1931, 1931 World Series, 1934, 1934 World Series, Cardinals, Daffy Dean, Deadball, Dizzy Dean, Frankie Frisch, Gashouse Gang, Hall of Fame, HOFer, Jimmie Foxx, John Heidenry, Lefty Grove, Leo Durocher, Mickey Cochrane, Pepper Martin, Waite Hoyt, World Series
I picked up John Heidenry’s The Gashouse Gang around a year ago or so. It was about this time of the year; when the days are a little bit colder — or not, as we’re experiencing in my neck of the woods thus far, the days a little bit shorter, and the baseball banter just a little less enthusiastic. That’s when my desire for anything and everything baseball-related kicks into scavenger mode. I do the worst damage to my bank account this time of year as it pertains to books (the Summer damage, of course, is reserved for beer and brats at the ballpark), and the closer to that day when we can almost say it’s almost baseball season the more I feel the need to dive into whatever baseball and Cardinals-related stories I can find.
The Gashouse Gang fills several necessary voids for one who is both a Cardinals-obsessor and a History major. I cannot get enough when it comes to stories of the players of baseball’s past who preceded constant television and news coverage (and certainly the ever constant watchful eye of our very own blogosphere). I have a particular passion for my beloved Deadball Era pitchers, among my most favorite of personalities and pitchers being the great Lefty Grove. Grove pitched brilliant baseball for the Philadelphia Athletics under Connie Mack over nearly a decade and, yes, with a solemn tone I note that he won two games against our beloved Redbirds in the 1930 World Series. However, take comfort knowing the Cardinals returned to face those same Philly A’s the following season and bested them in seven games.
That 1931 World Series would lead the Cardinals into the Gashouse Gang era with a Championship, and it was a World Series rife with some all-time talent. The Philadelphia Athletics entered the Fall Classic with some famous Hall of Famers on their roster: the great Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Al Simmons, two-time MVP Mickey Cochrane, and he of the 21-year career who was with Philadelphia only for this one Championship season Waite Hoyt. The St. Louis Cardinals ’31 team trotted out their own set of future Hall of Famers in Jim Bottomley, Frankie Frisch (who would become the manager of the Gashouse Gang team), Chuck Hafey, and Burleigh Grimes who would start and win two games in this series. The real star of the series would go, however, to none of these aforementioned HOFers but rather Pepper Martin (also a member of the ’34 Gashouse Gang) who dazzled in 24 PAs with a line of .500/.538/.792, posting an OPS over .500 points higher than his season total.
As the team evolved over the next two years, it brought together the grand cast of characters that would make The Gashouse Gang the band of rowdy ballplayers that they have come to be known as today. It’s worth noting, and John Heidenry will ensure you’re aware, that The Gashouse Gang moniker is specific to the 1934 club. We are fortunate to have such an entertaining cast to read about — granted it may well be infuriating if I were to put myself in the shoes of a fan dealing with such personalities today — we enjoy the luxury of film reels and great collections of stories such as this.
In one particular story, Pepper was in a extra-ordinary slump. Common superstition of the time promoted the idea that if a hitter were to find a woman’s bobby pin for her hair, he would be guaranteed a hit. As such, Dizzy and Paul Dean decided they would leave an entire pile of bobby pins right outside the hotel door just waiting for Pepper to happen upon them. Instead, team heel and future Hall of Famer, though much more for his managerial successes than his minimal playing success, Leo “The Lip” Durocher walks out the door to the mound of bobby pins. Dizzy yells down to him, “Hey, those are for Pepper!.” To which The Lip replies, “To hell with Pepper, he can find his own hits!” as he shoves the bobby pins in his pockets by the fistful.
Heidenry does a great job of introducing the reader to the beginning and development of Dizzy Dean in his book. While he does not in any way downplay Dean’s many absurdities and peculiarities, he gives a background of the man not often mentioned when stories of Dizzy Dean are retold. As well, Heidenry explains the unique relationship between Dean and his brother Paul, more commonly known as Daffy (a nickname of which he was not pleased).
In all, The Gashouse Gang is an enjoyable read for those looking to gleam some Cardinals history or those simply looking for a few laughs. The book is full of comedy as one would expect from such a legendary club known for their attitudes and antics. Anyone with an interest in the Redbirds should read this book and I’d say anyone with an interest in baseball history in general would really enjoy John Heidenry’s offering.