Dean, Jay Hanna ("Dizzy")

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DEAN, Jay Hanna ("Dizzy")

(b. 16 January 1910 in Lucas, Arkansas; d. 17 July 1974 in Reno, Nevada), Hall of Fame pitcher, broadcaster, raconteur, and unique baseball personality.

Dean, who also used the name Jerome Herman but was best known by his nickname Dizzy, was the second of three surviving children of Albert Monroe Dean and his wife, Alma Frances Nelson, who were sharecroppers. Dean's mother died of tuberculosis when he was eight, and after her death his school attendance was sporadic. Dean's father remarried, and the family lived in several places, including Chickalah, Arkansas, and Spaulding, Oklahoma.

Dean joined the U.S. Army at sixteen. He was incapable of following orders—hence his nickname—but he was a standout pitcher for the regimental team, as well as for several semiprofessional teams in and around San Antonio, Texas. Dean left the army in March 1929, and in May was signed to a contract by the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

Dean began his professional career in 1930 with the Class A St. Joseph Saints, was promoted to the Class AAA Houston Buffaloes, and pitched the final game of the season for the St. Louis Cardinals, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 3–1. During spring training in 1931, though, Dean was incorrigible. He ran up monumental bills and arrived late for practices. Two weeks into the season, he was optioned back to Houston. A month later, he announced that he was getting married.

Dean's intended was Patricia Nash, a department store clerk who was three years older than Dean and had been married twice before. The Cardinals did their best to talk Dean out of the marriage, but Dean refused to listen, and the couple married on 15 June 1931. To the shock of the Cardinals, the marriage turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to Dean. His wife, who also acted as his business manager, brought order to his chaotic life and put him on a strict savings plan. They had no children.

Dean was six feet, two inches tall, and weighed 180 pounds, but his weight frequently dropped twenty pounds during the course of a season. He threw right-handed, and had a great fast ball, curve ball, and change of pace, but what made Dean a spectacular pitcher was his control. He rarely walked opposing batters, and he placed his pitches beautifully over specific sections of the plate. He was also a good batter (a rarity among pitchers), a solid fielder, and a daring base runner. Dean had only two weaknesses—his love of extra challenges, such as trying to strike out batters with their favorite pitches, and his insistence on overwork.

Dean got his chance to pitch regularly in the major leagues in 1932. For the next five years, he dominated baseball with his stellar pitching, exuberant personality, and brash boasts ("It ain't bragging if you can back it up," he said). He finished the 1932 season with a record of 18–15 and led the National League in innings pitched (286) and strikeouts (191). The Cardinals, however, sank to sixth place and suffered losses of $100,000, so 1933 salaries were slashed. "This here Depression ain't my fault," Dean protested, but he had to settle for $3,000, the same salary that he received in 1932.

In 1933 Dean was the only reliable pitcher on the Cardinals staff. He finished the season with a record of 20–18, half his losses coming on days when he pitched with two days of rest or less. Dean's younger brother Paul joined the Cardinals in 1934, and Dean predicted that he and Paul would win forty-five games. They surpassed this outrageous forecast, winning forty-nine. The Cardinals clinched the pennant on the final day of the season, with Dean, who finished the season with a record of 30–7, pitching.

The Cardinals were first called the "Gas House Gang" during the 1934 World Series because of their aggressive, no-holds-barred play and their dirt-stained uniforms. Highlights of the series included Dean pitching Game 1 and defeating the Detroit Tigers 8–3; Dean entering Game 4 as a pinch runner and being knocked unconscious by a thrown ball when he ran into second base standing up to break up a double play; Dean pitching the next day ("You can't beat me hittin' me in the head"), but losing 3–2; Paul taking the must-win Game 6, 4–3; and Dean shutting out the Tigers on six hits in the final game, while Cardinal batters broke loose to coast to an 11–0 win. Over the winter, Dean was named the National League's Most Valuable Player.

The Cardinals were edged out for the pennant by the Chicago Cubs in 1935, but this was no fault of the Deans, who bore the brunt of the pitching duties and ended the season with a combined forty-seven wins. Dean had a record of 28–12.

