June 23, 1926: Rogers Hornsby tallies his 2,000th hit and slugs key grand slam in Cardinals win

Rogers Hornsby’s 2,000th career hit didn’t just mark a milestone in the slugger’s Hall of Fame career – it helped to served notice that after years of futility, the Cardinals were ready to chase the National League pennant.

Hornsby entered the game with 1,998 hits in a career that began in 1915 when, as a 135-pound, 19-year-old, he made the leap from Class D baseball to the majors. After that rookie campaign, which consisted of just 18 games and 61 plate appearances, Cardinals manager Miller Huggins told Hornsby, “Kid, you’re a little light, but you got the makings. I think I’ll farm you out for a year.”[1]

Somehow, Hornsby misunderstood and thought Huggins was telling him to spend the offseason working at a farm. As a result, Huggins spent that fall and winter at his uncle’s farm in Lockhart, Texas, doing chores, hunting birds, and consuming a diet of steak, fried chicken, and milk.[2]

When Hornsby reported for the 1916 season, he had added about 30 pounds to his physique.[3] In his first full season in St. Louis, he hit .313 with 17 doubles, 15 triples, and six home runs. From 1920 until 1925, he led the league in hitting six consecutive years, including a remarkable 1922 campaign in which he hit 42 homers and drove in 152 runs, and a 1924 campaign in which he batted .424, setting the 20th-century major league record and earning the National League MVP Award.

Despite Hornsby’s success, the Cardinals were largely also-rans in the National League, which was largely dominated by John McGraw’s New York Giants. In 1925, team owner Sam Breadon inserted Hornsby as the team’s new player-manager, allowing Branch Rickey to focus solely on his front-office responsibilities. In 1926, Hornsby’s first full season at the helm, the move began to pay off.

Heading into their June 21-23 series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cardinals were 35-26 and tied with the Pirates for second place, one-half game behind the league-leading Cincinnati Reds. In the first two games of the series, however, the Pirates proved unwilling to welcome the Cardinals to the league’s elite. In the opener, Pittsburgh’s Paul Waner and George Grantham each drove in three runs and Cardinals starter Flint Rhem allowed six runs in the first two innings of a 13-11 loss. The following day, Pirates right-hander Lee Meadows improved to 8-0 on the season, holding St. Louis to just one run on six hits. As a result, the Cardinals entered the series finale 2 ½ games behind Cincinnati and two games behind Pittsburgh.

To avoid a sweep, Hornsby called on Jesse Haines, a knuckleballer who had won 49 games for the Cardinals between 1921 and 1923 but gone just 21-33 in the two years since. In 1926, however, Haines was regaining feel for his knuckleball and benefiting from the development of a slow ball, or change-up.

Haines retired all three batters he faced in the first before the Cardinals threatened with two outs, as Hornsby singled and Jim Bottomley doubled. Pirates left-hander Don Songer escaped the jam, however, getting Billy Southworth to hit a ground ball back to him for the final out.

After Grantham hit an RBI double to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the second, the Cardinals responded two innings later. Hornsby wasted no time in collecting his 2,000th career hit, leading off with an infield single to Pirates third baseman Eddie Moore. At age 30, Hornsby had become the first Cardinals player to reach the 2,000-hit milestone.

An error by Pirates shortstop Glenn Wright allowed Southworth to reach base, and with two outs, Songer walked Bob O’Farrell. With the bases loaded, Cardinals shortstop Tommy Thevenow singled into left, scoring Hornsby and Southworth to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead.

In the seventh, Haines started another Cardinals rally with a one-out single to center field. Songer, who only walked three in the game, allowed back-to-back passes to Ray Blades and Taylor Douthit to load the bases for Hornsby. As St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter J. Roy Stockton described it in the next day’s newspaper, “Stupid. Asinine. Fatal.”[4] Hornsby blasted a grand slam to left field that made the score 6-1.

The Pirates would add one more run in the top of the eighth when Wright tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Eddie Moore.

Despite walking six, Haines held the Pirates to five hits in the complete-game win, improving to 4-1 on the season and lowering his season ERA to 1.92.

