Customer Reviews: The Gashouse Gang: How Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher, Branch Rickey, Pepper Martin, and Their Colorful, Come-from-Behind Ball Club Won the World Series- and America's Heart-During the Great Depression
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on June 6, 2007
Just finished The Gashouse Gang, by John Heidenry, and I'd highly recommend it. I greatly enjoyed this book.

This is a fun, easy book to read that covered the 1934 pennant race and World Series - with Dizzy Dean as the centerpiece of the book.

What makes the book such a joy to read is that the author refrains from going into excruciatingly minute detail of the 1934 baseball season - as many period authors do with a lot of information that you can never hope to retain - but rather presents it all as a interesting backdrop to the improbable cast of characters that made up the Gashouse Gang, including, among many others, the Dean brothers, Leo Durocher, Frankie Frisch, Pepper Martin, Joe "Ducky" Medwick and Rip Collins. He includes just enough relevant detail about the pennant race without the book ever becoming boring and devotes most of his efforts to developing all the zany personalities and all the many interesting baseball interactions and relationships. A lot of space is devoted to Branch Rickey and how he put this team of characters together and actually made it work. There's a lot of "local color" and 1930's "baseball flavor" that I really enjoyed. By the end, you really feel that you know the personalities of this group of talented players and what made the Gashouse Gang click as an exciting, one-of-a-kind championship team.

A lot of the information in the book will be familiar territory to baseball fans, but the author presents it all in such a lighthearted, engaging writing style that it kept me turning the pages. It was one of the few books I've read that I was disappointed when it ended. I've read other books about Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang, but this was easily the most enjoyable. If you want to brush up on this era in baseball history - a time when Dizzy Dean and the St. Louis Cardinals were on top of the baseball world - this is the book for you!
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When I was a boy, I used to watch Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blatner (later, Peewee Reese) on the "Game of the Week" every Saturday afternoon. I remember Ol' Diz driving the English teachers crazy with his fractured English.

The Ol' Diz in Heidenry's book isn't quite so loveable. He went on strike in the middle of the 1934 season, demanding a larger salary for him and his brother Paul; he was a braggart, and he laughed at Hank Greenberg's futility against his pitches in the World Series. I find that last example rather hard to believe since a hitter can always drag bunt and take it out on the pitcher at first base.

The title of Heidenry's book is somewhat misleading. Most of the book is about Dizzy, I would imagine because Heidenry had the most information about him and because Diz was the most colorful of the Gashouse Gang. Heidenry refers to Ducky Medwick as a solitary loaner who picked fights with his fellow Cardinals, but the only evidence he gives us is a fight with Paul Dean that Dean started. The second most talked about player is Leo Durocher. Heidenry details his many marriages, his pool hustling, and his bench jockeying capabilities, but there's not that much detail. Heidenry limits himself, for the most part, to play-by-play, especially in respect to the 1934 World Series. About the most interesting segment was Heidenry's explanation of how the Gashouse Gang got its name. Apparently they were named after a New York street gang from the gashouse district of New York, an especially depressed area of the city. They were generally unshaven and their uniforms were dirty and in need of repair.

We also get a brief look at Dizzy's childhood as a sharecropper and his time spent in the Army, which helped him get onto a semi-pro team, which in turn led to an eventual contract with the Cardinals. Dizzy also had an older brother named Elmer, whom Branch Rickey gave a job as a peanut vender at Sportsman's Park. Dizzy and his wife Pat were embarrassed and demanded an office job for Elmer. Rickey wouldn't relent and Elmer wound up back in Arkansas.

The epilogue also leaves quite a bit to be desired. Heidenry tells us Dizzy only had four good years in the majors because he got hurt, but he doesn't tell us how. Legend has it he was hit in the foot by a come backer, broke his toe, and came back too soon, damaging his arm. Heidenry also leaves out the beaning incident that ruined Ducky Medwick's career. He was able to play but he was never the same player.

