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, a 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, $9.95), Curt Smith etches the man who helped make “The Gas House Gang” a household word. Ol’ Diz was unorthodox, to say the least. 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. When the St. Louis catcher complied, Diz took the mound to strike out Vince — for the fourth straight time.

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 talked his way into the game with no outs and the bases loaded. He then struck out the next three batters: future Hall of Famers Al Simmons, Jimmy Foxx, and Mickey Cochrane.

His pitching career curbed by injury, Dean took his story-telling to the broadcast booth where, as a radio and later television announcer, he earned even wider adulation. During boring games Ol’ Diz might belt out a chorus of his favorite song, “Wabash Cannonball.” If action lagged, he napped or went out for hot dogs, leaving the microphone to his partner  – to Diz, “pod-nuh.” Dean made CBS TV’s Game of the Week a national religion. Each Saturday and Sunday afternoon Middle America closed down.

All the vivid details of a singular life buoy America’s Dizzy Dean, from a poor boyhood in the South to his cachet as a nonpareil baseball character — on and off the field.

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