Dizzy Dean

September 28, 1930: Dizzy Dean makes his major-league debut

With the National League championship wrapped up and a berth to the World Series guaranteed, the St. Louis Cardinals used their regular-season finale to get their first glimpse of 20-year-old Jay Hanna Dean – more commonly known as Dizzy Dean.

One year prior, Dean had been pitching while stationed with the U.S. Army at Fort Sam Houston outside San Antonio. There, he was discovered by a bird-dog scout and signed by the Cardinals. In his first season in Branch Rickey’s farm system, the Cardinals sent him to the St. Joseph (Mo.) Saints in the Class A Western League.

In his first year in organized baseball, Dean went 17-8 with a 3.69 ERA over 217 innings. With the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League vying for a pennant, the Cardinals sent Dean there, where he went 8-2 with a 2.86 ERA in 85 innings. Cardinals manager Gabby Street called Dean “the nearest thing to Walter Johnson I ever saw,”[1] and in September, the Cardinals called him up to St. Louis, where the team was in the midst of a pennant race with the Chicago Cubs.

With a 10-5 victory over the Pirates on September 26, the Cardinals clinched the National League title. Two days later, on September 28, Dean took the mound for the Cardinals’ regular-season finale. In the words of St. Louis Star and Times reporter Walter W. Smith, “this unseasoned rookie startled the baseball world with a spectacular three-hit shutout of the Pirates.”[2]

Prior to the game, St. Louis mayor Victor Miller, seated in a box seat near the field, called Street over to ask him about the Cardinals’ new pitcher.

“Mr. Mayor, I think he’s going to be a great pitcher, but I’m afraid we’ll never know from one minute to the next what he’s going to do.”[3]

Smith described Dean as “a tall, gangling youth, with huge hands that dangle from grotesquely long arms,” and indicated that his nickname came as a result of his unusual windup, one of several stories that circulated over the course of Dean’s career. “Ready to deliver a pitch, he whirls his right arm around his head like the lash of a whip, then throws with a sweeping sidearm motion, baffling to the batter and amusing to the crowd.”[4]

Before the game, Dean lost his shoes and was forced to borrow a pair from fellow pitcher Burleigh Grimes. Perhaps this briefly affected his performance, or he was simply nervous about pitching in front of an estimated 22,000 fans for the first time, but Dean struggled in the first inning.

He walked Pirates leadoff hitter Gus Dugas to lead off the game, then got center fielder Paul Waner to ground out to second base. Dean issued his second walk of the inning to George Grantham before cleanup hitter Pie Traynor followed with an RBI single.

Pittsburgh’s Adam Comorosky struck a ground ball that Cardinals third baseman Sparky Adams fielded cleanly and threw home to catcher Earl Smith, who tagged Grantham for the second out of the inning. Pirates first baseman Grant Suhr ended the inning when he lined out to Jim Bottomley at first base.

If Dean was nervous in his first inning of major league action, he settled down in the second and third innings, retiring all six Pirates in order.

“Dizzy and me were sitting side by side on the bench,” Grimes said. “He was as unconcerned as if he was tossing rocks at a mud turtle in the Meremac River.”[5]

In the bottom of the third, the Cardinals took the lead for their rookie pitcher. Pirates pitcher Larry French retired Earl Smith before Charlie Gelbert singled into center field. Dean, who had hit .279 for St. Joseph that season, followed with a single into right.

With runners on first and second, Cardinals leadoff hitter Taylor Douthit doubled into right, scoring Gelbert and bringing Dean to third. With one out, Sparky Adams hit a ground ball to second base that appeared primed to become the second out, but Dean started for the plate, drawing the throw home as he retreated to third base. With Adams safe at first, third baseman Andy High followed with an RBI groundout that scored Dean and gave the Cardinals the lead.

Three innings later, Chick Hafey added a sacrifice fly to give St. Louis a 3-1 lead. That would prove more than enough run support for Dean.

Dean allowed a single to Traynor to lead off the fourth inning, then retired the next 11 batters he faced. In the seventh, Pirates shortstop Ben Sankey hit a two-run single, and in the eighth Waner drew a walk. They proved the final baserunners the Pirates managed, as Dean retired the side in order in the ninth, striking out Suhr to cap off his first career victory.

“The youngster showed a burning speed, a wide, sweeping curve, a clever change of pace and, best of all, unusual control for a rookie,” Smith wrote in assessing Dean’s debut in the St. Louis Star and Times.

In the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Martin J. Haley wrote that Dean “was pitching as if a veteran campaigner. Besides poise, he had tremendous speed, a fast curve and, lo and behold for a youngster, a change of pace which he employed smartly.”[6]

With the win, St. Louis finished the regular season with a 92-62 record, two games ahead of the Cubs. Facing a Philadelphia Athletics team led by Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, and Mickey Cochrane, the Cardinals fell to the defending World Series champions in six games.

“Dean’s brilliant performance made one thing certain,” Smith wrote. “The Cardinals must give him a chance to prove his caliber next spring. He is not on the list of players eligible for the World Series, and sound baseball strategy would not permit the use of a raw recruit even if he were, but he cannot be denied a fair chance next year.”[7]

Despite Smith’s prediction, Dean spent the 1931 season with the Cardinals’ Class A affiliate in Houston, possibly as punishment as punishment for Dean’s habit of charging purchases totaling more than $2,700 to the ballclub.

In Houston, Dean went 26-10 with a 1.57 ERA over 304 innings. Finally, in 1932, the Cardinals could no longer afford to keep Dean in the minors. In his rookie campaign, he led the National League in innings pitched (286), shutouts (four), and strikeouts (191). Dean would lead the league in strikeouts in each of the next three seasons.

In 1933, Dean won 20 games in the first of four consecutive seasons in which he would reach that milestone. The following year, he would lead the Gashouse Gang to the 1934 World Series championship, going 30-7 en route to the National League MVP Award.

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[1] Walter W. Smith, “‘Dizzy’ Dean stars as Cards finish 1930 season here,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 29, 1930: Page 14.

[2] Walter W. Smith, “‘Dizzy’ Dean stars as Cards finish 1930 season here,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 29, 1930: Page 14.

[3] Doug Feldmann (2000), Dizzy and the Gas House Gang, McFarland, Kindle File, 34.

[4] Walter W. Smith, “‘Dizzy’ Dean stars as cards finish 1930 season here,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 29, 1930: Page 14.

[5] Robert Gregory, Diz: The Story of Dizzy Dean and Baseball During the Great Depression (New York: Viking, 1992), 50.

[6] Martin J. Haley, “Rookie Dean stops Bucs with 3 hits, Birds win, 3-1,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 29, 1930: Page 1.

[7] Walter W. Smith, “‘Dizzy’ Dean stars as Cards finish 1930 season here,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 29, 1930: Page 14.