If you're a baseball fan, there's enough in THE GASHOUSE GANG to keep you turning pages. There's an occasional tidbit I didn't know, such as the beaning Dizzy took when he tried to take out the second baseman during the World Series. That's where the famous quote, "They ex-rayed my head, but there was nothing there," came from. Heidenry also provides a bibliography that may provide some answers. Try St. Louis sportswriter J. Roy Stockton's THE GASHOUSE GANG AND A COUPLE OF OTHER GUYS. It was published in 1945, and Stockton was actually alive to see the Gashouse Gang play.
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on February 19, 2016
An entertaining read for any baseball fan. It transcends the game, into personalities, business and social conditions, historical context, etc. The players are real human beings, warts and all, not just names on a score card. As Joe Garagiola would say, these guys didn’t run on batteries. Dizzy Dean may have been a 30-game winner but he was really just a big kid at heart. “A great big boy,” said his wife. He did have legitimate grievances, however, as no baseball team today would exploit a pitcher’s arm as the Cardinals did his. He had a right to complain of arm soreness.

This was “the most colorful team in the history of baseball,” says author Heidenry, and he has a point. With Ripper playing first base and Pepper playing third, with “The Lip” at shortstop and “The Flash” at second. With Spud behind the plate and Ducky-Wucky in the outfield, this team had some serious color! The pitching rotation mostly consisted of Dizzy and Daffy, with Tex and Wild Bill thrown in for good measure.

The first chapter is about Branch Rickey, the second is about the Dean Brothers. The rest of the book recaps the 1934 pennant race and World Series, punctuated by amusing anecdotes about the antics of a wild bunch of jokers and alpha males! A fun read for any baseball fan, especially those partial to St. Louis. Includes a photo section, index, and bibliography.
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on December 10, 2013
An enjoyable bit of Americana, this non-fiction book is a period piece of old fashioned sports writing, devoted mainly to the rise of the St. Louis Cardinals, from an impoverished franchise in 1920 to a major baseball dynasty in the 1940s. The book is devoted to the business acumen of Branch Rickey and Sam Breadon, and to the on the field heroics of Rogers Hornsby, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Pepper Martin, Dizzy Dean, Joe Medwick and the arrival of Stan Musial. Much of the book is given to the legend of Dizzy Dean and how it grew, though later authorities insist that J. Roy Stockton, the author, never embellished the story by adding fiction. Stockton wrote under the constraints of an era when the less glamorous side of athletes was little discussed, and he doesn't employ much in the way of conventional statistics to support the narrative, so that the book stands at the opposite extreme from the concerns of modern day sabermetrics disciples. But Stockton had a talent for expressing humor and presenting drama. Additional chapters deal with the rise of Bob Feller, a fascinating story in itself, and the comic opera management of the 1930s Philadelphia Phillies. Other chapters dealing with the supposed superiority of the American League and Jimmy Conzelman, a legendary St. Louis sports figure, may seem more dated, but are not without interest. On the whole, the book is a fine example of the sports journalism of the 1930s and 1940s.
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on April 17, 2014
If you like baseball history and particularly St. Louis Cardinals' history, you will love this book. A very interesting unfolding picture of a group of characters who had a blast playing together as a team. The book does focus upon Dizzy Dean unduly in some ways but his personality predominated the team and you will enjoy the stories about him.
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on May 22, 2009
Heidenry has written an engaging, anecdote-rich history of the 1934 Cardinals, with entertaining focus on the Dean brothers. But the book could have used a decent editor, for there are numerous errors, some of them howlers. Following an early 1919 meeting Branch Rickey was moved to join the army and go to Europe to train troops exposed to poison gas, but came home after the war ended in November 1919. This confusion, putting some of the events a year later than they actually occurred, makes one wonder about the accuracy of other information. Such as writing about 1925 as being in the middle of the Great Depression? The Texas League as Triple-A? Beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1931 World Series v. the Philadelphia A's? Saying the Cardinals finished both 6th and 7th in 1932, just five pages apart? Calling the early 30s a golden age for pitchers, over a decade after the demise of the dead ball era? Crediting an increase in attendance in 1934 and 1935 to night ball, which didn't get its major league start until 1935? Calling Satchel Paige's famous "bat dodger" pitch a "back dodger?" Both baseball history and general history get mangled far too frequently for a serious book.
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on April 1, 2014
It's a real pleasure for us baseball lovers, to read about such extraordinary players of the '30s. It is unbelievable to learn how a pitcher like Dizzy Dean could pitch two games on such a short notice between games. This guy was indeed a superman!
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VINE VOICEon April 13, 2011
Dizzy Dean and Pepper Martin, Ducky Wucky Medwick and Frankie Frisch, are the antics and titanic World Series matchup with Detroit from 1934 are the stuff baseball legends are made of, and this book delivers a decent look back at the 1934 Cardinals. There are lots of interesting stories, most of them having to do with Dizzy Dean and a lot of others having to do with fighting among the players. The author does an OK job with this rich material, and once you get through that long lousy opening chapter about the life of Branch Rickey, the book zips along.

