Sunday, July 6, 2014

Diz's days as minor league drawing card

During the time I was researching Dizzy Dean's record for my 1940 and 1941 Play Ball-style custom cards,
I was surprised to find listings at that showed him pitching in 1941 for Fargo-Moorhead, Denver and Sioux Falls.

I wondered what circumstances could have dictated Dean's pitching one game each for these Class C and D clubs. I suppose if I'd thought much about it, I'd have figured it out, but the answer came to me while reading microfilm of the 1941 Sporting News.

I learned that Dean opened the season on the roster of the Cubs, but appeared in only one game, a one-inning start at Pittsburgh, before he retired to a coaching role, occasionally pitching in exhibition games early in the season.

In July, Dean accepted a job broadcasting Cardinals and Browns games for Falstaff beer on radio station KWK in St. Louis.

However Dean didn't entirely confine his baseball activities to the broadcast booth.

For the consideration of transportation expenses to and from St. Louis, and 40 percent of the gate, Dean would accept offers to pitch for minor league clubs, and even semi-pro teams.

Such an arrangement would never fly in Organized Baseball today, with league presidents required to sign off on contracts, but in 1941 it was accepted. Savvy minor league operators would have figured Dean's presence would draw sufficient fan interest to cover their costs.

Dean's first such engagement was July 16 at Sioux Falls, where the sixth-place Canaries hosted Pueblo in the Class D Western League.

Starting the game, Dean pitched three innings, giving up one hit and making two errors before leaving the game with the score tied 3-3. He was 0-for-2 at the plate. Sioux Falls won the game 7-4.

Attendance was reported at about 3,000, the largest crowd since the season opener.

Earlier that same day, Dean had appeared in a semi-pro game at Clear Lake, Iowa. He pitched in several semi-pro games in that period, with limited success. It's hard to imagine a semi-pro contest drawing enough paid admissions to cover Dean's fee, but it seems to have made sense to some operators.

Dean's next hired-gun gig was at Denver, pitching for the Bears against the Sioux City Soos, also in the Western League. The game was played on Sunday, July 27, before a crowd of about 5,000.

Starting for Denver, Dean allowed two runs in two innings. He then played one inning in right field and one at second base before calling it a night.

Dean's final farm-team fling in 1941 was pitching for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins of the Class C Northern League on Aug. 17. While the site shows that Dean gave up one hit, a contemporary account in The Sporting News reported he set down all nine Grand Forks batters that he faced in three innings of work. The crowd of 4,100 was described as one of the largest ever to attend a ballgame in that part of the country.

By 1942, it looks like Dean's appeal as a small-town drawing card had diminished. shows one minor league appearance, with Superior in the Northern League (Class C). The site shows Diz pitched two innings, giving up five hits and three earned runs.

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