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DEAN, JAY HANNA [DIZZY]

DEAN, JAY HANNA [DIZZY] (1910–1974). Jay Hanna (Dizzy) Dean, baseball player and sportscaster, claimed at various times that he had been born in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Missouri and that his given name was Jay Hanna and Jerome Herman. In fact, he was apparently born in Lucas, Arkansas, on January 16, 1910, the second son of Albert Monroe and Alma (Nelson) Dean. He later boasted that his formal education ended after the second grade in Chickalah, Arkansas; as a teenager he pitched for a junior high school team in Spaulding, Oklahoma, although he was not a student. Dean's mother died when he was eight, and from the age of ten to sixteen he worked with his two brothers and his father as an itinerant cotton picker. Though his father was a former semiprofessional baseball player and doubtless taught the boys something about the game, Dean later claimed that he and his younger brother Paul developed their pitching skills by throwing hickory nuts at squirrels. Dean joined the army at the age of sixteen and was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He played on the post laundry baseball team until a sergeant recruited him for the Twelfth Field Artillery team. After his discharge in 1929 he joined the semiprofessional San Antonio Public Service Utilities team, for which he won sixteen games.

He was signed by a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League that fall and began his professional career the following year with their Western League farm team in St. Joseph, Missouri. Dean compiled a remarkable 17–8 record at St. Joseph before being promoted in August to the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League, with whom he went 8–2. Dean was called up by the Cardinals in September and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3–1 on a three-hitter in his first major-league start. He began the 1931 season in St. Louis but did not appear in a game before being returned to Houston in May, reportedly because his boasting had irritated Cardinal manager Gabby Street. With Houston, Dean won twenty-six games, posted a remarkable 1.53 earned-run average, and struck out 303 batters, becoming the only pitcher ever to lead all minor leaguers in all three categories. He almost singlehandedly pitched the Buffaloes to the Texas League pennant, winning both games of a Sunday doubleheader against Fort Worth, then coming back after a day's rest and winning the last game of the season to give Houston the championship. He married Patricia Nash, a clerk at a Houston department store whom he had met in 1929, on June 15, 1931, and until the early 1960s he lived in the Lone Star State between baseball seasons.

Dean decisively made the major leagues in 1932 and quickly became one of the most colorful members of the Cardinals' celebrated "Gas House Gang." He remained an amusingly incorrigible braggart; one writer said that Dean's was "the strongest, best lubricated, and most frequently used voice apparatus the national pastime has ever known." But he had the talent to back up his bragging and became the dominant pitcher in the National League in the mid-1930s. In his first season with St. Louis, he compiled an 18–15 record, and in 1933 he won twenty games against eighteen losses and set a National League record when he struck out seventeen Chicago Cubs in a single game.

The Cardinals added Paul Dean, who Dizzy claimed was the hardest thrower in the family, to their pitching staff in 1934, and Dizzy brashly predicted that he and his brother would win forty-five games. In fact, this boast proved pessimistic; Paul won nineteen games, while Dizzy had his greatest season. He posted a 30–7 record and was named the most valuable player in the league; no National League pitcher has won thirty games in a season since. The brothers staged a one-day strike in June in an effort to win a $2,000 raise for Paul and were briefly suspended for refusing to accompany the team to Detroit for an exhibition game in August but returned to win twelve of the Cardinals' last eighteen games, as St. Louis won the National League pennant. In a September doubleheader against Brooklyn, Dean pitched a three-hit shutout in the first game, only to have Paul pitch a no-hitter in the nightcap. "I wished I'da known Paul was goin' to pitch a no-hitter," complained the irrepressible Dean afterward. "I'da pitched one too." The brothers had two wins apiece as the Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. In the fourth game of that series Dean, who had been inserted into the game as a pinch-runner, was hit in the head by a throw while trying to break up a double play. He recovered to pitch on the following day, and the apocryphal headline "X-Ray of Dean's Head Reveals Nothing" became part of his legend. In 1935 Dean again led the league with twenty-eight wins, against twelve losses, and in 1936 he compiled a 24–13 record.

