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Humbled Dizzy Dean Dazzled Gregg County (January 2012)

Humbled Dizzy Dean Dazzled Gregg County
By Van Craddock

It was the night Ol' Diz wowed 'em in Longview, and learned a little humility in the process.

Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean was one of baseball's most colorful figures, whether tossing strikes from the mound or throwing out his own particular brand of the king's English from the broadcast booth.

He also wasn't exactly shy when it came to bragging about his pitching abilities or those of his brother, fellow St. Louis Cardinal teammate Paul "Daffy" Dean.

In 1934, Dizzy and Daffy won 49 games for the Cardinals, and Dizzy won another 28 the following season.

Now it was October 1935, and the folks in Longview were pretty excited, although a little skeptical, about a post-season pitching exhibition the 24-year-old Dizzy was scheduled to put on at the old Fair Park field on the south end of town. You see, there seemed to be some doubt that Dizzy would follow through on his appearance.

A couple of days earlier, Dizzy had refused to take the field in Chattanooga, Tenn., when he saw that only 300 paying customers had shown up. Learning his exhibition pay would be a meager $40, he told the Tennessee officials, "I wouldn't even walk out on the field for forty dollars." With that, he packed up and headed for New Orleans, where he also left promoters holding the bag because of another small turnout.

In Longview, however, the locals were more than thrilled to have major leaguers trek through their part of the East Texas Piney Woods. Why, on Oct. 5, a huge crowd had showed up to see the great Rogers Hornsby, to this day still regarded as the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, lead a group of American League all-stars in a local game against a semi-pro outfit.

On Saturday, Oct. 19, 1935, Dizzy Dean arrived in Longview for his pitching duties with a game featuring two oil company semi-pro teams. By game time that night more than 1,500 had crowded into the park to see the young Arkansas native who had been setting the National League afire. They weren't disappointed.

Dizzy "stepped upon the mound at Fair Park Saturday night and hurled a brand of ball seldom seen in this section," reported the Longview Daily News. "He pitched as beautiful a brand of ball as the customers could ask for, and gave them the show they came to see."

In his outing, the paper reported "the bragging, boasting Dean struck out seven batters, collected himself a hit, stole three bases and made one sacrifice."

But the biggest hit, of course, had been Dizzy, and he was most appreciative of the fans' reception. He realized just how badly people wanted to see him pitch, and just how mistaken he'd been in walking out of the earlier exhibitions. So following the Longview game, he decided to right the wrongs in Chattanooga and New Orleans.

He headed down to the Western Union office and dispatched telegrams to the wronged promoters. "Realize I made mistake by refusing to play game," the telegram read. "If you will forward to me amount of loss in promoting game, I will pay it." Dizzy even offered to put on pitching exhibitions for free.

It probably was one of the few times in Dizzy's life that he had been humbled.

An injury cut short Dizzy's career in 1941, but it wasn't enough to keep him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Later he went into broadcasting, where he became famous (infamous?) for his declarations that players had "slud into second base" or had "throwed a curveball" that broke so much it had "come by way of Port Arthur."

Dizzy Dean, the second-grade dropout who possibly was the most colorful personality Major League baseball ever knew, died July 17, 1974.