Dizzy Dean always could talk a good game, so given the choice of being a coach or a broadcaster, the former Cardinals ace grabbed the microphone.
Eighty years ago, on July 7, 1941, Dean quit as Cubs coach and signed a three-year deal with Falstaff Brewing to call Cardinals and Browns home games on St. Louis radio station KWK.
“I can make enough in radio in three years to put me on easy street,” Dean told The Sporting News. “There is no future coaching in baseball.”
Dean made a dazzling debut in the majors with the Cardinals in 1930 and went on to become one of the game’s best and most popular players. He led National League pitchers in strikeouts four times and had 30 wins for the 1934 Cardinals, plus two more in the World Series.
“When the Cubs purchased Dean, they said they made the move with their eyes wide open,” The Sporting News noted. “They knew his arm was bad, but were confident that proper treatment would take care of everything. It didn’t.”
Dean was 7-1 in 1938 for the National League champion Cubs and 6-4 in 1939, but his arm ached and his availability was limited.
In June 1940, with his ERA for the season at 6.18, Dean, 30, accepted a demotion to the Cubs’ Tulsa farm club.
“Diz is supposed to have made the suggestion,” The Sporting News reported. “He told club officials he wanted to develop a new sidearm delivery.”
The Cubs assigned scout Dutch Ruether, a former big-league pitcher, to work with Dean at Tulsa. “It will be Ruether’s job to keep an eye on Dean’s conduct and assist him in his professed aim to master the sidearm delivery,” The Sporting News reported.
Dean returned to the Cubs in September but “still had the nothing ball,” according to the Chicago Tribune. He was 3-3 with a 5.17 ERA for the 1940 Cubs. All three losses were to the Cardinals.
Dean, whose top salary as a player was $25,000 in 1935 with the Cardinals, signed with the Cubs for $10,000 in 1941, according to The Sporting News.
Cubs manager Jimmie Wilson, a former catcher who was Dean’s teammate with the Cardinals, endorsed the signing, saying Dean provided the club with “color and pep.” Wilson indicated he’d start Dean against second-division opponents. “Whatever he wins is gravy,” Wilson told The Sporting News.
On April 25, 1941, Dean started against the Pirates, pitched an inning and gave up three runs. Boxscore
“The arm simply went dead and the best doctors in the country couldn’t fix me up,” Dean told the St. Louis Star-Times.
Dean, 31, wrote a letter to Cubs general manager Jim Gallagher, asking to be placed on the voluntary retirement list.
“I have tried everything I know about to get my arm in shape, and this is a step I deeply regret having to take,” Dean wrote. “I sincerely and gratefully appreciate the many kindnesses the club have extended me. I only hope some day, some way, I may be able to repay in part, at least, the debt I owe it.”
On May 14, 1941, the Cubs gave Dean his unconditional release and then signed him to be a coach.
“Dean’s wife had urged him to retire for several weeks before he took the step that made him a coach,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
According to The Sporting News, “Arrangements were made for the remainder of his season’s salary to go into an annuity and a new salary was agreed for the coaching job.”
Follow the money
Dean’s coaching role primarily was to “pitch batting practice and lead cheers in the dugout,” the Chicago Tribune noted.
After a couple of weeks, The Sporting News declared, “Dean is taking his new job as coach as seriously as Diz could be expected to take anything.”
On June 6, 1941, Dean was ejected from a game at Brooklyn for arguing that Dodgers batter Billy Herman interfered with a throw from catcher Clyde McCullough. After being tossed, Dean headed for the clubhouse but returned and had to be chased a second time, The Sporting News reported. League president Ford Frick punished Dean with a $50 fine and five-day suspension. Boxscore
Three weeks later, Cubs first-base coach Charlie Grimm resigned to become manager of a farm team in Milwaukee and Dean replaced him.
Dean was the first-base coach for two weeks before he, too, resigned to accept the offer to become a broadcaster in St. Louis.
According to The Sporting News, Dean would be paid $5,000 to broadcast for the remainder of the 1941 season and $10,000 per season for the next two years.
“I only hope I’m as great an announcer as I was a pitcher,” Dean said to national columnist Walter Winchell.
Meet me in St. Louis
After attending the 1941 All-Star Game in Detroit, Dean boarded a train to St. Louis to begin his broadcasting job. When he arrived at Union Station at 8 a.m. on July 9, he was greeted by a band playing and a welcoming committee of about 300 people, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.
Arriving on the train with Dean was Joe DiMaggio, who played in the All-Star Game and was joining the Yankees in St. Louis for a series with the Browns.
According to the St. Louis Star-Times, “A parade was formed and Dizzy was taken to the Park Plaza hotel for a breakfast reception. DiMaggio joined in the festivities.”
Dean’s first broadcast on KWK was the July 10 game between the Yankees and Browns at Sportsman’s Park. He joined sportscasters Johnny O’Hara and Johnny Neblett in describing the 1-0 Yankees victory. The game was called after five innings because of rain, but DiMaggio got a single in the first, extending his record hitting streak to 49 games. Boxscore
Dean was an immediate hit that summer. The Sporting News credited him with attracting “many new listeners because of his conversational style.”
Some examples of Dean’s style:
_ On the inability of Red Sox pitcher Mickey Harris to throw strikes: “A pitcher can’t pitch that way in the majors, or in the minors either, and parade up to the cashiers window every first and fifteenth.”
_ On Red Sox slugger Ted Williams: “I don’t know if Ted’s got a nickname, but I’m going to give him one: Goose. That’s what he looks like to me _ tall, skinny, loose-jointed.”
_ On batters who complain about an umpire’s strike zone: “It just don’t do you any good to think when you’re up there hitting that the ump has given you a bum call. The ump does his thinking first and that settles it all.”
Dean went on to have a long career in broadcasting, including national telecasts for ABC and CBS.