“Hornsby has instilled confidence in his young machine, and let me tell you that is more than half the battle,” said Bill McKechnie, the former Cardinals manager now running the Pirates. “The Cardinals swept through the east with 11 victories and one defeat and we thought we had them on the run with our two victories, but the way they fought back yesterday and beat us proves to me that is the club that must be feared.”[5]

The June 23 win didn’t prove an immediate turning point for St. Louis. After winning two games against the Cubs, the Cardinals lost eight of their next 10. By July 6, St. Louis was six games back of the league lead.

In August, however, the team made its push, eventually capturing the National League pennant over the Reds by two games. The Cardinals went on to beat the Yankees in the 1926 World Series, four games to three.

Despite the World Series victory, Hornsby had clashed with Breadon regarding the late-season exhibitions that were mixed into the regular-season schedule and he was traded to the Giants for Frankie Frisch during the offseason. Hornsby would last just one season in New York before going on to play for the Boston Braves, Cubs, and St. Louis Browns. At age 37, he briefly returned to the Cardinals, though by that time he was primarily a pinch hitter. He finished his career with 2,930 hits.

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[1] Charles C. Alexander (2013), Rogers Hornsby, Holt Paperbacks, New York City: Page 26 (Kindle Edition).

[2] Charles C. Alexander (2013), Rogers Hornsby, Holt Paperbacks, New York City: Page 27 (Kindle Edition).

[3] Charles C. Alexander (2013), Rogers Hornsby, Holt Paperbacks, New York City: Page 29 (Kindle Edition).

[4] J. Roy Stockton, “Thevenow, Haines and Hornsby heroes as Cards start big push,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 24, 1926: Page 31.

[5] “Cardinals rated flag possibility by M’Kechnie,” Pittsburgh Press, June 24, 1926: Page 30.

What I’m Reading: Rogers Hornsby by Charles C. Alexander

In a lot of ways, Rogers Hornsby is the greatest St. Louis Cardinal that no one ever talks about.

This is partly because the high point of his career with the Cardinals came in 1926, almost 100 years and 10 world championships ago. It’s also, at least partially, because Rogers Hornsby didn’t have the type of personality that endears one to fans or teammates. When you consider the beloved Cardinals of yesteryear – men such as Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Stan Musial – we love them just as much for their force of personality as for their on-field accomplishments.

With Rogers Hornsby: A Biography, Charles C. Alexander paints a well-researched picture of Hornsby’s life and personality. Famously dedicated to his craft, Hornsby refused to smoke or drink for fear of their impact on his game. He was highly protective of his eyesight and cautioned his fellow players not to watch movies or read for fear that they would harm his eyesight.

He also had an abrupt personality and in many cases destroyed relationships with others throughout the sport because he was unwilling to compromise or consider the perspectives of others. In addition to being inflexible, he never hesitated to criticize others, whether they were team owners, teammates, or players he was managing. As a result, as he aged and was unable to continue as an everyday player, he often outstayed his welcome with teams after just a year or two. In other cases, such as his tenures with the Cubs and Browns, the passing of the team owner changed the direction of his baseball life and left him looking for a new job.

Ironically, considering his single-minded focus on baseball, Hornsby’s career also was harmed by his passion for gambling on horse racing. In the wake of the Black Sox scandal in 1918, the baseball establishment wanted to stay as far from the gambling world as possible, but the National League’s biggest star unapologetically refused to stop. As Hornsby gambled away tens of thousands of dollars at the track and was sued for a failure to pay his gambling debts, the negatively publicity contributed his struggles to maintain employment as a major league manager.

All that being said, no one could take away from Hornsby’s talents at the plate, or the fact that after taking the manager’s position from Branch Rickey, he guided the Cardinals to their first World Series championship in 1926. A seven-time batting champion, Hornsby earned his moniker as the best right-handed hitter in baseball.

Alexander covers all of these items in his meticulous biography. This is a book that documents Hornsby’s many accomplishments, but isn’t afraid to point out his flaws. Along the way, highlighting both the good and the bad, it re-introduces readers to the Cardinals’ first true superstar.

