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1934 World Series and the “Gas House Gang”
I’ve always been fascinated by the “Gas House Gang” and their great season of 1934. No one thought the Cardinals had a chance to wrest the National League pennant from the 1933 champion Giants. But they won 95 games that year, including an amazing late-season comeback, winning 20 of their last 25 games, clinching the pennant on the last day of the season. They carried their momentum to a victory in an exciting seven-game World Series over the heavily favored Detroit Tigers, a team featuring such stars as Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane, and Goose Goslin.
The team was led by playing manager Frankie Frisch and captain Leo Durocher. Other stars included Joe Medwick, Ripper Collins, and Pepper Martin – the heart and soul of the team whose zany antics kept the Cardinals’ clubhouse loose. The team featured five regulars who hit at least .300, a 30-game winner in Dean, and four All-Stars. Rip Collins led the team in sixteen offensive categories with a .333 batting average, a .615 slugging percentage, 35 home runs, and 128 runs batted in.
In the World Series, the Cards and Tigers split the first two games in Detroit, and the Tigers took two of the next three in St. Louis. St. Louis proceeded to win the next two, including an 11-0 embarrassment of the Tigers in Detroit to win the Series. The stars for the Cards were Medwick, who had a .379 batting average with one of St. Louis’s two home runs and a series-high five RBI, and the Dean Brothers, who combined for all four of the teams wins with 28 strikeouts and a minuscule 1.43 earned run average.
The architect of the Gas House Gang team was Branch Rickey, the Bible-reading Methodist who transformed the also-ran Cardinals into perennial winners. Together with owner Sam Breadon, they produced a remarkable five pennants and two world championships in eight years. Rickey had the unique ability to recognize talent amidst the improbable reservoir of miscreants, rubes, country hicks, drunks, and other assorted odd-ball personalities called baseball players, and then somehow transform this dysfunctional mix into championship teams.
Rickey paid a huge price for glory in 1934 – he had to contend with Dizzy Dean and his habitual whinning and endless clowning. All this is detailed in John Heidenry’s great book “The Gashouse Gang.” It’s hard to put Dean’s tiresome antics into words. Combine, if you will, the annoying personalities of Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds,the prankish natures of Bob Uecker and Ozzie Guillen, and the pitching talents of Nolan Ryan…then multiply by a factor of ten…and you might begin to appreciate Branch Rickey’s burden that year.
Dean would have been enough to drive mere mortals from the game. But Branch Rickey, as we know, was no mere mortal; and, in later years became almost a saint. In 1934 Dean simply had to be tolerated, as he put together a phenomenal year: 30 wins, 2.66 ERA, 195 strike outs, 311 innings pitched, and winning two games in the World Series. Together with brother Paul, the Deans won an astounding 49 of the team’s 95 victories.
The “Gashouse” nickname, by most accounts, came from the team’s generally very shabby appearance and rough-and-tumble tactics. An opponent once stated that the Cardinals players usually went into the field in unwashed, dirty, and smelly uniforms. According to one account, scrappy shortstop Leo Durocher coined the term. He and his teammates were speaking derisively of the American League, and the consensus was that the Redbirds—should they prevail in the National League race—would handle whoever won the American League pennant. “Why, they wouldn’t even let us in that league over there. They think we’re just a bunch of gashousers.”
Photo Credits: The George Brace Baseball Photography Collection; public domain.
Background Information: “Nice Guys Finish Last”, by Leo Durocher; Excepts edited from my review of “The Gashouse Gang,” by John Heidenry; and excerpts edited from “The Gashouse Gang” Wikipedia page
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