In the memories of most baseball followers, Dizzy Dean is as indissolubly linked to the St. Louis Cardinals and their Gashouse Gang as Babe Ruth is to the Yankees and Ty Cobb to the Tigers. But the last game Dean ever pitched in a St. Louis uniform was not for the dashing Cardinals but for the dismal American League Browns. Not surprisingly, it was Dean's egocentric talkativeness that won him this final major league pitching assignment—six years after his formal retirement following his release by the Chicago Cubs.
The knowing still pick up easy dollars in bars by betting the unsuspecting that Dean pitched as late as 1947 for an American League team, for Dizzy's stint for the Browns has been forgotten by most fans. Dizzy, however, has not forgotten it. Neither has Bill DeWitt, now president of the Cincinnati Reds, who was general manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1947. Happy Chandler may or may not have forgotten it, but in 1947 he apparently decided to pretend that it had never happened. As commissioner of baseball at that time, Chandler ordered DeWitt not to go through with his plan to sign Dean to a $1 contract so that he could pitch one game for the Browns.
"Chandler told me it would not be in the best interests of baseball," DeWitt said recently. "I decided it would be in the best interests of the Browns so I decided to go ahead and let Dizzy pitch. I expected Chandler to fine me or show disapproval somehow. But you know, I never heard a word from him about it."
Like so many other years, 1947 had been an unhappy one for the Browns. For most of the season the team rested snugly in last place. Attendance was as languid as the team's won-and-lost record (the Browns drew only 320,474, down 205,961 from 1946).
Dean, then 36, was the Browns' radio play-by-play man. "Bill DeWitt kept telling me to boost the Browns on the air," Dean says. "He told me to emphasize their good plays, but there wasn't many good plays I could emphasize."
Far from boosting the Browns, Dean remorselessly exposed their deficiencies, especially their pitching. Between references to fried chicken, dove shooting, black-eyed peas, country music, hogback and greens, gin rummy and his sponsor's beer, Dean would interpose such comments as: "What's the matter with that guy? Why don't he throw that fast one? Dawg gone, I don't know what this game's acomin' to. I swear I could beat nine out of 10 of the guys that call themselves pitchers nowadays."
By late August most of the Browns' pitchers were too dispirited to resent or to take issue with Dean's comments. But not so their wives, who tuned in his re-creations of road games and most of his live broadcasts of home games. They were not too keen on going to the ball park to witness the humiliation of their husbands. Most of the pitchers' wives began calling both DeWitt and Dean on the phone. "If that big lug thinks he can do any better than my husband, why doesn't he get out there and try?" one wife asked DeWitt.
By mid-September the repeated phone calls gave DeWitt an idea. Why not capitalize on Dean's still notable fame and on the desire of the public to see a braggart humbled? Why not give Dean a chance to prove his boasts? At the same time, it might help the Browns' attendance. And it certainly couldn't hurt that pitching.
On September 17, without consulting Manager Muddy Ruel who was in Boston with the team, DeWitt announced that he had signed Dean to a $1 contract, that he would immediately start getting into shape and would pitch one or two games before the season ended on September 28.
"It's news to me," Ruel tartly told reporters in Boston.
Originally DeWitt had planned to have Dean face Cleveland's Bob Feller in one game, then pitch the final game of the season against the White Sox. But he decided against a Dean-Feller duel and settled for a one-game appearance by Dean. After a week of pitching and batting practice Dean announced, "I'm ready. I'm in good shape and rarin' to go."
Three days before the season ended the Browns brought out a pitiful 315 fans. On September 27, for a doubleheader against the White Sox, only 1,031 showed up. Normally the best the Browns could have hoped for on closing day was 2,000. Going into their final game the Browns were 37 games behind the first-place Yankees and four games behind the seventh-place Senators. They had won 59 games while losing 94.
On that final Sunday, 15,916 turned out. "It was the third biggest home crowd we had all season," says DeWitt.
Many of the fans were followers of Dean and the old Cardinal Gashouse Gang and had religiously been ignoring the Browns for years. All of the wives of the Browns' pitchers were on hand, including Dean's wife, Pat.
When the game began, Muddy Ruel was not in the dugout. Miffed by DeWitt's signing of Dean without consulting him, Ruel had turned the team over to one of his coaches, Fred Hoffman.
Dean gave up a single to Don Kolloway, the first batter he faced. But the next batter hit into a double play and Dave Philley grounded out.
In the second inning Rudy York flied out, Thurman Tucker singled to left and Jack Wallasea walked. There were two on and only one out and the Browns' wives were all smiling. Dizzy pitched to Cass Michaels, and he hit the ball on the ground to Shortstop Vern Stephens, who started a quick double play.
Dizzy wasn't throwing anywhere near as hard as he had in his prime, but he was keeping the ball in or near the strike zone on virtually every pitch. He was forcing the White Sox hitters to swing, and in the third inning Mike Tresh, Ed Lopat (Dean's pitching opponent) and Kolloway all flied out.
Dean went up to the plate in the last of the third carrying a black-and-white striped bat. Plate Umpire Cal Hubbard pointed out to him that it was illegal because of its coloring. So Dean returned to the dugout and came back with an even gaudier one. It was red and white and had been made especially for Dean as a gag by a bat-manufacturing company. It was as illegal as the-black-and-white bat, if not more so, but after wrestling briefly with his conscience Hubbard said, "Oh hell, go ahead and use it. I guess nobody cares." Dizzy promptly singled to left center, and the crowd roared. But on his way to first, he pulled a muscle.
Dizzy went to the mound, however, for the fourth inning, and after Bob Kennedy singled, Philley, York and Tucker all flied out.
By then Dizzy's leg was stiffening, and he realized he was through as a pitcher, not only for the day, but forever. Coming off the mound for the last time as a major leaguer he waved his cap to, the crowd. Everyone, including the pitchers' wives, stood up and cheered. Dizzy thanked his teammates for their excellent fielding support and announced, "I still think I can pitch well enough to win, but I ain't agoin' to try."
Dean had thrown just 39 pitches, an average of less than 10 an inning and had faced only 14 batters, two over the minimum. When he left the game the score was tied 0-0. In the ninth, however, the Sox scored five runs off his successor, Glen Moulder. A two-run St. Louis rally in the last of the ninth fell short, and the Browns lost their 95th game.
That year at Christmas the Browns mailed Dean a check for $1,000. "Call it a bonus," wrote DeWitt in the note of greeting and appreciation that accompanied it.