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George “Specs” Toporcer

George “Specs” Toporcer played eight seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1921-28, helping the franchise capture its first World Series championship in 1926 and becoming the first major league infielder to wear glasses in a game. A talented utility infielder and pinch hitter, Specs Toporcer served as the backup second baseman to two future Hall of Famers in Rogers Hornsby and Frankie Frisch.

Toporcer was born in the Yorkville section of New York City on February 9, 1899, where he and actor James Cagney played sandlot ball as boys. As Toporcer described it, “The kids in that area weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths and you had to be able to take it as well as dish it out. Street fights and gang wars were common occurrences, (and) playgrounds and recreational facilities few and far between.”[1]

As a 13-year-old, Toporcer worked in the back room of a saloon, posting major league scores on a huge blackboard. During the World Series, he read the action out to a small crowd directly from the ticker tape. For these duties, he was paid 50 cents per week and all the liverwurst and crackers he could eat.[2]

Toporcer’s father had invented a spring arch support but had failed to make it a successful business. When his father passed away, one of Toporcer’s brothers inherited the company and Toporcer went to work for him, putting away his dream of becoming the first in his family to attend high school. Admittedly, Toporcer’s primary attraction to high school was the thought of playing sports, particularly baseball.[3]

Fortunately, Toporcer’s brother was an easygoing boss, granting him time off to attend New York Giants games and to practice baseball. Toporcer organized a local team, and his mother collected enough soap wrappers to get him his own glove from the soap company.[4] Toporcer played well enough to be invited to join the East New York semi-pro club in Brooklyn, where he led the club with a .421 batting average.[5]

Toporcer and East New York couldn’t agree on a salary the following season (they offered $400 and he asked for $650), so instead he played for another Brooklyn team, St. Agatha, while also playing for the meat packing company Wilson & Co. That June, Ernie Landgraf, owner of the Syracuse team in the International League, invited Toporcer to try out. However, when Toporcer arrived, he was informed that St. Agatha had heard about it and would cause trouble if Toporcer left to play for Syracuse.

As Toporcer described it in 1952, “what seemed a bad break turned out to be a blessing in disguise.” Unbeknownst to Toporcer, his mother had fallen seriously ill. Instead of playing baseball that summer, he stayed by her side until she passed away a month later. “It has always been a source of great satisfaction to me that I did not leave but was with her when the end came,” he later wrote.[6]

In 1920, Toporcer decided not to return to St. Agatha. Instead, he played for the Orange A.A. team of Orange, N.J. At an exhibition game in Newark, Landgraf again approached Toporcer and soon signed him. Shortly thereafter, Landgraf signed an agreement between his Syracuse club and the Cardinals, and Toporcer, still fresh from the New Jersey sandlots, was invited to the Cardinals’ training camp.

On his first day in camp, Toporcer met Cardinals star Rogers Hornsby, who by that time already had established himself as the National League’s premier hitter. Though Hornsby had a reputation for keeping to himself, Toporcer said that Hornsby took him under his wing.

“To have this great star single me out was a great thrill and I was always grateful for this gesture on his part,” Toporcer wrote.[7]

Third baseman Milton Stock held out during spring training, allowing Hornsby to move to third base during the Cardinals’ preseason schedule, but Stock returned for the Cardinals’ opener. To keep Toporcer in the lineup, Hornsby moved to left field and Toporcer started at second.

On April 13, 1921, Toporcer appeared in the Cardinals’ season opener against the Chicago Cubs, making him one of the few to jump directly from sandlot baseball to major league baseball without first playing college or minor-league baseball. Though the Cardinals lost, 5-2, Toporcer went 1-for-3, becoming the first major league infielder to play with glasses.

Toporcer’s appearance with the Cardinals shattered a longstanding baseball norm. As author John J. Ward wrote in the October 1924 issue of Baseball Magazine, “To be sure, eyeglasses had long been recognized as a useful invention. They had their place in the home, in the office, in various occupations. But on the ball field they were impossible.”

In the same article, Toporcer explained, “Eyeglasses have to be cleaned fairly often, particularly on a hot day. But handkerchiefs are cheap and easily obtained. Really, I can see no excuse for the prejudice against eyeglassed ball players and wouldn’t be in the least surprised to see many players wearing glasses in the next few years.”[8]

The experiment to move Hornsby into the outfield lasted just a few games. By the end of July, Toporcer was batting .264 in just 53 at-bats and was optioned to Syracuse. His stay there lasted just 21 games – during which time he batted .338. When he returned to the Cardinals to end the season, he assumed the utility role he would fill for bulk of his career.

