History Minute: Dizzy Dean

Kenneth Bridges
Dr. Kenneth Bridges

Baseball’s Dizzy Dean became an unforgettable personality in a game known for unforgettable personalities. Born Jay Hanna Dean in Lucas, in Logan County, in 1910, his baseball talents became obvious very early.

The family moved often after his mother’s death in 1918, and at the age of 16 he joined the Army. After two years in the Army, Dean pitched for minor league teams in Houston and St. Joseph, Mo. By 1932, he had caught his big break when the St. Louis Cardinals saw his talents and signed him. In his first season, he led the National League in shutouts. Between 1932 and 1935, he also led the National League in strikeouts.

His younger brother, Paul, signed with the Cardinals in 1934. Dizzy Dean predicted that the two would win 45 games that year. And with a late-September double-header against the Brooklyn Dodgers which Dizzy Dean won with a shutout and Paul Dean won with a no-hitter, the two accomplished the feat. As Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.”

The 1934 Cardinals were also called the “Gas House Gang” after their scruffy appearances and rough fielding. The team would win 95 games that season and go on to win the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. The Dean brothers would win a combined four games in the championship. Dizzy Dean himself would be named the National League Most Valuable Player. His 30-7 record that year would mark the last time a pitcher would win 30 games in a season until 1968. He would also be named to the All-Star Team for four straight years between 1934 and 1937.

Reporters gave his younger brother the nickname “Daffy,” an image contrary to his quiet demeanor. Though a skilled pitcher himself, injuries plagued his career. He played for the Cardinals until 1939. His last appearance was with the St. Louis Browns in 1943, picking up a 50-34 career pitching record with 387 strikeouts. Paul Dean died in Springdale in 1981.

Dizzy Dean’s career continued to be bright. He would continue with the Cardinals until injuries wore down his pitching strength. In 1938, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs won the National League pennant that year, thanks in part to Dean. However, the New York Yankees swept the Cubs in four games in the World Series, a championship that featured 12 future Hall of Fame inductees. By 1941, unfortunately, Dean’s arm had worn out completely, and no longer able to pitch effectively, he retired.

Afterward, Dean became a radio announcer for the St. Louis Browns. In 1947, he made one last exhibitionary appearance as a pitcher, pitching four innings for the Browns, allowing only one hit, embarrassing the regular Browns pitching staff. With his Major League career complete, he had a record of 150 wins, 83 losses, a 3.02 earned run average and 1,163 strikeouts.

Dean would continue with his broadcasting career, calling games for the CBS, Mutual, and NBC radio networks before moving into television.

Along the way, a number of teachers wrote to him, asking him not to use some of the colorful words that peppered his broadcast like “slud” and “ain’t.”

“It just ain’t natural,” responded Dean with his usual quick wit. “Sounds silly to me. ‘Slud’ is something more than ‘slid.’ It means sliding with great effort.”

As for the “ain’t” question, his famous reply was, “Let the teachers teach English, and I’ll teach baseball. A lot of people in this country say ‘isn’t’ and they ain’t eating.”

In 1953, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Cardinals retired his No. 17 jersey.

Colorful to the end, he remarked in the 1960s, “I ain’t what I used to be, but who is?” Dizzy Dean died of a heart attack in 1974. After his death, the beloved baseball personality was inducted into both the Mississippi and Arkansas Sports Halls of Fame.