The Gashouse Gang
The 1934 St. Louis Cardinals were “America’s Team.” Nothing fancy, they consisted of players with a wide range of colorful nicknames: James “Ripper” Collins, Leo “The Lip” Durocher, Johnny “Pepper” Martin, Joe “Ducky” Medwick, Virgil “Spud” Davis, player-manager Frankie “The Fordham Flash” Frisch, and pitchers William “Wild Bill” Hallahan, Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean, and Dizzy’s brother, Paul “Daffy” Dean.
They were the Gashouse Gang, a zany bunch of brash, arrogant individuals who clawed their way to the National League pennant with 95 wins by taking 20 of their last 25 games, inching out Bill Terry’s New York Giants by two games. They did it with strong pitching, clutch hitting, and wreck neck speed on the base paths, predominantly by players who had worked their way through GM Branch Rickey’s coveted farm system. Many were Southern country boys from working-class families. They were a scruffy group, who often wore dirty, unwashed uniforms. They were loud, obnoxious, and knew how to get under the skin of opponents, as well as their own teammates. “We fought among ourselves,” Leo Durocher once informed sportswriter Jimmy Cannon, “but we stuck together if anyone picked on us. There was a fight every day . . . with each other or the other ball club.”
The name Gashouse may have originated when a few Cardinals players were bragging one day in mid-1934 that they could beat any American League team in the World Series. Shortstop Durocher, who had played a few years earlier with the New York Yankees, then added, “They wouldn’t even let us in that league over there. They think we’re just a bunch of gas housers.” The term gas house referred to factories in towns and cities that used to turn coal into gas for electricity and cooking. The plants were known for a foul smell and were usually situated in the “bad end” of town.
Prior to the start of the 1934 season, 23-year-old Dizzy Dean, never at a loss for words, informed the St. Louis press that he and younger brother Paul—a rookie that season—would win 45 games all by themselves. He was wrong. They won 49 games—Dizzy with 30 (the last 30-game winner in the National League) and Paul with 19. The rest of the Cardinals pitchers won 46.
Cardinal pitchers Paul Dean and brother Dizzy, the ace of the Gashouse Gang.
The Deans showed their true stuff on September 21, during a doubleheader at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field when Dizzy shut out the Dodgers 13–0 on three hits in the first game, only to be outdone by Paul’s 3–0 no-hitter in the second game. “If’n Paul had told me he was gonna pitch a no-hitter,” Dizzy said right after, “I’d of throwed one, too.” At season’s end, Dizzy also informed the press that he and Paul would take care of the American League pennant-winning Detroit Tigers in the World Series. He and Paul then won two games each to beat Detroit in seven games, with Dizzy winning the last game 11–0 on a six-hitter. “They were just pussy cats with me,” Dizzy insisted.
Dizzy Dean was the epitome of the Gashouse Gang. Jay Hanna Dean was one of five children born to sharecropping parents from Arkansas who could barely feed and clothe their offspring. With almost zero education, young Jay was picking cotton by the time he had turned 10. Cardinals scouts noticed him in his late teens pitching for a U.S. Army team following his enlistment.
Quickly working his way up to the Majors after two years of Class A ball, Dean reeked of his own confidence. As far as he was concerned, he was the greatest player since the invention of rounders. Durocher said of him, “Dizzy had everything. Fastball, curve and, later, control. He gave it to them sidearm, overhand, three-quarters. The ball was always alive. He could tell the batters what was coming and strike them out.” The press loved Dean. Management, however . . .
Dean had a bad habit of strolling into Branch Rickey’s office, putting his feet up on his desk, and spouting off nonstop. Following one of these bull sessions, Rickey met the press afterwards in a totally flustered state. “By Judas Priest!” he confided, “if there were more like him in baseball, just one, as God is my judge, I’d be out of the game.” In Branch Rickey’s Little Blue Book, Rickey stated, “I completed college in three years. I was in the top ten percent of my class in law school. I’m a Doctor of Jurisprudence. I am an honorary Doctor of Law. Tell me why I spent four mortal hours today conversing with a person named Dizzy Dean.”