In 1922, Toporcer played in a career-high 116 games, including 91 at shortstop. In 392 plate appearances, he hit a career-high .324 with 25 doubles, six triples, three homers, and 36 RBIs. Though his average dropped to .254 in 1923, Toporcer eclipsed .300 again in 1924, batting .313 in 216 plate appearances in 1924.

In 1926, with Tommy Thevenow installed at shortstop, Toporcer appeared in 64 games as a utility infielder and pinch hitter. Though Toporcer’s batting average dipped to .250, he led the National League with a .409 batting average as a pinch hitter.

In the Cardinals’ pennant-clinching win over the New York Giants on September 24, Toporcer pinch-hit for pitcher Flint Rhem in the top of the second. With runners on second and third, Toporcer hit a line drive double that tied the score, 3-3, then scored on a two-out home run by Billy Southworth that gave the Cardinals the lead for good.

Despite a relatively down year for Hornsby, who needed a badly infected carbuncle removed from his thigh in late June, the Cardinals won the franchise’s first world championship, defeating Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the New York Yankees in a seven-game World Series. Toporcer’s only appearance came in Game 4, when he entered as a pinch hitter for Rhem in the fourth inning. Thevenow had just hit an RBI double to cut the Yankees’ lead to 3-2. With Thevenow on second and Bob O’Farrell on third, Toporcer hit a sacrifice fly to center field to tie the game. The Yankees went on to win the game 10-5, powered by three Ruth home runs.

After the 1926 season, the Cardinals traded Hornsby to the Giants for Frankie Frisch, another future Hall of Fame second baseman. As a result, Toporcer remained a utility player and one of the league’s top pinch hitters throughout his Cardinals career.

“I have always felt that my major league playing career would have been much longer had I been fortunate enough to be with a club with which I could have had a chance to play second regularly,” Toporcer wrote, pointing to his two seasons with batting averages above .300. “I grew sulky at times, though always giving my best. My feeling of disappointment was heightened by the knowledge that several other clubs in the league, notably Brooklyn, Boston, and Philadelphia, were interested in acquiring me.”[9]

In June 1928, Toporcer was with the team in Boston when he received a telegram from Branch Rickey informing him that he had been optioned to the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. Toporcer returned to his hotel room and spent an hour alone, absorbing the news. With the realization that he would get regular playing time after years of part-time play had eroded his batting skills, Toporcer emerged “almost cheerful.”[10]

After 546 games, Toporcer’s major league career ended with a .279 career batting average and .347 on-base percentage. Never much of a power hitter, he totaled nine home runs, 151 RBIs, and 22 stolen bases over eight seasons. In 1975, St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg asked Toporcer what he would do differently if he had to do it all over again.

“I’d ask only for a stronger arm so I could have played shortstop better, because then I think I might have had a long major league career,” he said. “But I didn’t have a shortstop’s arm, and I lost out at second base to two great ones, Hornsby and Frisch.”[11]

Toporcer’s minor league career was longer than his time with the Cardinals. Under Southworth’s leadership as player-manager, and with Toporcer teaming with shortstop prospect Charlie Gelbert at the keystone, the Red Wings won the 1928 Independent League pennant, the first of four consecutive titles. In 1929, Toporcer teamed with first baseman Rip Collins, shortstop Heinie Sand, and third baseman Joe Brown to set a record with 223 double plays. Toporcer was named the league MVP in 1929 and 1930, and in 1931 became a player-manager for Jersey City. Due to financial problems, however, the team sold his contract back to Rochester in mid-season.

In 1932, with Southworth headed to manage the Cardinals’ Columbus affiliate, Toporcer was named Rochester’s manager. Toporcer managed the club through 1934, serving as manager to future Hall of Famer Johnny Mize in 1933. In 1935, he left the Cardinals organization and continued his playing and managing career with the Red Sox affiliates in Syracuse; Rocky Mount, North Carolina; and Hazleton, Pennsylvania; and the Pirates’ affiliate in Albany, New York, where he served as Ralph Kiner’s first manager.

