Saturday, August 9, 2014

August 9, 1934: There Was Dizzy, There Was Daffy, There Was Elmer The Great

     On August 9, 1934, Elmer "The Great" Dean decided selling peanuts in St. Louis was not for him. The oldest brother of Dizzy and Paul had been talked into coming to the big city by his brothers and given a job by the club. He had sold peanuts for a Cardinals minor league affiliate in Houston called the Buffaloes before he made the trip to the Mound City, and he quickly realized that it was not for him.

     The story of Elmer Dean is an interesting one. He had dreams of making it on the big league diamond, but that never came to be. With that said, his tale is one that should be told, because even though his time in Cardinal Nation was short, he too has his place amongst the great tales from the past.

     Like his brothers, Elmer's date of birth came with question mark. There was a time where that it was not all that unusual, as birth records were not kept in the same way that they are today. What we do know is he was the first brother in the Dean clan of three. There was a time when the siblings were growing up that they had gotten separated while the Dean's were traveling through Texas working the cotton fields. It was several years before someone asked Elmer if they knew of this pitcher that called himself Dizzy who was pitching for Houston. He showed him a newspaper clipping of his younger brother, and Elmer went to Houston where they were reunited. Dizzy got him a job slingin peanuts and drinks, which was far better than the job he had been working at on a farm where he had been making ten cents a day. It was said when Elmer wasn't at the ballpark he loved riding elevators in the office buildings around Houston. It was his only vice.

   Elmer did try his hand at the sport that was going to make his brothers famous. He claimed that everything they knew was taught to them by him. However, his did not have that natural abilities, but he sure thought he did. In 1935, Lon Warneke of the Chicago Cubs watched Elmer during a pitching school in Houston. Warneke told him to ease off on the way he was throwing a bit, but the ever defiant Dean brother told the pro that he was just as good a pitcher as his brothers, and he had never had a sore arm. He also claimed he had a screwball that was better than Warneke's. It's safe to say that was not true since Warneke spent 15 years in the big leagues,which included a no-hitter as a member of the Cardinals in 1941. One of the funnier things that came out of the pitching session with Warneke is Elmer tried to deny the fact that he was a peanut vendor when it was well documented. He was a pitcher in his own mind that day.

     While Dean did join the House of David baseball team in 1936 he never did make it as a professional. The House of David was a bearded club that barnstormed around the United States during the first half of the 20th century. It is speculation on my part, but with a familiar name like Dean on their club it might have helped sell a few tickets. By 1937 he was back in Houston sellin peanuts, and cracker jacks, while helpin fans not care if they ever got back. By all accounts the fans their enjoyed him, and it seemed like he had a good relationship with them as well.

     The information about the eldest Dean brother is scarce. There was a small window where his name grabbed quite a few headlines, but that window closed. It was reported by the Sporting News that he passed away on September 24th of 1956 at the estimated age of 47. The small article that was printed about his death said he had worked as a farmer later in life. I have often heard Paul referred to as "the other Dean." There was another Dean as well. His name was Elmer. He was part of Cardinal Nation for just a minute, but during that minute he forever placed himself into the great history of the organization.

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