Dean was selected to play in the All-Star Game for four consecutive years, from 1934 to 1937. In the 1937 game in Washington, D.C., a line drive hit by Earl Averill of the Cleveland Indians broke a toe of Dean's left foot. He tried to pitch before the bone healed, changed his pitching motion, and consequently developed bursitis in his right shoulder. He finished the season with a 13–10 record, but his days as a dominant pitcher were over. The Cardinals traded him to the Cubs for three players and $185,000 in April 1938. He saw only limited action in 1938 but posted a 7–1 record, as Chicago won the National League pennant. He went 6–4 for the Cubs in 1939, then returned to the Texas League with the Tulsa Oilers in 1940. Despite his mediocre 8–8 record with Tulsa, the Cubs gave Dean one more chance. He posted a 3–3 record with Chicago after being recalled later in the 1940 season and retired after appearing in one game early in the 1941 season. He was briefly a coach for the Cubs but resigned in July 1941 to broadcast the home games of the Cardinals and the American League St. Louis Browns on the radio.

As a radio announcer, Dean earned a devoted following and some enemies. He broke into song, usually "The Wabash Cannonball," during dull games, and his neologisms and malapropisms, such as "He slud into third" and "The players returned to their respectable bases," became legendary. In 1946 two Missouri schoolteachers complained to the Federal Communications Commission that Dean's broadcasts were "replete with errors in grammar and syntax" and were "having a bad effect on their pupils." Norman Cousins of the Saturday Review of Literature was among those who rallied to Dean's defense, and Dizzy himself offered something of an apology. "Maybe I am butcherin' up the English language a little," he said. "Well, all I got to say is that when me and Paul and pa was pickin' cotton in Arkansas, we didn't have no chance to go to school much. But I'm glad that kids are gettin' that chance today."

Dean made two more appearances in uniform. In 1947, after frequent criticism of the team's pitching staff, Dean decided to show the hapless Browns how the game should be played. He came out of the broadcast booth to pitch four scoreless innings against the Chicago White Sox in the last game of the season. His final appearance on the pitcher's mound came in 1950, when the owner of the Dallas Eagles of the Texas League recruited Dean and an all-star team of former major leaguers, including Tris Speakerqv, to take the field against Tulsa for the first game of the season. After Dean walked the leadoff batter, the old-timers yielded to the Dallas regulars. Still, the stunt attracted a Texas League record-53,578 customers-to the Cotton Bowl.

Dean's countrified approach as an announcer seemed better suited to St. Louis, which until the mid-1950s was major league baseball's southernmost and westernmost frontier, than the metropolitan east, but in 1950 he signed to broadcast Yankee games on New York television station WABD for a salary of $40,000. No less an authority than the acerbic Walter Winchell said that Dean was one of his favorite sports announcers, but the Yankees let him go after the 1951 season, and he returned to St. Louis to become a part-time radio announcer for the Browns.

Dean apparently took his wife's advice on financial matters. He invested heavily in stocks and bonds, and besides a home in the Preston Hollow suburb of Dallas, he owned five office buildings and the 300-acre D. D. Ranch in Lancaster, where he raised registered Herefords. He also wrote a syndicated baseball column and earned money from the movie rights to his biography, which was filmed in 1952 as The Pride of St. Louis, with Dan Dailey in the title role. In 1953 Dean dropped his radio broadcasting to concentrate on the nationally televised "Game of the Week." As baseball's first national television broadcaster he made $100,000 a year, and he remained on the "Game of the Week" until 1965. In the early 1960s he and his wife left Texas and settled in her hometown of Bond, Mississippi. In 1967 there was some speculation that Dean might run for governor of Mississippi, but his wife's poor health precluded his seeking office.

In his eight years in the National League Dean compiled a record of 150 wins and 83 losses; he led the league in strikeouts four times and in complete games and innings pitched three times each. Despite his relatively brief major-league career, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953; at the induction ceremony, he said, "This is the greatest honor I ever received, and I wanna thank the Lord for givin' me a good right arm, a strong back, and a weak mind." He died on July 17, 1974, in Reno, Nevada, after suffering two heart attacks in five days, and was buried in Bond, Mississippi.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Current Biography, 1951. Robert Gregory, Diz: Dizzy Dean and Baseball during the Great Depression (New York: Viking, 1992). John Thorn and Pete Palmer, Total Baseball (New York: Warner, 1989). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Martha E. War et al., The Ballplayers: Baseball's Ultimate Biographical Reference (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1990).

Martin Donell Kohout

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Martin Donell Kohout, "DEAN, JAY HANNA [DIZZY]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fdeac), accessed July 12, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.