I was born and raised a Cubs fan. Actually, I grew up in a divided household. My mom’s side of the family were Cubs fans, my dad’s side of the family were White Sox fans. Some say you can’t root for both, but I do. Though, I have always been bigger on the Cubs. So I can deal with the North side vs. South side rivalry in a friendly way. When it comes to the battle between the Cubs and their National League rivals that lurk just 300 miles to the southwest, the St. Louis Cardinals, that just is not possible. Somehow, though, I was able to muster the strength to take in a film about one of the most colorful characters in the history of Cardinals baseball…Dizzy Dean. Twisting the title around from a much more famous baseball film, it’s 1952’s The Pride of St. Louis.
The film begins with a scout from the Cardinals visiting Arkansas and spotting the potential in a young pitcher, Jerome Herman Dean (Dan Dailey). Though Dean thinks he has the talent to head straight to the Cardinals, he is sent to Houston to begin working with the Cardinals’ farm club. Dean is a bit rough around the edges, to say the least. He knows nothing of life in the big city. After seeing the way his teammates dress off the field he decides he needs a change in his wardrobe. So he heads to a department store and goes on a shopping spree, which he tells the clerk to bill to the ball team. This lands him in the office of the credit manager, Patricia Nash (Joanne Dru), who he immediately starts to court.
It doesn’t take long for Dean, now nicknamed Dizzy, to get the call up to the big show. He and Pat end up eloping, though, before he heads up. Dizzy quickly becomes one of the most famous pitchers in the game, and manages to create opportunities for his younger brother Paul (Richard Crenna) to join the Cardinals’ ranks as well. The brothers become known for their antics, which includes working the ticket windows and selling refreshments when they aren’t pitching. At one point when the brothers are slapped with a fine after missing a game, they hold their own personal strike against the team.
As the years pass, Dizzy’s arm begins to deteriorate. His attempts to stick with the game despite his health issues fail. This lands him in the grasp of gambling and booze for a time before he finds a place as a play-by-play broadcaster.
Even though this film is called The Pride of St. Louis, Dean did hurl for the Cubs for a time, so that makes it a bit easier to handle. There is no question that Dizzy Dean was a colorful character, I just don’t know that this movie really does the best job of capturing him effectively. Dan Dailey’s performance as Dean reminds me a lot of Don Murray’s role as Bo in Bus Stop. Both are country boys, both are headstrong to a fault, both are set in their ways and are virtually unwilling to consider anyone else’s view, let alone let them finish a sentence. In the same way, both characters have many moments where they come across as extremely annoying. Many viewers will find themselves wishing they could reach into the screen and give old Dizzy a good slap.
As colorful a character as Dean is, though, there isn’t really much interesting stuff that happens to him during this film. Even when we get to the point where he has to struggle with the demons of gambling and alcohol, this only uses up roughly five minutes of screen time. I have no idea how much Dean had to fight these addictions in real life, but in this film they feel somewhat tacked on.
The film is fun to watch, though, for its portrayals of baseball in the 30’s and 40’s. Whereas some older films just feel like they shot on a generic baseball field set on a soundstage, this film at least puts a little more effort into things. Scenes set at Wrigley Field actually look like The Friendly Confines. It might be courtesy of a rear projection screen, but at least we get the ivy.
This is not really a bad film, but it ain’t exactly going to make the starting lineup when it comes to baseball movies. The Pride of St. Louis is a little bit hokey, but it manages to be mildly entertaining at times…even for a Cubs fan.