The train hissed to a stop, the doors swung open, and 300 Detroit fans craned their necks for a look. They waited. They waited some more. Finally, the last member of the Cardinals traveling party descended.1
“Is that him?”
It was him.
The World Series is a singular event, but this was beyond that. Although it had been 25 years since the Tigers’ last pennant, the big story in Detroit was the arrival of pitcher extraordinaire, self-promoter nonpareil, crown prince of the hillbilly elite — the great Jay Hanna Dean. Dizzy, if you prefer.
It was a time when many Americans were feeling low about their country and themselves, but Dean brought a little light to the darkness, with his backwoods charm and bottomless self-esteem. His jabbering and swaggering could annoy opponents, but as he once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you done it.” And Dean done it; the Cardinals wouldn’t have been there without him.
Sure, his 30-7 record was historic, but at the height of the National League pennant race he transformed from a great pitcher into an out-and-out superhero. Dean fired three complete games, two of them shutouts, in the season’s final week as St. Louis snatched the crown away from the front-running New York Giants. He took the ball for Game One of the World Series on two days’ rest. That was nothing; he pitched his last game on one day’s rest.
Veteran Alvin Crowder got the start for Detroit. The General, as they called him, was a curious choice to lead the charge. Only two months earlier, the Washington Senators had deemed him washed up and placed him on waivers. He had been in Detroit only since August, and furthermore, teammates Schoolboy Rowe and Tommy Bridges were 20-game winners, but manager Mickey Cochrane valued Crowder’s experience and thought him “a great money pitcher.”2
Pitchers often turn monastic right before a scheduled start, but even as the biggest game of his life dawned, Dizzy Dean carried on doing Dizzy Dean-ish things. On the morning of Game One, he clowned with Will Rogers in the lobby of the Book-Cadillac Hotel before heading off with his brother, Paul, and comedian Joe E. Brown for breakfast with Henry Ford at his plant in Dearborn.3 From there, Ford arranged a limousine and a motorcycle escort to usher Dean to Navin Field.
Once he emerged from the clubhouse, no one would leave him alone, which was precisely how he wanted it. Dean signed autographs, posed for photographers, and mugged for newsreel men. Ubiquitous baseball clown Al Schacht draped himself in an imitation tiger skin, prowled behind Dean while he was warming up, pounced on his back, and began to maul him. Far from being annoyed, Dean proved an eager victim. The fans cracked up as he grabbed the tiger’s tail and rubbed its head.4 All the commotion and tomfoolery — John Drebinger of the New York Times had never seen the likes of it: “The miracle of it was that the man was able to pitch at all.”5
Meanwhile, Crowder completed his warmups relatively unnoticed. Seems the only person who paid him much mind was Dean. As the story goes, he watched Crowder complete a few tosses and sauntered toward Cochrane with some advice. “Mickey, the General ain’t got nothing. You better go find Schoolboy and get him ready.”
“Go to hell, Diz,” Cochrane suggested thoughtfully.6
About 10,000 fans had camped out all night with lawn chairs and bonfires so they could buy tickets for the massive left-field bleacher section that the Tigers had erected for the Series. The team was ill-prepared for the crush.7 At the scheduled start time of 1:30, thousands of fans were still bottlenecked at the turnstiles. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis approved a delay of nearly 25 minutes until people could reach their seats.
The General didn’t pitch badly, but his troops let him down. Detroit’s normally steady infield made five errors behind Crowder, which contributed to three unearned runs. In the second inning, with two outs and Ernie Orsatti on first, Dean tapped a routine grounder to Billy Rogell. He flipped it to second for an inning-ending force, but sure-handed Charlie Gehringer dropped the ball. Columnist Grantland Rice moaned that it was “the simplest and easiest play of the year.”8 Next, Pepper Martin grounded to third baseman Marv Owen, whose throw to first pulled Hank Greenberg off the bag and granted St. Louis yet another life. They capitalized when Jack Rothrock lashed a bases-loaded single to left-center to score Orsatti and Dean and stake the Cardinals to a 2-0 lead.
The infield sprang more leaks in the third. After Joe Medwick singled, Ripper Collins grounded to Greenberg, who fired to second to erase Medwick, but Rogell skipped his return throw into the dugout. With Collins now at second base, Bill DeLancey, Dean’s rookie batterymate, hit a grounder that trickled through Greenberg’s legs. Gehringer scrambled to retrieve it, but Collins slid in safely ahead of his throw, and St. Louis was up 3-0 on another unearned run.
Dean had a nice cushion, but he seemed off. He consistently fell behind hitters in the early innings and eventually piled up a pitch count of 150.9 “I just couldn’t get my fast one to act up right; couldn’t get a hop on it,” he said. “Maybe it was because the pitching mound is so high, but my control was off. I had to aim different and couldn’t put my curve ball where I wanted it.”10 The St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggested that the chilly weather might have affected him. Throwing 27 innings in a week will take something out of a guy, too.
