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The batter swung viciously, topping the ball a little and driving it back at the pitcher in a heartbeat of time, and the ball bounced off the big guy's toe and caromed crazily toward second base. Billy Herman grabbed it and threw to first base and the American League's Earl Averill was out, and the big pitcher was sitting on the ground both hands cradling a shoe full of pain.
That was 19 years ago, at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., where another All-Star Game was held last week, and the big pitcher sitting on the ground nursing a broken toe was Dizzy Dean. The pitch he threw Averill was the last he was ever to throw with that easy, whiplash motion.
Dean was in his sixth year in the majors and he was 13-1 going into that Ail-Star Game. In the years just before, he had won 30, 28 and 24 games for the St. Louis Cardinals: he was 26 years old and just moving into the summer of what might have been the greatest pitching career of all time.
"I didn't want to go to that All-Star Game," Diz said the other day. "I had gone to St. Louis and figured on gettin' a few days' rest and Mr. Sam Breaden talked me into goin' on to Washinton. I never did think much of All-Star Games, an' I played in four of them."
Averill was the third out in the third inning of the 1937 Ail-Star Game, and Diz had finished his three-inning stint. He had finished a great career, too, but he didn't know it.
"I figured I was hurt," Diz said. "I got kinda sick at the stomach the way you get when somethin' hurts real bad, but I had my spikes laced real tight an' I didn't know how bad hurt I was until I took off the spikes in the clubhouse an' the toe started throbbin'. By the time we got on the train it had turned black and was all swole up and X-rays showed it was busted."
Diz rested 10 days before he tried to pitch again.
"I was headed for my greatest year," he said. "I won my 13th game on the Fourth of July and I was feelin' great. I was just 26 an' I had the best years of my pitchin' ahead. Way I figure, a pitcher's best years in the majors is from 26 to 32 and I was just gettin' into mine. Well, I tried to pitch in Boston against the Braves 10 days after the All-Star Game, wearin' a sprint on my left big toe. I couldn't step natural and I was off balance, an' that's when I ruined my arm for good. Never won another game that year and I didn't win too many from then on."
Dean had won 133 games before the accident to his toe. He won 16 after. Diz brooded a minute, thinking.
"Take Mickey Mantle," he said. "Why, he was crazy to play in that game. He could've wrecked that knee an' for what? A $200 pension a month. He needs rest more than anything. Me, I wasn't eligible for the pension when I got hurt. Not that I need it. But all I got out of the All-Star Game was the end of my pitchin' career just when I was goin' best.