Toporcer served as the Red Sox farm director for five years, beginning in 1943, then spent two years as field director for the White Sox. In 1945, Toporcer suffered the deepest tragedy of his life when his son Bob, who was himself an outstanding athlete at Rochester Prep, passed away from cancer at age 16.[12]

Two years later, Toporcer began to experience blurry vision in his left eye. He was diagnosed with a detached retina, and after two unsuccessful surgeries, he lost vision in the eye in 1948.

In 1951, Toporcer felt the itch to manage again and took a job with Buffalo of the Independent League. The 1952 season proved to be his last in professional baseball, as his right eye began to experience the same symptoms he experienced in his left four years earlier. Despite three operations to attempt to address the issue, Toporcer was left completely blind.

With the assistance of his wife Mabel, Toporcer became an ambassador for the sport, accepting public speaking opportunities across the country and publishing From Backlots to Big Leagues, a book that blended autobiographical details and baseball instruction. In the years to come, Toporcer was inducted into the International League and Rochester Sports halls of fame, and was named Bluebook Magazine’s first Man of the Year Award winner in 1953.

Gabe Paul, general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, said that Toporcer deserved to one of baseball’s most celebrated stars, noting that he “overcame more handicaps – poor eyesight, a frail body, and other things – than any other major league player in baseball history.

“The others were endowed with that tremendous natural ability and didn’t have to work like Toporcer did. Yet, he became a major league star and today, speaking strictly on his record, he must be rated as the greatest second baseman in International League history.”[13]

At the Boston Writers’ Dinner in 1952, Toporcer expressed appreciation for the opportunities baseball had given him.

“I feel I’ve been pretty fortunate because I made good in a modest way,” he said. “I was a skinny kid with glasses and made the major leagues.”[14]

On May 17, 1989, Toporcer passed away at age 90 after falling down a basement staircase at his home in Huntington Station, New York. His wife, Madeline; brother, William; and five grandchildren survived him.[15]

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[1] George (Specs) Toporcer, “Toporcer, Blind, Tells of Struggles,” The Sporting News, February 27, 1952: Page 3.

[2] George (Specs) Toporcer, “Toporcer, Blind, Tells of Struggles,” The Sporting News, February 27, 1952: Page 3.

[3] George (Specs) Toporcer, “Toporcer, Blind, Tells of Struggles,” The Sporting News, February 27, 1952: Page 3.

[4] George (Specs) Toporcer, “Toporcer, Blind, Tells of Struggles,” The Sporting News, February 27, 1952: Page 3.

[5] George (Specs) Toporcer, “Toporcer, Blind, Tells of Struggles,” The Sporting News, February 27, 1952: Page 3.

[6] George (Specs) Toporcer, “Toporcer, Blind, Tells of Struggles,” The Sporting News, February 27, 1952: Page 4.

[7] George (Specs) Toporcer, “Sandlotter Specs’ Leap to Majors,” The Sporting News, March 5, 1952: Page 11.

[8] John J. Ward, “Why Shouldn’t Ball Players Wear Glasses,” Baseball Magazine, October 1952.

[9] George (Specs) Toporcer, “Sandlotter Specs’ Leap to Majors,” The Sporting News, March 5, 1952: Page 12.

[10] George (Specs) Toporcer, “From Star to Pilot … Lights Out,” The Sporting News, March 12, 1952: Page 15.

[11] Bob Broeg, “Toporcer Is a Sharp Observer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 29, 1975.

[12] Hap Glaudi, “He Lost His Son, His Sight; But He Lost Not His God,” New Orleans Item, February 14, 1952, Page 22.

[13] “Specs must be ranked with baseball’s greats, Cincy boss says here,” Buffalo Evening News, June 24, 1952.

[14] Bob Ajemian, “Toporcer Gets Big Hand at Boston Writers’ Dinner,” The Sporting News, February 13, 1952: Page 17.

[15] “Ex-Card ‘Specs’ Toporcer Dies,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 19 May 1989: Page C5.

