America’s Dizzy Dean

No one seemed to know whether his real name was Jerome Herman Dean or Jay Hanna Dean, but it didn’t matter. Generations loved him as Ol’ Diz, the Cardinals’ baseball great inspiring headlines in the 1934 World Series by breaking up a double play with his forehead. “X-rays Of Dean’s Head Show Nothing!” a paper said after the shortstop’s throw knocked Diz out.

In America’s Dizzy Dean (Bethany Press, 1978, 192 pages), Curt Smith etches the man who became, like his “Gas House Gang,” an institution. Once, having bet that he could strike out Vince DiMaggio four straight times, Dean yelled to his catcher to drop DiMag’s ninth-inning­ pop foul. After he complied, Diz took the mound to strike Vince out—his fourth at-bat in a row.

Dean led the National League in strikeouts for four straight years, fanned 17 batters in a game, and in 1934 went 30-7. During a 1931 exhibition match with the A’s—he spent that season in the minors—Diz deliberately walked the bases full with no outs. He then struck out the next three batters: future Hall of Famers Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, and Mickey Cochrane.

His career curbed by injury, Dean took story-telling to radio and later television, where acclaim swelled further. Dull sets led Diz to belt out his favorite song, “Wabash Cannonball.” If action lagged, he napped or left the booth for hot dogs, leaving the mic to his partner—“pod-nuh,” to Diz. Each Saturday and Sunday Dean’s 1953-65 TV’s Game of the Week closed Middle America down.

America’s Dizzy Dean charts a singular life, from a poor Southern boyhood to a niche as a nonpareil baseball character—on and off the field.