Dean went on to win 28 games in 1935, then 24 in 1936. But in the 1937 All-Star Game, he took a line drive off his toe. Returning to the mound too soon, he changed his pitching motion to compensate for the injury, thereby throwing his arm out. The Cardinals then traded him to the Chicago Cubs in 1938. After retirement from active playing, he became an announcer and used his down-home, country style of butchering words and baseball terms and his knowledge of the game to his advantage. He teamed up with ex-Dodger Pee Wee Reese on the CBS-TV Game of the Week in the early 1960s, games that I thoroughly enjoyed on many Saturday afternoons.
Another country boy on the 1934 team was the hustling prankster Pepper Martin, who may have been the fastest base runner in his day, someone who—supposedly—could outrun rabbits. His bellyflop slides were legendary. His aggressive style of play led to a number of games missed in his career, many due to base collisions. As a rookie center fielder with the Cardinals in 1931, he hit an even .300 in 123 games. In the World Series, he collected a record 12 hits in 24 at-bats, including one homer and four doubles to help beat Connie Mack’s heavily favored Philadelphia A’s in seven games. He also stole five bases off catcher Mickey Cochrane. On May 5, 1933, Martin, by now the regular third baseman, hit for the cycle against the Philadelphia Phillies.
By 1934, Martin and his battered body at 30 years of age was still fast enough to lead the league with 23 stolen bases in only 110 games. He rose to the occasion that fall, hitting 11 for 31 in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers, with three doubles, a triple, and eight runs scored. He hit a double, a triple, and scored twice in a 4–1 victory in Game 3. In career World Series play, he hit 23 for 55, and a .418 average, with seven stolen bases.
Four-time All-Star Pepper Martin played his entire 13-year major league career with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Two other notable characters on the 1934 Cardinals were Leo “The Lip” Durocher and Joe “Ducky” Medwick. The pool-hustling Durocher was a fiery, all-ego, all-glove, no-hit shortstop, who left a trail of bad checks that he needed to finance his expensive tastes for food, drink, clothes, fast women, and slow horses. Breaking into the Majors as a Yankee infielder in 1928, he and Babe Ruth did not hit it off. Ruth called Durocher, “the All-American Out” and accused him of stealing his watch.
As a 1934 Cardinal and captain of the team, Durocher hit only .260, weakest of the regulars, but he contributed with his solid glove and bombastic bench jockeying that made many nearby fans—male and female—blush. Durocher supposedly coined the phrase “Nice guys finish last.” His true forte was managing. He led the miracle New York Giants to the 1951 National League pennant and skippered a World Series championship win for them three years later. He is 10th on the all-time list with 2,008 victories, while managing three clubs. He is also fourth on the list with 95 tosses from the game.
Hard-hitting outfielder, Joe “Ducky” Medwick in 1934.
Like Martin, 22-year-old Medwick was an aggressive base runner. He hit .319 in the 1934 season, only his second full season in the Majors, with a league-leading 18 triples, then .379 in the World Series. He would swing at every pitch anywhere close to the strike zone. He’s widely known for knocking down Tigers third baseman Mark Owen when he slid hard into the base during the sixth inning of the 11–0 Game 7 rout of the Tigers in Detroit.
Returning to his outfield spot, Medwick was pelted with fruit, vegetables, and garbage, which forced Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, attending the game, to remove Medwick for his own safety. The Cardinals didn’t mind because they were up 9–0 at that point. After the game, Medwick said, “Well, I knew why they threw that garbage at me. What I don’t understand is why they brought it to the park in the first place.”
In 1937, Medwick won the Triple Crown, the last National League hitter to accomplish the mighty feat. While on a USO tour as a New York Giant in 1944, he was in the presence of Pope Pius XII. When the Pope asked Medwick what he did for a living, he replied, “Your holiness. I’m Joe Medwick. I, too, used to be a Cardinal.”
Members of the famous St. Louis Cardinals “Gashouse Gang” reunited in 1950 to take on the New York Giants Old Timers at the Polo Grounds. The former teammates—Rip Collins, Ernie Orsatti, Jess Haines, Leo Durocher, Pepper Martin, Stu Martin, Joe Medwick, Virgil Davis, Tex Carleton and Jack Rothrock— lost the three-inning exhibition, 2-1.