What I’m Reading: “The Cardinals and Yankees, 1926” by Paul E. Doutrich

In The Cardinals and Yankees, 1926: A Classic Season and St. Louis in Seven, Paul E. Doutrich tells the stories of the American and National League pennant winners in the titular season.

The two teams provide practically a who’s who of 1920s baseball, from New York’s Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Bob Meusel to St. Louis’s Branch Rickey, Rogers Hornsby, Jim Bottomley, Jesse Haines, and Pete Alexander. There’s a lot to enjoy about this period in baseball history, and Doutrich introduces readers to a slew of colorful personalities, contrasting the New York Yankees, who already had appeared in three World Series and won one that decade, and the St. Louis Cardinals, who were making their franchise’s first appearance in the fall classic.

Doutrich also contrasts the teams’ seasons, in which the Yankees jumped out to a fast start and then held off the Cleveland Indians, while the Cardinals started slowly and only captured the pennant after a late season surge.

Throughout the book, Doutrich bounces between the two teams, covering a month or so at a time before returning to the other. There are a lot of game recaps, and while Doutrich takes the time to introduce the key characters, it can get dry at times as he recounts midseason series and dives into the box scores. I think the book may have been more entertaining had he focused on a single team and dove deeper into the players and their personalities, but it’s hard to criticize the book for detailing both teams’ path to the World Series.

For Cardinals fans, this is an often overlooked period in franchise history. In Hornsby, the Cardinals were managed by one of the greatest players in franchise history, though injuries prevented him from playing to his full abilities in 1926. With Rickey’s farm system beginning to pay dividends, 1926 marked the beginning of a run of success for the Cardinals that culminated in the beloved 1934 Gashouse Gang. While the squad’s fame hasn’t endured in quite the same manner, there’s a lot to be said for the Cardinals’ first World Series champions, and this book does a good job of introducing readers to the team and the foundation they laid for the franchise’s success.

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September 28, 1930: Dizzy Dean makes his major-league debut

With the National League championship wrapped up and a berth to the World Series guaranteed, the St. Louis Cardinals used their 1930 regular-season finale to get their first glimpse of  20-year-old Jay Hanna Dean – more commonly known as Dizzy Dean.

One year prior, Dean had been pitching while stationed with the U.S. Army at Fort Sam Houston outside San Antonio. There, he was discovered by a bird-dog scout and signed by the Cardinals. In his first season in Branch Rickey’s farm system, the Cardinals sent him to the St. Joseph (Mo.) Saints in the Class A Western League.

In his first year in organized baseball, Dean went 17-8 with a 3.69 ERA over 217 innings. With the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League vying for a pennant, the Cardinals sent Dean there, where he went 8-2 with a 2.86 ERA in 85 innings. Cardinals manager Gabby Street called Dean “the nearest thing to Walter Johnson I ever saw,”[1] and in September, the Cardinals called him up to St. Louis, where the team was in the midst of a pennant race with the Chicago Cubs.

With a 10-5 victory over the Pirates on September 26, the Cardinals clinched the National League title. Two days later, on September 28, Dean took the mound for the Cardinals’ regular-season finale. In the words of St. Louis Star and Times reporter Walter W. Smith, “this unseasoned rookie startled the baseball world with a spectacular three-hit shutout of the Pirates.”[2]

Smith described Dean as “a tall, gangling youth, with huge hands that dangle from grotesquely long arms,” and indicated that his nickname came as a result of his unusual windup, one of several stories that circulated over the course of Dean’s career. “Ready to deliver a pitch, he whirls his right arm around his head like the lash of a whip, then throws with a sweeping sidearm motion, baffling to the batter and amusing to the crowd.”[3]

Before the game, Dean lost his shoes and was forced to borrow a pair from fellow pitcher Burleigh Grimes. Perhaps this briefly affected his performance, or maybe he simply was nervous about pitching in front of an estimated 22,000 fans for the first time, but Dean struggled in the first inning.

He walked Pirates leadoff hitter Gus Dugas to lead off the game, then got center fielder Paul Waner to ground out to second base. Dean issued his second walk of the inning to George Grantham before cleanup hitter Pie Traynor followed with an RBI single.

