In the memories of most baseball followers, Dizzy Dean is as indissolubly linked to the St. Louis Cardinals and their Gashouse Gang as Babe Ruth is to the Yankees and Ty Cobb to the Tigers. But the last game Dean ever pitched in a St. Louis uniform was not for the dashing Cardinals but for the dismal American League Browns. Not surprisingly, it was Dean's egocentric talkativeness that won him this final major league pitching assignment—six years after his formal retirement following his release by the Chicago Cubs.
The knowing still pick up easy dollars in bars by betting the unsuspecting that Dean pitched as late as 1947 for an American League team, for Dizzy's stint for the Browns has been forgotten by most fans. Dizzy, however, has not forgotten it. Neither has Bill DeWitt, now president of the Cincinnati Reds, who was general manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1947. Happy Chandler may or may not have forgotten it, but in 1947 he apparently decided to pretend that it had never happened. As commissioner of baseball at that time, Chandler ordered DeWitt not to go through with his plan to sign Dean to a $1 contract so that he could pitch one game for the Browns.
"Chandler told me it would not be in the best interests of baseball," DeWitt said recently. "I decided it would be in the best interests of the Browns so I decided to go ahead and let Dizzy pitch. I expected Chandler to fine me or show disapproval somehow. But you know, I never heard a word from him about it."
Like so many other years, 1947 had been an unhappy one for the Browns. For most of the season the team rested snugly in last place. Attendance was as languid as the team's won-and-lost record (the Browns drew only 320,474, down 205,961 from 1946).
Dean, then 36, was the Browns' radio play-by-play man. " Bill DeWitt kept telling me to boost the Browns on the air," Dean says. "He told me to emphasize their good plays, but there wasn't many good plays I could emphasize."
Far from boosting the Browns, Dean remorselessly exposed their deficiencies, especially their pitching. Between references to fried chicken, dove shooting, black-eyed peas, country music, hogback and greens, gin rummy and his sponsor's beer, Dean would interpose such comments as: "What's the matter with that guy? Why don't he throw that fast one? Dawg gone, I don't know what this game's acomin' to. I swear I could beat nine out of 10 of the guys that call themselves pitchers nowadays."
By late August most of the Browns' pitchers were too dispirited to resent or to take issue with Dean's comments. But not so their wives, who tuned in his re-creations of road games and most of his live broadcasts of home games. They were not too keen on going to the ball park to witness the humiliation of their husbands. Most of the pitchers' wives began calling both DeWitt and Dean on the phone. "If that big lug thinks he can do any better than my husband, why doesn't he get out there and try?" one wife asked DeWitt.
By mid-September the repeated phone calls gave DeWitt an idea. Why not capitalize on Dean's still notable fame and on the desire of the public to see a braggart humbled? Why not give Dean a chance to prove his boasts? At the same time, it might help the Browns' attendance. And it certainly couldn't hurt that pitching.
On September 17, without consulting Manager Muddy Ruel who was in Boston with the team, DeWitt announced that he had signed Dean to a $1 contract, that he would immediately start getting into shape and would pitch one or two games before the season ended on September 28.
"It's news to me," Ruel tartly told reporters in Boston.