Dizzy & Daffy Dean

September 29th, 2015

As native Arkansans, Dizzy and Daffy Dean are, of course, well-remembered by most folks in the Diamond State. That is no surprise. Yet, even three-quarters of a century after the brothers retired, they retain their legendary stature in the minds of most baseball fans around the entire country. That is saying a lot!

Jay Hanna Dean (later nicknamed Dizzy) was born in Lucas (Logan County), Arkansas on January 16, 1910. Younger brother Paul Dee Dean (subsequently referred to as Daffy) arrived two-and-a-half years later (August 14, 1912) in the same small town. They grew up playing baseball together, and ultimately led the St. Louis Cardinals to victory in the 1934 World Series. When they did, the Dean boys ascended to the pinnacle of fame in the world of sports. But, their road had been difficult.

Father Albert worked long hours as both a tenant farmer and sawmill laborer, and mother Alma died of tuberculosis in 1918. The fragmented family moved to Yell County in 1920 and then to different homes in Oklahoma. Accordingly, there had been little parental guidance and even less formal education. Despite those handicaps, both boys grew into manhood with the ability to work hard and behave responsibly. Each became a success in his own right. For the record, eldest brother Elmer also tried his luck as a professional ball player, but lacked the talent of his two younger siblings.

Jay enlisted in the Army in 1926 at age sixteen. It was then, according to most sources, that he acquired his nickname. He allegedly was seen throwing potatoes against garbage can lids, prompting his drill sergeant to yell: “You dizzy s.o.b.” Regardless of the origin, the moniker remained with Dean for the rest of his life.

While in uniform for Uncle Sam, “Dizzy” also found time to play baseball, and developed a reputation for being a highly talented pitcher. So, when he left the Army in 1929, he joined a semi-pro team in San Antonio, Texas. His natural gifts and unwavering dedication combined to quickly propel him toward the Big Leagues. Dean pitched in Saint Joseph, Missouri for most of the 1930 season, but moved up to the Houston Buffaloes in late summer.

The St. Louis Cardinals took notice of the rising star, and signed him into their highly successful organization. In fact, even though they knew that Dean, at only age twenty, was not ready for full time work in the Big Leagues, they summoned him to pitch the final game of that season. On September 28, 1930 at Sportsman’s Park, Dizzy Dean previewed future glories by hurling a complete game three-hit 3-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Just as Dizzy was finishing his Minor League climb in 1931, kid brother Paul was beginning his. Dizzy won twenty-six games for Houston that year, and then headed up to St. Louis to stay. In the meantime, Paul pitched for three different teams. Although not possessing the exceptional talent of his big brother, the younger Dean still showed significant potential.

Jay “Dizzy” Dean won eighteen games for St. Louis in his official Major League rookie season in 1932. It was the start of a five year span of pitching greatness that has never been eclipsed in Big League history. Meanwhile, Paul was in Columbus, Ohio, laboring his way through an undistinguished losing season.

In 1933, Dizzy won twenty games for the first time, which was not unexpected. However, Paul dramatically reversed his downturn from the preceding year, and recorded twenty-two victories for the Red Birds back in Columbus. There would be no holding back the Dean boys in 1934. It began with a connection to their home state of Arkansas.

Ray Doan, an Iowa-born promoter of various sporting events, opened a baseball school in Hot Springs in 1933. Meeting with success, Doan operated the school again in the early spring of 1934. This time, Dizzy Dean came to town as one of his celebrity instructors. That luminescent group also included George Sisler, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, and Burleigh Grimes. In his definitive book on the baseball history of Hot Springs (Boiling Out At The Springs, Hodge Printing Company, Dallas, 2006), local author/scholar Don Duren tells us that Paul Dean was also in town that March, staying at the Como Hotel. Predictably, the brothers took the opportunity to take the baths, hike the mountain trails, and get ready for the forthcoming season. It was a prescription for astonishing success.

