly on guile and off-speed pitches to maneuver his way past opposing lineups.  After finishing the 1937 season with a record of 13-10, Dean was traded to the Chicago Cubs,  with whom he spent the next four years.

Although he never again posted big numbers, the sore-armed hurler pitched effectively for the pennant-winning Cubs in 1938, compiling a record of 7-1 and an exceptional ERA of 1.81 in his 10 starts.  Dean appeared in a total of only 30 games for Chicago over the course of the next three seasons, finally announcing his retirement in 1941.  He ended his playing career with a won-lost record of 150-83 and an ERA of 3.02.  He surpassed 20 victories on four separate occasions, threw more than 300 innings three times, and completed more than 20 games four times.  In addition to leading the league in strikeouts four times, Dean led all National League hurlers in wins twice, innings pitched and complete games three times each, and shutouts twice.  He appeared in the All-Star Game each year from 1934 to 1937.

After retiring from the game, Dean became a broadcaster for several teams, including the Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns.  Always extremely candid, and never at a loss for words, Dean stated on the air in 1947 he believed he could do a better job than nine out of the ten hurlers on the staff of the pitching-poor Browns.  Taken up on his offer by team management, Dean made a brief comeback at age 37, pitching four scoreless innings on the season's final day, before permanently returning to the broadcast booth.             

Dean announced games nationally from 1952 to 1965, entertaining baseball fans across the country with his wit, colorful personality, and frequent malapropisms.  It was during this time that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, gaining admittance to Cooperstown in 1953.  Dean remained in sportscasting for more than a quarter of a century, finally settling down with his wife, Patricia, in her hometown of Bond, Mississippi.  He died of a heart attack at age 64 in Reno, Nevada, on July 17, 1974. 

Reflecting the sentiments of most baseball fans from an earlier generation, Jim Murray wrote in the Los Angeles Times two days later: "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."

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Tagged:
1953 Hall of Fame, All Star, Baseball History, Dizzy Dean, Gas House Gang, St. Louis Cardinals

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