Dean had another fine season in 1936, but Paul developed arm trouble. Dean took up some of the slack (on two occasions he pitched three straight days, two full games, and three innings of relief in between), but he could not do it all. He finished the year with a record of 25–13, and the Cardinals finished in a tie for second.

While Dean was pitching in the 1937 All-Star Game, a line drive broke his left toe. Two weeks later, Dean was pitching again, but he was not pitching well; his delivery was altered, and he was limping. By late August, he had developed serious arm trouble. He finished the year with a record of 13–10.

Dean was traded to the Chicago Cubs in March 1938. He pitched well initially, although he was only able to use his fast ball sparingly, then was out from 3 May to 17 July with a sore arm. When Dean returned, it was obvious that he no longer had his fast ball, and he finished the season with a record of 7–1. Still, he won a crucial game at the end of the season to help the Cubs win the pennant, and he started the second game of the World Series. Dean managed to keep the New York Yankees off balance for seven innings with his control and changes of speed. But the Yankees took the lead in the eighth inning and won the game 6–3. They went on to complete a series sweep.

In 1939, pitching in pain, Dean had a 6–4 record. In 1940 he went to the minor leagues to experiment with his delivery. He won two games after he was called back, but was hit hard in his other outings and finished the year with a record of 3–3. Dean started just one game in 1941 and was knocked out in the first inning. On 14 May he announced his retirement. The Cubs immediately made him a coach.

One month later, however, the Falstaff Brewing Corporation offered Dean a job in St. Louis broadcasting home games of the Cardinals and the Browns, and he quickly accepted. It turned out that Dean, who loved to talk and had strong, if unorthodox, verbal skills, was a natural at broadcasting. He switched tenses and invented new verb conjugations (swang, throwed, slud), mispronounced even common names, and laced his broadcasts with malapropisms: batters walked "confidentially" to the plate; runners returned to their "respectable" bases. None of that mattered, since Dean had a sound knowledge of the game and knew how to communicate what was happening. He also knew how to entertain. When the going got slow, he might tell stories (he was a masterful story teller) or even sing his favorite song, "The Wabash Cannonball."

Dean helped to broadcast Yankee television games during the 1950 and 1951 seasons, returned to radio in 1952 to broadcast Mutual Radio's Game of the Day, then moved back to television in 1953 when a national Game of the Week began airing Saturday afternoons on the American Broadcasting System (ABC). Dean was also elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1953. "This is the greatest honor I ever received," he said in his induction speech, "and I wanna think the Lord for givin' me a good right arm, a strong back, and a weak mind."

Game of the Week moved to the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1955. Although rival networks also offered Saturday-afternoon games, Game of the Week dominated the ratings. However, when the National Broadcasting System (NBC) acquired exclusive rights to a national Saturday game in 1966, Dean was not retained as an announcer. He did not need to work, since his wife had invested their money wisely, but he did regional broadcasts for the Atlanta Braves and continued to make personal appearances for Falstaff. Dean died from a heart attack and is buried in the Bond Cemetery in Bond, Mississippi, where the Deans had moved in the mid-1950s.

Dean's time of baseball greatness was relatively short, from 1932 through 1936, but during those five years he dominated baseball as few others have. Dean led the National League four consecutive years in both complete games (1933–1936) and strikeouts (1932–1935), and his lifetime winning percentage is an eye-popping .644. Although Dean's lifetime statistics fall short of those of most of baseball's other greats, his best five years compare favorably with the best five years of any pitcher who ever played. As a broadcaster, he is best remembered for his ability to entertain and for demonstrating that possessing a cookie-cutter personality is not a prerequisite for broadcasters. His stories gave fans a feeling of personal connection to baseball's lore, and as the lead broadcaster of Game of the Week he introduced an entire generation to the pleasures of major league baseball.

There is a file on Dean at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, New York. Valuable biographies include Curt Smith, America ' s Dizzy Dean (1978); Robert Gregory, Diz: Dizzy Dean and Baseball during the Great Depression (1992); and Vince Staten, Ol ' Diz: A Biography of Dizzy Dean (1992). For complete statistics on Dean's career, see The Baseball Encyclopedia (1996). An obituary is in the New York Times (18 Jul. 1974).

Lynn Hoogenboom

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