What I’m Reading: “Dizzy and the Gashouse Gang” by Doug Feldmann

Doug Feldmann has become one of my favorite sources for well-researched books about the most fascinating teams in Cardinals history, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed his 2000 book, Dizzy and the Gashouse Gang, about the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals.

This particular team provides plenty of fodder for a writer like Feldmann, and he does a great job of describing the near-constant antics of this colorful team. In the opening chapters, he provides background of the Cardinals’ history to that point, including their difficulties prior to the arrival of Branch Rickey.

In subsequent chapters, before diving into the ups and downs of the 1934 season, Feldmann introduces the key personalities, including Rickey, owner Sam Breadon, Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick, Pepper Martin, Leo Durocher, and, of course, Dizzy Dean and Paul Dean.

Given Rickey’s reputation as a religious man (so much so that he refused to manage games on Sundays), it is perhaps surprising that the team he put together in 1934 was as irascible a collection of players as has ever been assembled. Among the stories Feldmann shares:

  • a pregame fight between Medwick and pitcher Tex Carleton that ended with Carleton laying on the ground in a heap. “Hey Frankie,” Durocher shouted to the manager. “You’d better find another starting pitcher for the game today, because right now we don’t have one.”
  • a 1935 confrontation in the dugout in which Medwick grabbed a bat and was ready to fight both Dean brothers: “Keep on a-comin’, brothers Dean – I’ll separate ya real good,” he promised.
  • Martin’s penchant for throwing water balloons from hotel windows onto passersby on the street blow.
  • The night Martin, Medwick, and Dizzy Dean intruded on a hotel banquet for a boys’ club pretending to be repairmen. Interrupting the speaker as they busted a wall with a sledgehammer, cut up the carpet, and bumped into guests with a stepladder, Dizzy finally was recognized by the boys, who had the time of their lives meeting the Cardinals’ stars. Nonetheless, the team was kicked out of yet another hotel.

Of course, any book about the Gashouse Gang comes to center largely around Dizzy Dean. Feldmann shares a story from Dean’s first major-league game, which happened to be attended by St. Louis mayor Victor Miller. As Gabby Street warned the mayor, “I think he’s going to be a great pitcher, but I’m afraid we’ll never know from one minute to the next what he’s going to do.”

That included Dizzy and Paul’s strike during the 1934 season, and the time that Dizzy visited the Boston Braves’ dugout prior to a game in 1935 and said that if a pitcher was good enough he didn’t need to use breaking balls or offspeed pitches. He then proceeded to beat the Braves using just his fastball.

With all these stories to share, Dizzy and the Gashouse Gang makes for fun reading. For fans interested in learning more about Dizzy Dean and the 1934 Cardinals, this book is a great choice, and joins John Heidenry’s “The Gashouse Gang” as my favorite chronicles of one of the most exciting seasons in St. Louis baseball history.

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