The son of an itinerant Arkansas farmer, Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean lived much of his life in Mississippi and became one of the most prominent southerners of the twentieth century as a Major League Baseball player and colorful radio and television announcer.
Dean grew up in a hardscrabble world of cotton farming, received no formal schooling beyond the second grade, served briefly in the US Army, and then began his baseball career with the St. Louis Cardinals. He won his first game at the end of the 1930 season, posted a 26–10 record the next year, and gained baseball immortality with the 1934 season, when he was 30–7, led the league in strikeouts for the third straight year, and then was the winning pitcher in two games as the Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Dean, along with his brother, Paul “Daffy” Dean, who also won two games in the 1934 Series, belonged to the Cardinals’ Gashouse Gang, pranksters whose antics made them a prime baseball attraction everywhere. Dizzy Dean’s fastball was overpowering and his boldness legendary. Dean suffered a toe injury in the 1937 All-Star Game that diminished his effectiveness, and the Cardinals traded him to the Chicago Cubs, for whom he played from 1938 to 1941. He then became a broadcaster for the Cardinals (1941–46) and the St. Louis Browns (1941–48). After he complained about the Browns’ pitching staff during the 1947 season and said that he could do better, the team management brought him back to pitch the final game of the year. He backed up his words, throwing four shutout innings and singling in his only at bat before leaving with a pulled hamstring. He went on to become a broadcaster for the New York Yankees (1950–51), several national networks (1952–65), and Atlanta Braves (1966–68). He compiled a 150–83 pitching record in his twelve Major League seasons and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 1953.
With no Major League team in the Deep South during Dean’s playing career, the border-state Cardinals were a special favorite of southerners, and Dean’s brash southern persona intensified the bond. He played his down-home manner to the hilt, and his sayings became legendary. Newspaper reporters quoted in dialect one of his favorite lines, “’Tain’t braggin’ if you kin really do it.” He was fond of ain’t, and when English teachers protested he said, “A lot of people ain’t saying ain’t, ain’t eating.” Told that his toe had been fractured, Dean replied, “Fractured, hell! The damn thing’s broken!” In his Hall of Fame induction speech he told the crowd that the “good Lord” had given him “a strong body, a good right arm, and a weak mind.”
Dean’s broadcasting career brought his wit and personality to a national audience. His southern vernacular language, identifiable regional accent, folksy sayings, and impromptu singing of “Wabash Cannonball” and other Americana songs made him for many Americans what one scholar has called “the quintessential southerner.”
Dean was a longtime resident of Wiggins, Mississippi, and was buried there after his death on 17 July 1974. The Dizzy Dean Museum was established in Jackson, and its exhibitions are now a part of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Since 1977 Dizzy Dean Baseball/Softball has provided organized play for children in Mississippi and other southern states, honoring his legacy.
- S. Spencer Davis, in The Human Tradition in the New South, ed. James C. Klotter (2005)
- Robert Gregory, Diz: Dizzy Dean and Baseball during the Great Depression (1992)