ew ballplayers have achieved the public's attention, no less the success that was enjoyed by the colorful Dizzy Dean. In a condensed playing career that included only six full seasons and parts of six others, Dean's on-the-field accomplishments, quotations, nickname, prankster horseplay and broadcast career have been an indelible part of baseball folklore that perhaps only Babe Ruth and Satchel Paige have earned membership to. He entertained with his pitching domination, outrageous boasting and his shear butchering of the English language. His timing in the pages of Americana was impeccable; comic relief for a depression-laden country that needed a familiar hero.
Jay Hanna Dean was born the son of an itinerant sharecropper on January 16, 1911 in Lucas, AR. By the age of three, he had lost his mother and, along with his brothers, they were forced into the nomadic life following their father who searched for work in the southwest. The Ozark country boy's formal education ended by the fourth grade and, rather than inherit a life of picking cotton, he enlisted in the army at the age of 16 to make $21 a month. He honed his pitching skills playing for the army-camp team and sharpened his control by tossing potatoes during KP duty. It was here that a sergeant bestowed upon him the nickname of "Dizzy". His own account credits White Sox manager Lena Blackburne referring to Dean as that "dizzy rookie" in a 1928 exhibition game.
After three years of unsatisfied military life, his younger sibling of two years, Paul, paid $120 (one quarter of his annual salary) and bought his brother's way out of the service. He followed a job to San Antonio, TX for a public service company where he pitched semi-pro ball and was offered a contract on May 29, 1929 for the Cardinals organization. In 1930, he responded without delay by posting a 17-8 record with the last place St. Joseph Saints of the Class A Western league. After that impressive start, Dizzy was promoted in midseason to the Texas League's Houston Buffaloes where he went 8-2. The St. Louis Cardinals gave him his major league debut on the last day of the season (September 28) where he three-hit the Pirates.
The following season, Dean was sent back to Houston because the Cardinals had a talent-rich staff. The cocky hillbilly would report late to practice and taunt opposing teams with his uninhibited manner. Nevertheless, Dizzy garnered 25 wins with a .1.57 ERA and 303 strikeouts for the 1931 minor league campaign. St. Louis captured the N.L. flag but had to find a place on their roster for the new fastball phenom. Dean's first full season (18-15) for the sixth place 1932 club emerged as the best on the staff and he led the league in innings pitched (286) and strikeouts (191). The next four years were pure domination. He won 20, 30, 28 and 24 games respectively from 1933 to 1936. He led the league in strikeouts four seasons in a row from 1932 to 1935.
In 1934, Dizzy was joined by brother Paul, automatically christened "Daffy" by the sportswriters - although the coinage was inappropriate. Paul was more reserved and less likely to perform practical jokes and boast. At the beginning of the season, he announced that he and Paul would combine for over 45 wins (they actually won 49 in total). "How are they gonna stop us?" Dean radiated. Daffy hurled a no-hitter during his 19-11 rookie season. "Diz" responded after pitching a three-hitter in the first end of the doubleheader against Brooklyn, "If I'd known Paul was going to do that I'd have pitched one, too."
Dizzy won the National League MVP award with a star-studded "Gas House Gang" of nicknamed characters that included player/manager Frankie "The Flash" Frisch, Leo "The Lip" Durocher, Jimmy "Rip" Collins, John "Pepper" Martin, Jesse "Pop" Haines, Joe "Ducky" Medwick and Arthur "Dazzy" Vance. The rowdy lot formed a hillbilly band that invaded hotel ballrooms in painters' overalls nearly causing riots with zany antics. Victorious against Detroit in seven games of the World Series, Dizzy predicted, "Me an' Paul will win two games each." His arrogant confidence proved to be accurate. Or as The Ole Diz would put it, "It ain't bragging if you can do it."
Dean would sometimes perform sit-down strikes (once on his brother's behalf for a salary increase), not be present at exhibition games or even placed ill-fated bets on other sporting events. Although he was never in trouble with the law, he was questioned in a major Detroit gambling investigation years later. He would give "exclusive scoops" to reporters with vague inconsistencies and exaggerations often changing his birth date, place of birth and even changing his name to Jerome Herman.
After getting hit on the head by a relayed ball in 1934 Series, Dizzy was rushed to the hospital. He later proudly announced, "The doctors x-rayed my head and found nothing." Dean was selected starting pitcher to the 1937 All-Star Team in Washington. He preferred to go fishing during the three day baseball holiday, however, his wife Pat and Cardinal owner Sam Breadon urged him to participate because he owed it to the game. An Earl Averill line drive off his left little toe, fractured it. "Fractured, hell! The damn thing's broken!" Dean objected.
Against the advice to rest and mend by everyone around him, two weeks later, with a splint housed in an enlarged shoe, he took the mound in Boston. Overcompensating by placing all the weight on one foot or maybe I'll just let him explain: "Pain is stabbin' up through my hip", he described years later. "Because of this, I change my natural pitching style and don't follow through with my body on the delivery, so I don't have to tromp down on my hurt foot. As the ball left my hand, there was a loud crack in my shoulder, and my arm went numb down to my fingers." Dean was traded during the off season by general manager Branch Rickey to the Cubs for three journeymen players and $185, 000. Always in good humor he remarked, "Jeez, $185,000... If I'd had a good arm wonder what I'd a brought?"
