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on July 1, 2008
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.