Honed Pitching Skills In Army
In 1926, the lean and lanky 16-year-old Dean was looking for a better life. He persuaded the U.S. Army that he was 18 and enlisted. For Dean, Army life was good. He got paid, he got food, and his first pair of new shoes.
Dean, however, proved to be a dismal soldier at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The only place he stood out was as a pitcher for the base's baseball team. It was during his Army years that Dean earned the nickname "Dizzy." A sergeant called him Dizzy once after he'd done something stupid. Also, his fastballs made batters dizzy. The name was so perfect, it stuck, and Dean was more than happy to play the part.
In March 1929, Dean left the Army. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and spent 1930 in their farm system. In 1932, Dean experienced his first full major league season. The rookie led the league in strikeouts (191) and innings pitched (286), ending the season with 18 wins. In 1933, he won 20 games and set a new major league record with 17 strikeouts in one game.
Along with his fastball, Dean's personality stood out. He was a born actor, who used the baseball diamond as his stage. One sweltering July afternoon, Dean built a pretend fire in front of the dugout, then sat under a wool blanket, mocking the 105-degree heat. Perched at hotel windows, he and teammate Pepper Martin dropped bags of water on walkers below.
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