Pittsburgh’s Adam Comorosky struck a ground ball that Cardinals third baseman Sparky Adams fielded cleanly and threw home to catcher Earl Smith, who tagged Grantham for the second out of the inning. Pirates first baseman Gus Suhr ended the inning when he lined out to Jim Bottomley at first base.

If Dean was nervous in his first inning of major league action, he settled down in the second and third innings, retiring all six Pirates in order.

“Dizzy and me were sitting side by side on the bench,” Grimes said. “He was as unconcerned as if he was tossing rocks at a mud turtle in the Meremac River.”[4]

In the bottom of the third, the Cardinals took the lead for their rookie pitcher. Pirates pitcher Larry French retired Earl Smith before Charlie Gelbert singled into center field. Dean, who had hit .279 for St. Joseph that season, followed with a single into right.

With runners on first and second, Cardinals leadoff hitter Taylor Douthit doubled into right, scoring Gelbert and bringing Dean to third. With one out, Sparky Adams hit a ground ball to second base that appeared primed to become the second out, but Dean started for the plate, drawing the throw home as he retreated to third base. With Adams safe at first, third baseman Andy High followed with an RBI groundout that scored Dean and gave the Cardinals the lead.

Three innings later, Chick Hafey added a sacrifice fly to give St. Louis a 3-1 lead. That would prove more than enough run support for Dean.

Dean allowed a single to Traynor to lead off the fourth inning, then retired the next 11 batters he faced. In the seventh, Pirates shortstop Ben Sankey hit a two-run single, and in the eighth Waner drew a walk. They proved the final baserunners the Pirates managed, as Dean retired the side in order in the ninth, striking out Suhr to cap off his first career victory.

“The youngster showed a burning speed, a wide, sweeping curve, a clever change of pace and, best of all, unusual control for a rookie,” Smith wrote in assessing Dean’s debut in the St. Louis Star and Times.

In the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Martin J. Haley wrote that Dean “was pitching as if a veteran campaigner. Besides poise, he had tremendous speed, a fast curve and, lo and behold for a youngster, a change of pace which he employed smartly.”[5]

With the win, St. Louis finished the regular season with a 92-62 record, two games ahead of the Cubs. Facing a Philadelphia Athletics team led by Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, and Mickey Cochrane, the Cardinals fell to the defending World Series champions in six games.

“Dean’s brilliant performance made one thing certain,” Smith wrote. “The Cardinals must give him a chance to prove his caliber next spring. He is not on the list of players eligible for the World Series, and sound baseball strategy would not permit the use of a raw recruit even if he were, but he cannot be denied a fair chance next year.”[6]

Despite Smith’s prediction, Dean spent the 1931 season with the Cardinals’ Class A affiliate in Houston, possibly as punishment as punishment for Dean’s habit of charging purchases totaling more than $2,700 to the ballclub.

In Houston, Dean went 26-10 with a 1.57 ERA over 304 innings. Finally, in 1932, the Cardinals could no longer afford to keep Dean in the minors. In his rookie campaign, he led the National League in innings pitched (286), shutouts (four), and strikeouts (191). Dean would lead the league in strikeouts in each of the next three seasons.

In 1933, Dean won 20 games in the first of four consecutive seasons in which he would reach that milestone. The following year, he would lead the Gashouse Gang to the 1934 World Series championship, going 30-7 en route to the National League MVP Award. Since Dean’s 1934 campaign, no major league pitcher has won 30 games in a single season.

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[1] Walter W. Smith, “‘Dizzy’ Dean stars as cards finish 1930 season here,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 29, 1930: Page 14.

[2] Walter W. Smith, “‘Dizzy’ Dean stars as cards finish 1930 season here,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 29, 1930: Page 14.

[3] Walter W. Smith, “‘Dizzy’ Dean stars as cards finish 1930 season here,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 29, 1930: Page 14.

[4] Robert Gregory, Diz: The Story of Dizzy Dean and Baseball During the Great Depression (New York: Viking, 1992), 50.

[5] Martin J. Haley, “Rookie Dean stops Bucs with 3 hits, Birds win, 3-1,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 29, 1930: Page 1.

[6] Walter W. Smith, “‘Dizzy’ Dean stars as cards finish 1930 season here,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 29, 1930: Page 14.