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In a sport that prizes quirkiness and treasures it's characters, one of the greatest of them from the 1930s was pitcher Dizzy Dean. He was so colorful a personality he was probably elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the strength of that as opposed to his pitching statistics. After all part of the Dean story is that early end to his career.
In the Pride of St. Louis Dan Dailey successfully captures the character of Dizzy Dean, at least the Dean I remember. I'm not old enough to remember him pitching, but I do remember him broadcasting Baseball Game of the Week during the 1960s. For that's part of the Dean story as well, being a pioneer broadcaster on radio and later television. Now that announcers are in the Hall of Fame, there's no question Dizzy belongs there.
Jerome Herman Dean was one of a tribe of sharecropper's kids who had very little schooling, but an amazing talent for throwing a baseball at blinding speed. In fact he had a younger brother Paul Dean who was a pretty good pitcher himself.
Richard Crenna plays Paul in this film and it's one of his earliest film roles. Paul Dean in real life was a quiet retiring sort who's career was also cut short by injuries. Because of that Crenna isn't given much to work with. During the Dean heyday, sportswriters tried to pin the nickname of Daffy on Paul, but it never took.
Joanne Dru, taking a break from playing, western gals in gingham dresses and corsets is first rate as the wise, patient, and understanding Patricia Nash who met and married Dizzy while he was playing for Houston in the Texas League.
In the 1937 All Star Game Dizzy started for the National League. Facing Cleveland's Earl Averill, Dean was hit on the foot by a line drive smack at him. Refusing to listen to medical advice, Dean came back to pitch too early. He'd broken a big toe and put too much of a strain on his arm. He was never the same pitcher and his refusal to accept that is part of the story.
Had he had a career of say ten to fifteen years who knows what pitching statistics he might have rolled up. Dean was the next to last pitcher to win 30 games in 1934 and after Denny McLain(who was something of a character himself)did it 1968 it hasn't been done since.
Dean went into broadcasting and while he was not the first former player to go into the broadcast booth, his colorful game descriptions made him an instant hit. He started broadcasting for the other St. Louis team, the Browns, and the Browns were a pretty miserable team with not much to cheer about. Dean became a star attraction there.
Of course part of the Dean story is the trouble he got into because of his lack of education and his colorful way of expressing himself on the air. That's part of the story I won't go into, but in the film it's handled with tact and humility and your eyes might moisten if you tend to the sentimental.
A fine baseball film, a real tribute to an American success story.
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