When I grew up, you could spend hours listening to greatness on the radio. There were Mel Allen and Russ Hodges. There were Red Barber and Jack Buck. There was the incomparable Vin Scully. Then there was Dizzy Dean.
Dean was from Arkansas, born in 1910. There used to be some dspute about when, but all the sources seem to have settled on January 1910. Part of the problem was Dean himself. He gave a variety of different answers to the question “When and where were you born?” The gag was that everybody got a scoop, but it’s possible Dean simply didn’t know. One of the best of the pioneering farm system at St. Lous (Stan Musial gets my vote as the best), he got to the Cardinals in 1930, pitched one game, a three hit, one run, victory, then spent 1931 in the minors. Back with the Cardinals in 1932, he became a staple of the “Gas House Gang”, becoming their ace on the mound. In 1934 he became the last National League pitcher to win 30 games, as he led the Cards to a World Series victory over the Tigers. He won two games, his brother Paul the other two. He picked up the NL MVP award that season. In the 1937 All Star game he was injured (he broke his toe), cameback too soon, and his career fell apart. He was sent to Chicago, where he got into one more World Series in 1938, losing his only game. Pitching with decreasing ability he was done by 1941. In 1947 his employer, the St. Louis Browns, realized he needed one more year to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. He was announcing games at the time and had complained about the quality of Browns pitchers. The Browns pitchers wives essentially told him to put up or shut up, so the Browns, serving two purposes with one game, got him into a game . He pitched four innings, gave up three hits, no runs, and got a single in his only at bat, giving him a season average of 1.000. His quip to the press was “Even Babe Ruth never done that”. He pulled a muscle rounding the bag, which led to “I’m just glad I didn’t pull a muscle in my throat.” He made the Hall of Fame in 1953.
The stories about him as a player are legion. Here’s a couple of my favorites. In 1934 he bet he could strike out Vince DiMaggio (Joe’s brother) four times in a game. He fanned DiMaggio the first three times at bat, then DiMaggio hit a foul pop in his fourth at bat. Dean yelled to the catcher “Drop it.” The catcher did and Dean proceeded to strike out DiMaggio for the fourth time. Also in 1934 he told the press he and his brother would win 45 games between them. The press accused him of bragging. The Deans ended up winning 49 games (30 for Dizzy, 19 for Paul). Dean’s response? “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”
After he left the field, Dean got a job as the announcer for St. Louis Browns radio baseball, much to the joy of fans in the midwest and to the horror of English teachers everywhere. Dean was colorful as an announcer and was famous for butchering the English language. His most famous line was ” (Al) Zarilla slud into third.” Other wonderful moments included “He nonchalantly walked back to the dugout in disgust,” “The runners returned to their respectable bases,” and he occasionally signed off with “Don’t fail to miss tomorrow’s game.”
All this got him into trouble with English teachers. When they attacked him for saying “ain’t” his response was classic Dean. “A lotta folks who ain’t sayin’ ain’t, ain’t eatin’.” He finally compromised with the teachers by saying, “You learn ’em English, and I’ll learn ’em baseball.” Seems to have worked.
By the 1950s he was on television doing the Falstaff (a beer company) “Game of the Week.” He went through a number of color guys (I always wondered why Dean, of all people, needed a “color” guy.), but finally ended up with Dodgers great PeeWee Reese as his most famous “pardner.” He broadcast into the late 1960’s then retired. He died in July 1974 (everybody agrees on that).
I loved listening to Dean when I was younger. His voice was distinctive, his stories wonderful, his language colorful. To end this I want to give you my top Dean story. In the 1934 World Series he was a pinch runner. Trying to break up a double play, he was skulled. Unconcious, he was sent to the hospital. There are a couple of versions of what happened next. This is my favorite. Dean got out of the hospital and the reporters asked him what happened. He delivered my all time favorite deathless baseball line. “They x-rayed my head and didn’t find nothin’.” Gotta love that man.