Here is the interesting tale of baseball's most colorful team. The 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, the "Gas House Gang," captured America's imagination during the depression era and continue to live in baseball lore. Led by the irrepressible Dizzy Dean, the "Wild Horse of the Osage," Pepper Martin and a cast of supporting characters including Leo "the Lip" Durocher, "The Fordham Flash" Frankie Frisch, Paul "Daffy" (or "Harpo") Dean, and Joe "Ducky" Medwick, the Cardinals made good on their antics by winning the pennant and the World Series in seven games with the Detroit Tigers. Feldman's account brings this team and all their rich personalities to life.
This book stretches beyond the diamond to describing American society itself and the continuing emergence of baseball as the true American game. As America emerged from the depression, baseball emerged into its golden age. Between 1929 and 1933 baseball salaries had dropped 25%. The period of recovery, both economically and socially was spurred by such drama and entertainment as teams like the Gas House Gang provided. Feldman recounts this period of "Crash and Recovery, 1929 - 1933" to set the stage for the advent of the colorful Cardinals.
Each Gas House Gang member gets his due in Feldman's treatment with chapters devoted to Frisch, Medwick, Martin, Durocher, and the others. Each has his own story and distinctive personality. Manager Frisch outdid even the legendary John McGraw in tongue-lashing his players when the situation warranted it. For these men, "baseball was not a way of life," it was "life."
The Cardinals had baseball's only Phi Betta Kappa scholar in Burgess Whitehead. They featured the National League's last Triple Crown winner in Joe Medwick who later won that honor in 1937. Pepper Martin, the harmonica-playing shortstop was said to be so fast because "he spent his boyhood chasing down rabbits" in his native Oklahoma. The battling Leo Durocher went on to gain notoriety as a combative manager. Durocher's drive was captured in his quote: "Show me a guy who takes his time on the mound and I'll show you a damned loser."
Then there were the Deans. Dizzy was "Dizzy" - "The Great Dean" as he called himself. His 30 - 7 record led the league as did his 199 strikeouts, most gained by his speedy fastball, his "fogger." Diz's quotes are famous and Feldman's book allows his "original" personality to shine through. His devotion to his brother, fellow-pitcher Paul, was strong with Dizzy once remarking, "Nah, don't worry 'bout Paul none. He may even be a greater pitcher than me, if that's possible."
The 1934 season emerges here with the Cards undergoing their ups and downs, their struggles with the Cubs and the Giants, and Dizzy's antics which included bypassing an exhibition game which led to owner Branch Rickey testifying against him in the office of baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. As late as September 14th the Cardinals were 5½ games behind New York.
Clutch pitching by the Deans narrowed the Giant lead. A week later after a doubleheader loss to Dizzy and Daffy who pitched a no-hitter, Dodger manager Casey Stengel lamented: "How would you feel? You get three itsy-bitsy hits off the big brother in the first game, and then you look around and there's the little brother with biscuits from the same table to throw at you." When the dust settled the Cardinals came out on top of their rivals, by two games with Dizzy winning the final game. In the midst of the celebrations at St. Louis' Sportsman's Park, a young boy placed a four-pound chunk of ice on the pitching rubber as Dizzy had instructed him to do. "'Dizzy told me this morning to put it there after the game,'" the youngster revealed. 'Said it would be burning up if I didn't. Go ahead and feel it. Even the ice hasn't gotten it cooled down yet."
The 1934 Series pitted the Cardinals against a Tiger team that featured playing-manager Mickey "Black Mike" Cochrane, the "Mechanical Man" Charlie Gehringer, and slugger Hank Greensburg. The leading pitchers were Linwood "Schoolboy" Rowe, Alvin "General" Crowder, and Eldon Auker. It was in the fourth game that Dizzy took off from the bench when Frisch sought a pinch runner for Virgil "Spud" Davis. On a ball to the shortstop Billy Rogell, Dizzy roared into second base but did not slide. Rogell's throw hit him squarely on the head and Dizzy fell "like a marionette whose string had snapped" and laid motionless on the infield dirt. But Diz revived and left the field. Feldman reports that it is mythical that newspaper headlines the next day read: "X-Rays of Dean's Head Show Nothing." When asked if he would be able to pitch in game five, Diz exclaimed, "Hellfire, yes! You can't hurt no Dean by hittin' him on the head."
The Series see-sawed back and forth until the decisive seventh game. On October 9, 1934, Eldon Auker toed the rubber to face "The Great Dean." Paul had won two games, Dizzy one. When he visited the Tiger bullpen prior to the game, Dizzy said to Auker: "You don't expect to get anyone out with that stuff, do you?"
The Cards broke the game open, leading 7-0 by the sixth inning when the Series' most famous event occurred. Medwick smacked a liner into center field and barreled into third base with spikes high as Owen held up his glove as if a play were going to be made. Owen brought his foot down with his spikes driving into Ducky's leg. Medwick kicked back and the fight was on. The benches emptied. When tempers cooled, Medwick offered his hand to Owen who refused to shake it. Rip Collins next drove Medwick in to make the score 9-0.
When Medwick returned to left field, 17,000 fans in the bleachers began to pelt him with debris, faces filled with rage and fists clenched. Attempts to subdue the crowd failed. Commissioner Landis ended the incident by ordering Medwick removed from the game for his own safety as well as that of the fans. The game was delayed for seventeen minutes. In the seventh inning, the Cardinals increased their lead to 11-0 with Dizzy going the distance to win the game. The Gashouse Gang were World Champions.
Feldman's final chapters recount later Cardinal seasons: "New Places, New Faces-1935-1939" and "No More Fog." Here he tells about Dizzy facing Babe Ruth who lifetime was 0-6 against him and the break-up of the fabled Cardinal team. In 1938, Diz was traded to the Cubs for $185,000 plus three players. The shrewd Rickey knew that Dizzy with his then sore-arm was nearing the end of his effectiveness. He was right. But more fame was to come to Diz through his broadcasting career in which his use of the "King's English" became legendary. On July 17, 1974, Dizzy died in Bond, Mississippi where he loved to live life by telling stories and sharing laughs among "the most wonderful folks in the world."
This book is a great story about colorful players, a scrappy baseball team, and a magnificent season which focused attention in America's depression-era on the "national pastime." The Gas House Gang was passionate for victory, intensely committed to each other, and provided the baseball world with an impressive array of baseball talents who now have a secure niche in baseball lore and legend.