The Cubs fell victim to the sweeping Yankees in the World Series with Dean posting a respectable 7-1 record for the regular season, nursing a bursitis impaired shoulder. The four-time All-Star remained with Chicago in a part-time role and never regained his blazing fastball and dazzling breaking pitch trying to substitute it with a changeup and slow curve. At the close of the 1940 season, he found himself tossing for Tulsa. He returned to the Cubs in 1941, pitched only one inning and was released at the age of 30. Dizzy signed on as coach on May 14 but only lasted two months before an announcer offer came along. His career winning percentage was .644, winning 150 games and losing only 83. He logged in an ERA of 3.02 and fanned 1163 batters in 1967 innings behind the graceful rhythm of his pitching motion.
In June of 1941, he sat behind the microphone to broadcast Cardinals and Browns games for Falstaff Beer. Dean was an instant success with his malapropisms, disregard for grammar (the runner slud into second), and boisterous quick wit. In an attempt to correct his fractured syntax and when asked if he knew the King's English, he answered, "Yes sir, I do, and I know the Queen's English too." In 1947, as a promotional stunt, he pitched the final game of the season and recorded four shutout innings for the St. Louis Browns. By the 1950's, he was a popular announcer mugging for commercials and network telecasts of the Game of the Week. In the 1960's, he teamed on the air with the recently retired Pee Wee Reese. A new generation of fans, many who had never seen him play, loved to listen to the easily recognizable voice, telling matter of fact analogies in a unique linguistic style. Actor Dan Daily starred in "The Pride of St. Louis" enunciating that even Hollywood wanted to capture his persona on film.
During his career, the 6'2" right handed pitcher and light hitting batter (.225) weighed around 185 pounds. Sedentary, Dizzy ballooned to almost 300 pounds. For a short time he owned Dizzy Dean's Service Station (Standard Oil products) in downtown Bradenton. Jay Hanna Dean was elected (207 votes) by the Baseball Writers' Association of America and enshrined (#66) on July 27, 1953. Dean's induction speech included, "The good Lord was good to me. He gave me a strong body, a good right arm, and a weak mind." He attended his enshrinement ceremony and later returned to Cooperstown in 1963 and 1965.
Dizzy retired from the broadcasting booth in the late 1960's and, with his wife Patricia (former department store clerk) of 41 years, settled in their comfortable home in Wiggins, MS. He died at the age of 63 of a heart attack at St. Mary's Hospital in Reno, Nevada on July 17, 1974. The 63 year old Dean had been complaining of chest pains the Thursday before while vacationing in South Tahoe Lake, CA. His body was brought back to Mississippi where he had lived as a boy and buried in Bond Cemetery.
Due to his lack of education, Dean talked a lot, however, he wrote very little. He would commonly sign right handed ("Dizzy" Dean) and always obliged the public. His mail, however, was often non-maliciously signed by his wife, Pat. Even handwritten letters dating back to the early thirties have proven to be secretarially written and often ghost signed. About half of the typed letters I have examined, have been signed by another person other than Dean. These colorful business letterheads may include Falstaff Brewing Corp. (often with his smiling image printed) and The Babe Ruth Foundation, Inc. He would often write a personalized salutation and tended to sign photographs on an angled upward slant. Dean's capitalization enlarged over the years and became very flamboyant. Later in life examples show the first "D's" terminal stroke virtually underline his entire name. His lower case letters tightened, leaving little space between them and his writing speed increased.
Sometime after his playing career ended, he started using the quotation marks, first on the outside, then on the inside of the upper loops of his "D"s. The jagged manner of his acutely formed lower case letters strayed upward off the baseline. He adopted a kicked-back "y" that formed the initial stroke of the "D" that quickly was traced over on the downstroke. This second "D" tilted more to the right finishing downward and allowing the second break. A conventional "e" with a double looped "a" often left an opening on the top of the letter. The garland style "n" dragged and curled down often not stretching enough toward the imaginary baseline. The overall signature achieved an unusual height, which accounts for him resorting to sign most baseballs on a side panel as opposed to negotiating the narrow space of the sweet spot. Pat's version was flat, and she left a large gap between the names. She also didn't like slanting her letters and made the lower case ones proportionately smaller than her husband's. Overall, it can be challenging to determine the difference, especially for the novice.
Index cards are the most common form of his autograph and are always in demand at $150. Government postcards, black and white Artvue and Curtiechcolor gold Hall of Fame plaque postcards sell for about $250. Single signed baseballs are commonly forged and stamped versions are common. Actual specimens in decent condition should be priced above $2000. One will find his autograph on vintage album pages and various baseball related programs due to his accessibility at the ballparks. Photographs are a bit of a challenge, especially on black and white 8x10s that generally have his smiling bust shot in Cardinal uniform ($400). A vintage signed gum card should be a keeper at $400. A real gem would to secure a photo signed by both Dizzy and Paul in St. Louis uniform ($800 plus). Rowe postcards ($250) and sepia-toned Burke ($500) downsized photographs are also popular amongst collectors. We have yet to see a personal cancelled check become available. There have been a few small souvenir bats that have been certified, but this type of median is a prime target for the forgers.
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