Last sermon on the mound. . .
By Douglas W. Shanks
“Howdy Pardners, I’ve been waiting for you!” – with that booming introduction from the man himself, I was face to face with a true American legend. I was stunned at the hugeness of the man; everything was gigantic. His hands were massive. He stood at least 6’4” and he had one of the largest smiles I’d ever seen.
“Ole Diz” was about to conduct his last personal tour of the Dizzy Dean Hall of Fame Museum in Wiggins, MS. For the next two hours, we walked through mementos of Dizzy’s life. Later, Pat, Dizzy’s wife, told me she had never heard some of the answers to questions that I had received.
“Dizzy,” I asked, “who was the greatest pitcher ever?”
“Pardner, when Ole Diz was right, there were none better!” Then, Dizzy’s voice dropped and he said, “Satchel Paige was, by far, the greatest pitcher I ever saw or played against. I didn’t see Satchel pitch until he was 30 years old. No telling how great he would have been if they had let him play.”
This was a reference to baseball’s ban on black players that finally ended in the 1950’s.
I was trying to convince Dizzy to donate the museum to Jackson, MS, so that more people could view this treasure of the American dream. We shook hands on moving the museum to Jackson. “I really want to keep it in Mississippi,” Diz said, “so I’ve been praying for this. I’ll be back home in two weeks and we will work out the details, Pardner.”
As I walked to my car, Dizzy stopped me. “Look there is this old ballplayer in Jackson who is down on his luck – here’s $250 – go get him, take him to Louis Wilson’s (a men’s fine clothing store in Jackson) and buy him a suit so he can go to an Old Timer’s game in New York. Don’t tell him where it came from.”
Later, Pat told me she wouldn’t give Dizzy more than $250 at a time because he would invariably give it away.
The next day, Dizzy left Mississippi for a golf tournament in Nevada, never to return to his museum. He suffered a heart attach and died.
Two weeks later, we buried Old Diz. An old ballplayer in a new suit was at his funeral.
Doug Shanks is the head baseball coach at Mississippi Valley State. He is a former city commissioner of Jackson and brought the Dizzy Dean Museum, now part of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, to Jackson.