Cheap Seats

The apology that ruined Dizzy Dean's career

Saying you're sorry never hurt so much.

It cost Dizzy Dean half of his career and countless victories when he said he was sorry in June 1937.

The Cardinals ace was working a game against the Giants May 19 when he was called for a balk by umpire George Barr in the sixth inning. The ruling wiped a pop out from the record books and instead allowed shortstop Dick Bartell to return to the batters box where he eventually hit and RBI single. The Cardinals were ahead 1-0 at the start of the inning trailed after the meltdown led to three New York runs.

Dean, irate over the misfortune, took it out on the Giants. He threw high and tight to every New York hitter to come to the plate over the next three innings -- except Burgess Whitehead who was his former teammate -- and caused a bench-clearing brawl in the ninth when he finally hit a Giants player.

The game eventually ended in a 4-1 Redbirds loss. Dean pitched a fit in front of the Sportsmans Park crowd causing a riot before storming off the field and later giving reporters an earful about how little he thought about the National League, it's umpires and league president Ford Frick.

Not only did Dean give reporters a juicy scoop, he challenged that he would give $1,000 to any one of them who would print his true feelings about Frick in their paper. Apparently none of them took him up on it to claim the prize. But over the next two weeks he continually sassed Frick and the NL at every opportunity.

At a youth sports dinner in Belleville a few days after the Giants game, Dean called Frick and Barr "the two greatest crooks in baseball" in front of the shocked audience.

Even though the writers didn't cash in, Frick was plenty steamed by what they did print. And on June 3 he informed the Cardinals that Dean would not be allowed to play again until we issued a formal apology -- in writing -- for his "popping off" in public about the National League and it's leaders.

"It is up to Dean if his suspension lasts for 24 hours or for three months," Frick said. "It's got down to the question of if Dean is bigger than the National League. I don't think he is. This could all be settled quickly if Dean sees the error of his ways, frankly apologizes to the league for the things he said or implied and puts it in writing."

Frick said the suspension would include preventing Dean from pitching for the National League in the All-Star Game in addition to regular season NL contests.

Dean responded by gathering reporters in a 20th story hotel room and telling them -- in front of a group of his teammates -- that he would rather jump through the room's window to the street below than sign any apology.

"Frick wants me to sign the apology to make me, Dizzy Dean, look like a heel and himself, Ford Frick, a hero," Dean told the reporters. He said if he wasn't reinstated without signing the apology, which he said accused him of trying to injure a Giants player with a bean ball, that he would take the rest of the summer off and go to Florida.

Regardless of whether the suspension was lifted, Dean vowed he wouldn't represent the National League in the All-Star Game because of baseball's actions against him.

Cardinals owner Sam Breadon was shocked by the suspension. He and manager Frank Frisch pressured Dean to say he was sorry as the Birds were in the thick of the pennant race in second behind the Pirates and they wanted their star hurler back.

While Dean refused to sign the written apology prepared for him by the National League, the Cardinals brass smoothed things over with Frick. They promised that Dean was sorry and that he wouldn't criticize the National League or its management publicly any more if he was allowed to come back and play. Both sides were able so save face in the negotiated settlement and Dean returned to the mound without missing a turn in the rotation, playing on his best behavior.

He was 5-1 with a 1.09 ERA at the start of the Giants game. But he lost four in a row while the tension simmered and his ERA more than doubled. When he returned June 5, he got back on the right track and beat the Phillies and went on to earn the honor of pitching for the Senior Circuit in the 1937 All-Star Game in Washington D.C.

But history might have changed in Dean's favor had he stuck to his guns and refused to back down.

With President Franklin D. Roosevelt looking on, Dean threw a pitch in the Mid Summer Classic to Indians All-Star centerfielder Earl Averill that was lined back and the St. Louis hurler, hitting him right on the big toe.

Dean's digit was broken. But trying to keep the Cardinals in contention, he pitched with the painful toe injury. The inability to follow through properly on his pitches caused Dean to snap an elbow ligament -- an injury that would cost him less than a year of playing time following Tommy John surgery today. But in 1937 it was lights out for his career.

The Cardinals sold Dean, who had averaged 22 wins a season since 1930, to the Cubs in 1938. In Chicago Ol' Diz was little more than a big name who sold tickets. Only 27 at the time he ruined his arm, he never pitched as many as 100 innings in a season again. And he never got close to winning in double digits.

At one point 300 wins was the standard by which Hall of Fame pitchers were judged. So it's a testament to his greatness on the mound that Dean was enshrined in 1953 with exactly half that amount and the lowest total number of wins for a starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame: 150.

He likely would have had a whole lot more if he would have refused to be contrite and wouldn't have made that fateful All-Star Game start. And it would have been interesting to see the veteran Dean added in to the mix of fabulous pitchers that led the Cardinals to pennants in 1942, 43, 44 and 46. Maybe they would have won a couple of more.