When Dizzy and Paul reported to the Cardinals’ spring training headquarters in Bradenton, Florida, Diz famously predicted that he and Paul would win a total of forty-five games that season. Since Paul (soon to be known as “Daffy”) had yet to pitch in a Major League game, folks thought that the elder Dean was, in fact, dizzy. Of course, we know now that neither of the Dean Brothers was ever either dizzy or daffy: both men possessed demonstrable levels of solid intelligence. If anything, Dizzy was conservative in his 1934 pronouncements.

The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series that year, and Jay and Paul Dean were at the core of that remarkable triumph. Along the way, Dizzy won the exceptional total of thirty games (against only seven losses), and twenty-two-year-old Daffy was victorious nineteen times. With that combined sum of forty-nine wins, Dizzy suddenly appeared like a venerable prophet.

The highlight occurred in a double-header on September 21 at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field when Dizzy won the first game 13-0 with a masterful three-hitter. Daffy was destined to walk in his big brother’s shadow for most of his baseball life, but not on this day. Taking the ball to start the second game, Paul was even better than Dizzy. Two hours later, he walked off the mound having pitched a no-hitter, winning 3-0. The Deans were heralded from coast to coast as the biggest sports story of the year.

Along with his thirty wins, Dizzy Dean also saved seven games that year. He was the last National Leaguer to reach that exalted thirty-win plateau. In his rookie season, Daffy started twenty-six games, and relieved in thirteen others. He pitched a total of 233.1 innings: a remarkable total for a first year performer. And they were far from finished!

In the 1934 World Series against the American League champion Detroit Tigers, the Dean boys teamed up to forge the final links in a legend which still resonates today. Ultimately prevailing in a tough seven game series, Dizzy and Daffy recorded all four victories for their side. In fact, working with only one day of rest, Dizzy pitched a complete game shutout in game seven to clinch that memorable world championship. Looking back through the prism of those long intervening years, it all seems like fiction. It wasn’t. Jay and Paul Dean really did all that.

By the time the 1935 season began, Dizzy Dean rightfully looked upon himself as the kingpin of the National League. Yet, just at that moment, an old Hot Springs advocate unexpectedly entered the scene. The one-and-only Babe Ruth, who had trained and frolicked in the Valley of the Vapors nine different times, signed with the Boston Braves after retiring from the Yankees. Initially, Dizzy Dean did the unthinkable, and told the aging monarch that he wasn’t wanted in the Senior Circuit. Ruth, always supremely confident, merely laughed.

That led to an interesting episode on March 20, 1935 when Dean’s Cardinals played Babe’s Braves in a pre-season game in St. Petersburg where Boston did its spring training. By then, the amiable Dean had re-thought the situation, and warmly embraced Ruth. When the two magnificent gladiators faced one another in the ballgame, the wind was howling in from center field as Babe batted for the first time. Dizzy, thinking that he had nothing to worry about, fired a fastball. A few seconds later, the battered sphere was finally caught in front of the distant right centerfield corner after a 460-foot flight.

As Ruth shrugged his shoulders near second base and headed back toward the dugout, he saw Dizzy gaping at him. The Babe gave Dean a playful wink whereupon Dizzy tipped his cap. It was baseball at its best.

By then, of course, Dizzy Dean didn’t have to take a back seat to anyone. Before the 1935 season ended, that reality was more apparent than ever. Even though the Cardinals were not as successful, Dizzy was just as dominant. Logging over 300 innings for the second straight year, the elder Dean won twenty-eight games. Paul also reprised his 1934 success, accumulating nineteen victories for the second consecutive year. Of those combined thirty-eight wins, thirty-five were complete games.

By 1936, Dizzy Dean was a regular part of the Doan baseball school in Hot Springs, appearing annually in February before heading to Bradenton for spring training. Along with the hot baths, Dizzy was fond of playing golf, frequenting the casinos, bowling at the local lanes, and attending the thoroughbred races at Oak Lawn. He was great again that year, winning twenty-four games. However, Daffy’s brief sojourn atop the baseball world ended abruptly. Suffering from a “sore arm,” he won only five games. Sadly for Paul, he would never again be a top caliber Major League pitcher. He would courageously compete as a professional hurler until 1946, finishing his career that year with the Little Rock Travelers.

