Always A Showman
It’s hard to imagine baseball fans pledging their loyalty to a radio play-by-play man named “Jerome,” but they loved him. To the listeners, and everyone else who was a baseball fan, he was better known as “Dizzy.”
Jerome Herman “Dizzy” Dean took to the airwaves as the announcer for the Cardinals and Browns during the 1941 season, with his broadcasts carried on KWK and KXOK. Truth be known, his given name was Jay Hanna Dean, but changed it to Jerome Herman Dean near the beginning of his career on the diamond. He had retired from playing the game May 14, 1941, and told the press of his plans to visit the Falstaff Brewery the next day. Falstaff sponsored the St. Louis teams’ broadcasts and, according to Curt Smith in his book “Stars of the Game,” Dean said, “Think I’m going to like this here play-by-play.”
Dizzy Dean began his first broadcast telling listeners, “I hope I’m as good a sports announcer as I was a pitcher…Now I know how a prisoner feels walking to his death.”
The listeners loved him, and Dean played his hillbilly persona for all it was worth. In Smith’s description of Dean’s grammar, “Runners ‘slud’…batters ‘swang,’…pitchers ‘throwed’ the ball with great ‘spart’ [spirit]…a hitter could look ‘mighty hitterish’ or stand ‘confidentially’ at the plate.”
The grammatical ruse worked. Within a year, the Globe-Democrat ran a lengthy article by Paul Tredway headlined, “That Eminent Linguist, That Noted Grammarian, That Grand and Dodier Orator - Dizzy Dean.”
Patrick Huber and David Anderson told the October 2001 Missouri Conference on History that Dizzy Dean’s Ozarkian slang even prompted Falstaff to issue a booklet titled “The Dizzy Dean Dictionary and What’s What in Baseball.” Included in the ghostwritten introduction was the explanation that the booklet was intended to “clear up a lot of misunderstandings that people has about my baseball lingo.”
In 1946, in a publicity manager’s dream, word got out that the English Teachers Association of Missouri had complained to the Federal Communications Commission that Dean’s way of talking had a “bad influence” on their pupils. The nation’s print journalists had a field day with the story. The Globe-Democrat took the teachers to task in an editorial. Both national wire services carried regular updates. Telegrams poured in to radio stations. Huber and Anderson noted Dean received 150 supportive telegrams one night during one of his broadcasts.
There were articles published all over the country. One woman chastised the “intolerant” teachers. Similar support came from The Baltimore Sun and The Sporting News. Dean’s legions of fans sprang to his defense. The “Saturday Review of Literature” wrote a two-page editorial supporting Dean, concluding with “Our private hunch is that the teachers won’t get to first base.”
That hunch was correct. In fact, it seems there never was a formal complaint filed with the F.C.C. The entire vociferation may have been based on a ruse perpetrated by a very smart publicist.
Whoever was responsible had not considered the reaction of Sam Breadon, the Cardinals’ owner. Shortly after the dust settled, Breadon announced his intention to create a six-station Cards’ radio network and said he wanted “dignified” and “conventional” announcers. The play-by-play team didn’t include Dizzy Dean, despite his huge popularity among the fans. Former Cardinals’ manager Gabby Street would be joined in the booth by an up-and-coming young announcer named Harry Caray.
For the next five baseball seasons, Dizzy Dean was heard broadcasting the games of the hapless St. Louis Browns, but he had the last laugh.
In 1953, Falstaff hired Dizzy Dean to broadcast their Saturday “Game of the Week” on ABC-TV. He later moved to CBS-TV for the same assignment. His Ozarkian way of broadcasting baseball had propelled him to the top spot among broadcasters.
Insiders knew about his schtick. Quoted in “Voices of the Game,” Mel Allen remembered, “Once he took off solo, doing what passed for play-by-play, it was show biz time.” Allen even told author Curt Smith about a Dean misstep: “Once he said ‘slid’ correctly, by mistake, and he corrected himself. He wanted to goof up - it was part of the vaudeville.”
Later, Dean even admitted being a showman. “Naturally, I play around with my stuff on the radio, but I ain’t dumb. I know most of the folks listening are from my part of the country - mostly from the Ozarks. They like it. A guy’s got to do that sort of thing in this business.”
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 12/05)