On October 9, 1934, the St. Louis Cardinals defeat the Detroit Tigers in the seventh game of the World Series. No one seems to know exactly who was the first to call that year’s Cards the “Gashouse Gang,” but everyone agrees that the nickname had to do with the team’s close resemblance to the rowdy, dirt-streaked assemblage of thugs who hung around the Gashouse District on Manhattan’s East Side. In any case, the matchup between St. Louis’ disheveled, brawl-prone Gang and the ace Tigers remains, as legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice predicted it would, “one of the most interesting post-season championships ever played.”
In 1919, St. Louis’ general manager Branch Rickey (a teetotalling Methodist who refused to watch his own team play on the Sabbath) decided to build a team on the cheap. Instead of paying $100,000 or more for already-established players, he decided to train them himself, building an elaborate farm system that would send top-notch kids to the big leagues once he’d gotten them good and ready to play there.
By 1934, Rickey’s system had begun to pay off. His team had flashes of brilliance: Pitcher Dizzy Dean, a hillbilly from the Ozarks, won 30 games that year, the last time any pitcher won 30 in a season until Denny McLain won 31 in 1968. Dean’s brother Paul (“Daffy”) won 19. (The rest of the team’s pitchers, combined, won 46. As a result, the brothers Dean went on an unsuccessful weeklong strike at the end of the summer to protest their inadequate paychecks.) Rickey’s scrappy, short-tempered bunch of country boys won 20 of their last 25 regular-season games, and they took the league pennant from the Giants–who’d squandered a seven-game lead going into September–at the last minute.
And so it was that Rickey’s Gashouse Gang faced the Tigers in a riveting seven-game Series. Thanks mostly to some remarkably inept play from Detroit’s usually stellar infield, the Cardinals won the first game 8-3. The Tigers took the second in 12 innings. In the third, Daffy Dean made everybody nervous by stranding 13 men on base, but his team triumphed 4-1. In Game 4, Dizzy Dean’s own shortstop beaned him in the head so hard that, according to the papers, the throw bounced 30 feet in the air and 100 feet down the right-field line. Detroit won the game. The Series was tied. The Tigers took the next game and St. Louis the one after that.
In the seventh, at Detroit, the Cards were winning handily. But all the Series’ pent-up tension came pouring out in the sixth inning when the pugnacious Ducky Medwick slid into the Tigers’ third baseman with his spikes up and then kicked him in the crotch, hard. When Medwick took his position in the outfield in the next inning, angry Detroiters pelted him with hot dogs, soda bottles, seat cushions and just about everything else they could find. He left the field three times; each time he returned, the barrage continued. Finally, to calm everyone down and bring the game to an end already, the baseball commissioner himself threw Medwick out of the stadium. The Cards protested, but it didn’t matter anyway: They won the game 11-0, and with it the World Series.