Contrarily, big brother Jay still had it. Dizzy added twenty-four more wins in 1936, and began the 1937 season as if he would dominate for years to come. Then, athletic tragedy suddenly struck him as well. Facing Earl Averill in the All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. on July 7, Dean suffered a fractured left big toe from an unluckily directed line drive. Just three days before, pitching in an Independence Day double-header in Cincinnati, Dizzy had twirled a brilliant 1-0 shutout against the over-matched Reds. In that moment, Dizzy Dean appeared invincible. Although it was impossible for anyone to have known it at the time, that whitewashing of Cincy would be the last time that Jay Hanna Dean would dominate Major League hitters.

When Dizzy tried to return too quickly from the toe injury, he altered his pitching motion to compensate for the lingering pain. The great Smoky Joe Wood, who also loved coming to Hot Springs, had attempted the same ill-fated strategy upon injuring his ankle and thumb in 1913. Suddenly changing a pitcher’s delicately conditioned pitching mechanics is risky business. It almost never achieves a positive result. That approach had drastically deadened Smoky Joe’s blazing fastball, and wound up doing much the same thing to Dizzy Dean a quarter century later.

When Dean’s toe was injured at that halfway point in that 1937 season, he had accrued a 12 & 7 record, along with a sterling 2.41 ERA. For the remainder of that ’37 campaign, Dizzy would win only one more game. His fastball never returned. Almost unbelievably, Dean would add only sixteen more victories for the rest of his career. Like a meteor, Jay and Paul Dean had burst into the upper firmament of the baseball world, and, almost as quickly, they had faded into athletic mediocrity. That was okay. How many folks can say that they have ever seen life from such rarified heights?

For his part, although never again a genuine star, Dizzy had a few more goosebumps to give. Switching over to the rival Chicago Cubs in 1938, Dean won seven times, including a crucial winning effort on September 27 to help lead the Cubs to the National League pennant. That game tells us a lot about Dizzy Dean, the man. Despite lacking superior physical ability by then, Dizzy stood on the mound in a climate of intense pressure, and prevailed on pure guts and tenacity. Jay Dean talked a lot, even boasting more than most. Yet, he also possessed tremendous grit and toughness. In retrospect, we can safely say that both Deans were men of strong character.

As of 1941, Dizzy was virtually spent. He made a single token appearance for the 1947 St. Louis Browns, but, by then, he was on his way to his second legendary career. Dean became one of baseball’s most beloved broadcasters. Known for his folksy mannerisms and unscripted use of the English language, Dizzy was beloved by countless fans across the land. Often serenading his listeners to renditions of “The Wabash Cannonball,” only the nation’s stuffed shirts (and perhaps a few English teachers) didn’t appreciate Dizzy Dean as a spokesman for the game of baseball.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953, Jay “Dizzy” Dean died in Reno, Nevada in 1974. He is buried in Bond, Mississippi which was the home town of his wife and lifetime companion, Patricia.

As most residents of Hot Springs already know, Paul Dean eventually settled here for two years. He owned and managed the Hot Springs Bathers in 1954. His oldest son, Paul Junior, led the Lakeside High School baseball team to second place in the Arkansas state baseball championship the following year. His youngest son, Sandy, returned to Hot Springs in 1985, and is still living here today. Sandy tells us that his father always considered Hot Springs as his favorite place to live. Paul Dee Dean died in 1981 at Springdale in the northwest corner of the state. He is interred at the Oakland Cemetery in Clarksville with his beloved wife, Dorothy.

No baseball brothers have ever impacted the game as suddenly and pervasively as Jay and Paul Dean. It is true that they didn’t stay long at the top of the competitive mountain, but their impact was immense nonetheless. There are few genuine baseball fans today who do not know their names.

As native-born Arkansans, it seems natural and fitting, therefore, to include them in the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail. Jay and Paul both left significant legacies in the Spa City, and their memories still linger in the hearts of those who feel the pride of their accomplishments.

Bill Jenkinson, Baseball Historian

N.B.-This writing of this article was a collaborative effort. Historians Mark Blaeuer, Michael Dugan, Don Duren, and Tim Reid all made valuable contributions.