Backroads and Ballplayers #25
Stories of the famous and not-so-famous men and women from the days when baseball was "Arkansas' Game." Always free and always short enough to finish in one cup of coffee.
Why We Love Baseball, A Feel-Good Moment in St. Louis, and Another Baseball Love Story
A Baseball Book
Baseball is a game of stories. I love them and I try to tell them, especially the ones about Arkansas guys who played for the love of the game or because they needed a job. Baseball was better than sharecropping and coal mining. In the first half of the 20th century in Arkansas, if you had a job, you kept it. Especially if you loved it.
I tell my stories in essay style. Susan (my 52-year supervisor) says my books are bathroom books because each chapter can be read in one sitting. I am not sure how I feel about that.
I do know who writes baseball stories best. His name is Joe Posnanski and he has a new book called, Why We Love Baseball. Buy it!
Baseball is the best it has been and the best it will ever be when you're 10 years old.
I was 10 years old in the summer of 1977 when Duane Kuiper hit his one home run.
Kuip was my hero. He was second baseman for my hometown Cleveland ballclub at the same time that I was second baseman for Reno, my South Euclid Youth Baseball Team. Oddly, our team did not have a nickname. We were just Reno. We were either named after the Biggest Little City in the World or Reno Browne, a 1940s B-movie actress who was married to the famous cowboy Lash LaRue.
Duane Kuiper and I shared more than just a position. I loved the way he played. He dived for every ball . . . and I do mean, every ball. If you hit the ball straight at him, he dived for it. If you played catch in your backyard anywhere in America in 1977, Kuip probably dived for that ball too. He played the game with verve and love, and OK, maybe he didn't hit with a lot of power and maybe he wasn't the fastest guy out there, but he exuded joy, and my grandest dream was to be just like him. —Joe Posnanski Why We Love Baseball
A Tribute to Adam Wainwright and One More Look at the Hall
Since so many of my readers are Cardinals fans, how about a feel-good St. Louis Cardinals story? This season has not had many! I have mentioned often that I grew up a Yankee fan. Most of my friends were Cardinal fans and all the adults seemed to be. I think a lot of us picked the first team we saw in a World Series. There seemed to be several Braves and Dodgers fans around Ozark, Arkansas, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
I took Harry Carey and Jack Buck fishing on hot summer afternoons, and I sat on the front porch listening to KMOX in St. Louis, in the evenings. I didn’t realize the significance of having two Future Hall of Fame broadcasters deliver my games, nor did I have a concept of the role the Cardinals played in the history of Arkansas. If baseball was Arkansas’ game in the first half of the 20th century, then certainly, the St. Louis Cardinals were Arkansas’ team.
As a Cardinals fan, this season has been frustrating. As an Adam Wainwright fan, it has been painful, especially his 11 starts from mid-June until some of his magic returned on September 12. He wanted to win 200 games. The Cardinals’ fans wanted him to stay after Pujols, and Yadi retired, and as the season became more discouraging, a celebration of Waino’s 200th victory became the only hope for a celebratory moment in a season to forget.
On September 12, facing the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles, Wainwright found enough savvy to strand eight runners over five innings and leave after 94 pitches leading 3—2. I recall thinking there was no way the inconsistent bullpen could hold that lead. The Cards added two more runs in the seventh on a home run by Richie Palacios and an RBI single by Lars Nootbaar, but as it turned out, the original runs were good enough. Four relievers held the potent Baltimore lineup scoreless the last four innings and Wainwright had 199.
Of course, the 200th win was vintage Wainwright. With 33,000+ standing most of the night, he was The Adam Wainwright one more time. He scattered four hits over seven innings and left after 93 pitches clinging to a 1—0 lead. Reliever John King got two outs in the 8th on a double play between two singles, and Ryan Helsley finished the game with a four-out save. Why we love baseball!
There was a time when 200 wins was a celebrated milestone, but not a rare one. Last week the Cardinals’ very pro-Waino broadcasters proudly announced, “We will soon see Wainwright wearing the red blazer that signifies induction into the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame.” No mention of Cooperstown. He is not even close…today.
By winning his 200th pitching victory, Wainwright joins Justin Verlander (255), Zack Greinke (224), Max Scherzer (214), and Clayton Kershaw (210) as the only active pitchers with 200+ wins. All are 35+ and nearing retirement. Miami’s Johnny Cueto is next among active hurlers, with 144, but he is 37 years old. Gerrit Cole, who has 143 wins and just turned 33, seems to have the best shot to be the next 200-game winner. Let’s say Cole wins 200. After Verlander, Greinke, Scherzer, Kershaw, Wainwright, and perhaps Cole, will there ever be a 200-game winner? Of course, but when?
As I suggested when I less than seriously introduced the idea that Torii Hunter might someday be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, what makes a Hall of Famer is changing because the game is changing. I agree that currently, Hunter is on the outside looking in, but not far outside. Who knows?
The reevaluation of pitchers is much more complex. Adam Wainwright has pitched 28 complete games, Verlander has 26, and Kershaw has 16. After the throwback Sandy Alcantara with 12, no one in the under-30 crowd has more than 6. Kershaw has 16 complete-game shutouts. Wainwright is second among active players with 12. Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver each have 61 complete game shutouts.
Blake Snell, Justin Steele, Spencer Strider, Gerrit Cole, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray have 14 complete games and four complete game shutouts, combined! Two of them will win a Cy Young this year. Ten years from now what will a Hall of Fame pitcher look like? Will Tommy John look better?
