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Paul Dean Jr. The Last Dean, Perhaps Not!

“We’re like a hen with one chick. We raised that boy to be a baseball player and if he isn’t they will have to bury all of us.” – Pat Dean (Mrs. Dizzy Dean)

 

The third of three stories about Arkansas’ legendary Dean baseball family.

In the summer of 1955, Look magazine, the iconic biweekly pictorial read by millions of Americans, did another baseball story about a member of the Dean family. This time the laudatory two-page spread was not another recollection of the exploits of Dizzy and Daffy. Look came to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to introduce the American people to another Dean, a recent high school graduate named Paul Dean Jr. The magazine’s audacious headline promoted young Paul Jr. as, “The Greatest Dean of Them All.”

Paul Dean Jr. warms up in a tryout at Wrigley Field under the watchful eye of his father, Paul “Daffy” Dean.

Paul Dean Jr. was born in January 1937, in the midst of one of his father’s numerous frustrating attempts to come back from chronic arm problems. Being the son of Daffy Dean brought the newborn immediate attention. Press announcements following his birth proudly announced the one-day-old right-hander was indeed blessed with the famous “Dean Hands.”

As young Paul grew up around the minor league parks where Paul Sr. served in various capacities in baseball administration, the elder Dean brothers assumed the roles that reflected their contrasting personalities. Paul Sr. was the cautious father/coach. Obviously influenced by his own career-ending arm injuries, Paul Sr. did not allow his young son to pitch competitively until he reached the age of 12, and even then, curveballs were off-limits. Diz, on the other hand, was the unrestrained cheerleader and promoter. Exaggerated promises were not a burden to him as a pitcher, and just as he had with his brother Paul, he never hesitated to make lofty predictions about his nephew.

As had always been his custom, Dizzy Dean gushed reckless quotes, and the accommodating press was eager to print them. Before Paul Jr. reached high school, Diz had already promoted him as the next great Dean. “He’s the hottest thing you ever saw,” boasted Diz, “He’s gonna make ‘em forget me and Paul.”

By the time Look came to Hot Springs in the summer of 1955, Paul Dean Jr. had become an outstanding pitcher. Despite playing every game with the weight of the Dean reputation on his shoulders, and Uncle Dizzy’s lofty expectations shadowing his every pitch, Paul Jr. was dominating for Lakeside High School and in American Legion summer baseball. At 6’ 3” and near 200 lbs., he looked every bit like the major leaguer Dizzy had predicted.

Paul Jr. signed with SMU after graduation and spent a year as a college pitcher before being coming into his own by pitching in the Basin League, a college summer league in South Dakota. In the spring of 1957, the Milwaukee Braves convinced both father and son that escaping the limelight of college baseball and going pro was Paul Jr.’s best option.

Twenty-year-old Dean was assigned to Lawton, Oklahoma, the Braves Class D affiliate in the Sooner States League. At Lawton, Paul Dean Jr. would have one of the most remarkable seasons of any minor league pitcher in 1957. The season was not just noteworthy because Dean pitched well, which he did. His ERA was an excellent 2.94 and in 141 innings Dean gave up only 127 hits. The extraordinary element to the season was the astounding lack of run support in Dean’s appearances. He lost 12 one-run games and 8 times he was beaten 1 – 0. His win-loss record of 4 – 16 belied his excellent mound work. Paul Dean Jr. was one of the Braves’ top prospects.

In 1958, he was promoted to Eau Claire, the Braves Class C minor league club, but control problems resurfaced, and he was sent down to Midland in the Sophomore League in late May. “I have been wild,” Dean said, “I can’t seem to get the ball over.”

Dean was a respectable 7 – 6 for Midland, but he walked 79 batters in 115 innings. The “Dean Hands,” which were thought to be an asset when Paul Jr. was a child, were the culprit for his control problems. His hands were large and his fingers were long, like his father and Uncle Diz, but his middle finger was abnormally long. His grip was always in question and he had difficulty finding a release point.

Although he was invited to participate in the developmental league in Florida that winter, Paul Jr. did not report to the Braves’ Louisville club where he was assigned for 1959. He had lost his patience with baseball. Despite the Braves continued confidence that he might someday find the control to go with his talent, Paul Dean Jr. was ready to move on with this life outside baseball.

Dizzy Dean, influenced by his wife Pat’s love for her home in Mississippi, never called Arkansas home after he retired. Paul “Daffy” Dean never got far away. The same was true of Paul Dean Jr. He returned to his beloved Arkansas to raise his family and became a successful businessman. Paul Dean Jr. is retired and living in Greenwood, where he enjoys watching his grandchildren’s sports teams.

Perhaps the “greatest Dean of them all” is yet to come.

Paul Dean Jr. with Susan and author Jim Yeager.  Perhaps the next Dean star is not far away…

See also Dizzy Dean’s Last Game and Daffy Dean Weds Miss Russellville.

Photos courtesy of Dean family. Look Magazine photos from Public Domain collection in Library of Congress

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Jim Yeager is a baseball historian who resides with his wife, Susan, in Russellville. A member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Robinson-Kell Arkansas Chapter of SABR, Yeager is a frequent presenter on the history of rural baseball in Arkansas. His book titled Backroads and Ballplayers features stories of more than 50 rural Arkansans who played professional baseball in the first half of the 20th century. More information on Backroads and Ballplayers – www.backroadsballplayers.com

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