Monday, March 28, 2016

The Gashouse Gang - John Heidenry

The Gashouse Gang focuses on the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, who managed to win a World Series despite spending a good portion of the season squabbling among themselves. Players against players, players against the manager, players against the cheapskate front office. Dizzy Dean and his brother Paul basically went on strike twice during the season to get some raises (it didn't work either time).

Heidenry admits no one is entirely sure when the team got the name "Gashouse Gang", or what, precisely it was supposed to mean. Mostly though, it's the collection of characters that wouldn't have been out of place in Major League. Dizzy Dean as the hotshot ace pitcher, running his mouth, daring the other team to hit his best stuff, reveling in his celebrity. Leo Durocher as the surly shortstop with serious debts. Je Medwick as the surly slugger seemingly ready to fight his own teammates at any moment. Frankie Frisch as player-manager, trying to not let the Dean brothers walk all over them, even though constituted basically his entire pitching staff (the part that didn't suck, anyway).

The parts of the book about the actual games are almost incidental to all the stories about the stuff the players got up to and said in their off-hours, or even during the games. It was reasonably entertaining, though I think sports are most effective for me when I have some sort of emotional connection because of some personal memory or experience. The Gashouse Gang far predates even my dad, so that isn't there. It's not a deal-breaker, but I imagine if I had fond memories of that season the book might be more effective.

There were some facts I wasn't aware of, such as Branch Rickey essentially creating the minor league system as it exists in baseball today while running the Cardinals' front office. And he did it for the same reason teams try to put money into their farm systems today: Because it was a way to potentially get good players at cut-rate prices. Which brings up a dilemma I've found myself facing over the last few years. I like watching teams that consist mostly of players drafted and developed in-house, seeing them get better as they gain experience. But it's also true those players would be making a lot more if the system in place didn't restrict them from selling their services openly among all the teams for up to the first 7 years of their major league career. It helps team owners save money, and I'm generally opposed to anything that helps the owners at the expense of the players, since the players are the ones I'm wanting to watch.

'A half dozen teammates joined Dean in the sock search, turning over piles of dirty laundry and ransacking other lockers for a frantic three minutes. If Dizzy Dean could pitch only with his lucky sock in his pocket, that sock was vitally important to the entire team.

"You've never had more than two socks in your entire life," Frisch finally growled. "You'll probably find it on your foot."

Dean glanced down at his right foot, and there it was. He had put the dirty lucky sock over his size 12 right foot. Sheepishly, he apologized for causing such an uproar.'

1 comment:

B. S. Denton said...

As entertaining as Dizzy Dean could apparently be, I still think I would have punched him in the mouth over the sock search. Or at least disparaged his intelligence behind his back.