So, I wanted a story about the Cardinals. Last week the Baseball Love Story about Schoolboy Rowe and Edna May Skinner was such a big hit. I came up with one that met both criteria. Of course, to make it even more interesting, it involves one of the Dean brothers (Paul), and it happened about a mile from my current home in Russellville.
Wedding bells have rung many times for interesting couples in the past year, but perhaps none so loud as the ones Thursday evening when one of Russellville’s prettiest girls became the bride of one of the sports world’s most talked about favorites. Courier Democrat 12-27-1934
Paul Dean Wins Miss Russellville
1934 was a banner year for colorful brothers, Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean and his less boastful brother Paul Dee “Daffy” Dean. Born at Lucas in Logan County, the Deans were a reporter’s dream with flamboyant personalities to match their baseball accomplishments. In the “Cardinal Country” of 1930s Arkansas, the brothers were revered celebrities.
Dizzy liked the limelight. Paul was forced into it. Dizzy not only embraced his colorful nickname, but he also used it as his chosen first name. His more modest brother preferred to be called Paul rather than Daffy. Dizzy bragged and included Paul in the boasts. The more reserved Paul preferred to let his performance speak for itself, but he was often compelled by Dizzy’s notoriety to go along with the headlines Dizzy created.
Regardless of his inclination toward celebrity, or his aversion to it, Paul Dean was an Arkansas hero in 1934. He had a dream year for the chosen team of most Arkansans and his list of accomplishments was well known by local fans. Perhaps his most significant victory of that memorable year, however, was not in a St. Louis uniform, but came when he won the hand of a striking Russellville beauty queen in late December.
Paul Dee Dean was born in 1913 and spent some time around 1920 living near Chickalah in Yell County, where his father Ab sharecropped for the Coffey family. The Deans later moved to Oklahoma where Paul and Dizzy were stars in local semi-pro games. The brothers both signed with the Cardinals, and by 1934 Paul had become a 22-game-winner in the minors and was ready to join Diz who was already a star with the Gas House Gang.
Before the season, Dizzy boasted that “me and Paul will probably win 40 games.” They won 49. Paul had a rookie year beyond expectation. Even with Dizzy setting what seemed like unreachable goals, Paul responded with 19 wins, a no-hitter in September, and two wins in the World Series. 1934 was indeed the “Year of the Deans.”
Meanwhile, in Russellville, Arkansas, Dorothy Sandusky was a college student who had recently been crowned Miss Russellville. Dorothy had grown up in southeast Arkansas but moved to the River Valley when she graduated from high school. Her father was a prominent local businessman, and Paul Dean had worked in the Sandusky lumber business during the baseball offseason. Paul had apparently had his eye on her for some time. “Aw, I been seeing her around since she was a skinny little kid going barefoot,” Paul confided to the press.
Regardless of their history, Paul Dean surprised both his fans and Dorothy when he proposed in mid-December and suggested they set the date for the next day, Dec. 20, 1934. A wedding that would certainly have gotten national coverage from both society writers and the sports page would come as a surprise to both.
Paul awoke on his wedding day and realized he had neglected a few details. A bridegroom needs a nice suit, a professional shave, a ring, and, of course, a marriage license. Paul headed off to Fort Smith to attend to these few minor details, and a calm and collected Dorothy was left to handle a curious press that had gotten wind of the plans. While Paul, with his new suit and other essentials, was dashing into the Franklin County courthouse just before closing time for the license, Dorothy reassured those waiting for the groom to appear for a 5 p.m. ceremony. “He’ll be here,” she said. “Paul told me to get ready,” she said laughing. “He said he would be back soon, we would get married, and start right off on our honeymoon.” Although Paul Dean had faced baseball’s best hitters in front of thousands of people, a college girl from Russellville, Arkansas was the calm one on their wedding day.
After seeing to the last-minute details, Paul arrived back at the Sandusky home on 4th Street at about 8:30 p.m. and, as Dorothy had predicted, the wedding began immediately. The minister, eight guests, and a handful of reporters had waited patiently. After all, according to the local paper, this was the wedding of one of Russellville’s prettiest girls and the great Daffy Dean. When one of the reporters asked Paul what he thought Dizzy’s reaction to his marriage would be, he replied, “That‘ll be alright with Diz, it’s none of his business anyhow.”
The next day The Associated Press distributed the story, and Russellville, Arkansas, was in the national headlines. Daffy Dean weds Miss Russellville, was on the front page of most big-city papers. One enterprising reporter, in a back story theme that would become the norm by the turn of the next century; found Paul’s ex-girlfriend for a comment. An Ohio State co-ed named Betty Jane, previously linked romantically to Paul, was quoted as “wishing them luck.”
Paul “Daffy” Dean would have one more outstanding year with the Cardinals before his overused arm failed him. He won 19 games again in 1935 for a St. Louis team that finished four games behind the Cubs. Dizzy Dean had more good years after 1934, but an injured toe that altered his delivery led to arm problems for him also.
Despite premature ends to promising careers, the Deans are household names in Arkansas baseball lore. Dizzy was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, and both brothers are members of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
While Dizzy spent his last years in Mississippi, Paul returned to Arkansas, managed several businesses, and lived out his life with his large extended family in Western Arkansas. Paul Daffy Dean and his beloved Miss Dorothy are buried in Clarksville. They were teammates for almost 47 years.
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