Dean wasn’t himself, but he had it when he needed it. With two outs in the bottom of the third, he walked Jo-Jo White on a 3-and-2 pitch. Dean slapped his hand against his glove and barked at home-plate umpire Brick Owens, while White chirped at Dean as he trotted to first. Consecutive singles by Cochrane and Gehringer plated White with the first Detroit run. But with the tying run at second, Dean blew Greenberg away on three pitches to subdue the Tigers’ most significant threat of the day.
The Cardinals got that run back moments later when Medwick homered into the newly constructed left-field bleachers. That made it 4-1, as the crowd of 42,505 groaned and settled into silence for the rest of the afternoon.
Fred Marberry began the sixth for Detroit. Marberry was one of the elite relievers of his day, just not this day, specifically. Dean, who had nearly homered in his previous at-bat, started the inning with a double. Martin’s single scored Dean and put St. Louis up 5-1. Later, Medwick’s fourth hit, a base hit to right field, brought home Martin. Collins singled Medwick to third on a hit-and-run, and that ended the day for Marberry.
On came Elon “Chief” Hogsett. (“The Indian!” cried NBC play-by-play voice Ford Bond, although Hogsett possessed barely more Native-American blood than a desk lamp.11) DeLancey deposited Hogsett’s first pitch into the left-center-field gap. Both runners scored on the double, and the Cardinals possessed an 8-1 lead.
The Tigers added two meaningless runs on Goose Goslin’s RBI single in the sixth and a solo shot from Greenberg in the eighth. For the most part, though, the Tigers submitted quickly and quietly. Dean’s strikeout of pinch-hitter Gee Walker, his sixth of the day, sealed the 8-3 victory.
Cochrane stood buck naked in a corner of the clubhouse, chatting with reporters as he nursed a glass of tomato juice and smoked.12 “We threw the game away,” he grumbled between sips and drags. “Dizzy Dean pitched a good game. … But we helped him. We won’t offer so much help from now on.”13
Gehringer admitted that he and his teammates might have been overwhelmed by the moment. “[P]laying in a World Series is different. I can’t explain it but the field seems different. The ball comes at you differently the first inning or two and it seems like everything is at stake.”14
Dean was irrepressible. After dinner, he appeared on CBS Radio for a special late evening broadcast to Rear Admiral Richard Byrd and his Antarctic expedition. “Howdy there, Dick Byrd, down at the South Pole!” Dean began, before regaling the famed explorer with tales of Game One.
“I’d be tickled plumb pink to pitch again tomorrow,” he blustered to Byrd in his Arkansas twang. “If they’d let me pitch all the games I think I could probably win all four.”15
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
The author also reviewed the following for play-by-play and other information:
“Cardinals Win From the Tigers in Sixth Million-Dollar Series,” The Sporting News, October 11, 1934: 1, 3.
Gillespie, Ray J. “Medwick and Greenberg Hit Homers; Dizzy Dean Hurls; 5 Detroit Errors,” St. Louis Star-Times, October 3, 1934: 19, 20.
Photo: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library
1 James S. Pooler, “The Eminent Dizzy Dean and His Entourage Arrive,” Detroit Free Press, October 3, 1934, 19.
2 “Tigers Pilot Still in Doubt,” Detroit Free Press, October 3, 1934: 19.
3 “Dizzy Calls on Ford and Gets a Lofty Tribute,” St. Louis Star-Times, October 3, 1934: 19.
4 J. Roy Stockton, “Cardinals 3, Detroit 0, 2½ Innings; Dizzy Dean Is Opposed by Crowder,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 1934: 1, 3.
5 John Drebinger, “Dizzy Dean Pitches Cards to Victory over Tigers, 8 to 3,” New York Times, October 4, 1934: 1, 26
6 Charlie Bevis, Mickey Cochrane: The Life of a Baseball Hall of Fame Catcher (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1998), 121.
7 “Crowd Suffers Greatly Due to Mishandling,” Detroit Free Press, October 4, 1934: 1.
8 Grantland Rice, “A Tragedy of Errors,” Detroit Free Press, October 4, 1934: 15.
9 “Dizzy was ‘In the Hole’ to 12 of 40 Tiger Batters,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 4, 1934: 15.
10 “Dean and Medwick Centre of Acclaim,” New York Times, October 4, 1934: 26.
12 Charles Dunkley, “Cards Jubilant Over Opening Game Victory,” Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1934, Sec. 2: 11, 13.
13 Tod Rockwell, “Tiger Pitching Ace Cheers Mates by Promising Victory,” Detroit Free Press, October 4, 1934: 15, 18.
15 “Dizzy Dean Tells Byrd All About It,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 4, 1934: 16.