I recommend 'America's Dizzy Dean' before this, but this is a fine addition to a baseball library.
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on September 14, 2007
This book climbs to the top wrung of my baseball ladder. Rather than a statistical or play-by-play book so common in baseball pages, this features personality development of some of the wackiest players of all time. Learn that Ducky Joe should have been Mean Joe, that Leo the Lip couldn't handle relationships, or that Dizzy Dean was really Jerome or Jay or Hanna or Herman, maybe that he was from Arkansas or Oklahoma or Texas -- well, you get it.

This book captures the thrill of a season and the joy of a team effort. It really makes you think of the Oakland Athletics of the Catfish days.

Just one observation: John Heidenry missed the point of the moniker, "Gashouse Gang." He can't figure out where it came from. He even ponders how "Gas Tank" became "Gashouse." During that day, electricity was provided by manufactured gas plants, sometimes called "witch's brew." The main structure was known as the "gashouse." The working class fellows who toiled away in those dirty gashouses were known as "the gashouse gangs." They cursed, they played dirty and hilarious tricks on each other, they had great and sour dispositions -- necessary to get through the tough days, and yes, their clothes were always filthy. Sound like the beloved Gashouse Gang?

Snag this book, and you will enjoy several hours of quiet time, if you can block out your own laughter.
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on May 18, 2007
Author John Heidenry has done a commendable job in providing his readers with an often neglected team in baseball's history. We are given a fairly detailed analysis of the 1934 Cardinals and its roster of colorful characters with an emphasis on Dizzy Dean. Heidenry provides us with the various explanations as to the origin of Dean's various names from Jay Hanna to Jerome Herman. In addition we are provided with a number of various origins of the term Gashouse Gang. It is generally believed to have come from a tough neighborhood in southern Manhattan and first used by writers (Frank Graham)? or players (Durocher)? who would have been familiar with the term as it was used prior to the 1934 Cardinals. Oddly enough the term Gashouse Gang wasn't used until 1935 when the Cardinals lost out in the National League pennant race to the Chicago Cubs. I did find two annoying mistakes in the book. On page 59 the author says "the Cardinals...triumphed over the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series." The correction should read the Philadelphia Athletics who were in the American League. Also, on the last page (291) the author states "The St. Louis Cardinals were the last Major League team to become fully integrated." Tom Alston was the first African American to play with the Cardinals in 1954 while Elijah "Pumpsie" Green became the first African American to integrate the Boston Red Sox in 1959. The Red Sox and not the Cardinals were the last team to integrate. I can understand accidentally substituting Phillies for Athletics on page 59, but not the error on integration on page 291. I also found a poor choice of words on page 234 with "Gehringer dribbled a shot toward first." This certainly sounds contradictory. Finally, in the preface (x) the author states "The story of their achievement has never been fully chronicled until now." However, the much respected St. Louis reporter J. Roy Stockton wrote "The Gashouse Gang and a Couple of Other Guys" in 1945, a book the author uses in his bibliography. I realize I sound awfully critical, but I did enjoy the book and did find it worth my time.
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