It’s tempting to claim that baseball players were much more colorful and interesting in the “old days.”
That’s because it’s true.
Years ago, well before ballplayers were scrutinized and probed by TV, Cable TV, and the Internet, we seemed to know more about what they were really like just through newspapers, radio, and glimpses of their personality on the diamond. That could be because back in those days, ballplayers were less suspicious of the media and more apt to show their true colors.
One of the most colorful players to ever wear the uniform of the Detroit Tigers was Paul Trout, better known as “Dizzy.” Trout was an incurable socialite, a small town boy from Sandcut, Indiana, who grew to love the bright lights of the big city, a fun-loving prankster, and a marvelous pitcher who entertained crowds with his talented right arm and showmanship on the hill.
During the off-season in 1946, Trout paid a price for his irreverent ways – he lost almost every penny he had in a bit of dice playing with a gang of crooked gamblers. The exact location of the infamous incident is not clear – it may have been in Miami, where Ol ‘Diz was known to frequent the night scene. Other baseball figures were on hand, that much we know, including the fancy-dressed Leo Durocher, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Durocher never met a seedy nightclub or backroom watering hole that he didn’t like. He was an avid gambler and craps was one of his favorite pastimes. With Leo that evening was the actor George Raft, famous for his roles in gangster movies like “Scarface.” Raft was more than just a gangster on screen – he associate with nefarious characters in his free time as well. He and Durocher set up the craps game that Trout was drawn into. As the night turned to the early morning hours, Trout joined the other “shooters” at the craps table, but his luck was not good. After one unfortunate tumble of the dice, Trout lost every penny he brought into the game, as well as a promissory note for several thousand dollars. At the time, Trout was earning $25,000 a year to toss the baseball for the Bengals, but in that one evening at the craps table, the bespectacled right-hander lost almost half that. He was lucky to get out of the room with his shirt and cuff links.
Needless to say, the incident was quickly fodder for the gossip mill. Word spread fast that Trout and others had lost thousands of dollars to Durocher and Raft. Trout was sheepish about it, but his embarrassment soon turned to anger when he learned that Durocher and Raft had rigged the craps game with trick dice. Unfortunately, Trout had no recourse – the game wasn’t exactly legal to begin with. But the story found its way to the ears of baseball commissioner Happy Chandler, who eventually suspended Durocher for the entire ’47 season for “associating with known gamblers.” It wasn’t the first time that “Leo the Lip” had brought a black stain to the game. In the 1920s, when he was a young teammate of Babe Ruth’s on the Yankees, Durocher had allegedly stolen several hundred dollars and several pieces of expensive jewelry from the clubhouse that belonged to Ruth and other teammates. That incident was never fully resolved, but Durocher carried a reputation as a shady character throughout his life.
The 32-year old Trout had one of his least consistent seasons in ’47, perhaps because he was still sick about losing all that money. But more likely because he was on the downside of his career. Once a top pitcher as part of the Tigers’ famed “TNT” trio that included Virgil Trucks and Hal Newhouser, Trout had won 27 games in 1944 when he paced the league in ERA, complete games (an incredible 33), and innings. During his peak, from 1943 to 1946, there were few pitchers in baseball who commanded as much respect and attention as Dizzy. Years before Mark Fidrych, Trout was as entertaining as “The Bird” on the mound: waving his fielders into position, chatting with opposing players, and delighting the crowd with his ability to strike out batters in tight spots. His touch of wildness was just another feature of Trout’s game that led fans to watch his every move.
Dizzy was no slouch with the lumber in his hands, either. In ’44 he socked five home runs in just 133 at-bats, driving in 24 runs. Trout always liked to help his own cause when he was on the hill. He smacked 20 homers in his career, which was a good thing because he often received fewer runs of support than his pitching teammates. For his career, though Diz posted a very good 3.23 ERA, he was only able to accumulate a 170-161 win/loss mark. In 1945, for example, in his 15 losses, the Tigers were only able to produce 2.4 runs per game for Trout. The previous season, when he won 27 games, in his 14 losses he got even less run support – just 2.3 per game.
Given the lack of run support he often received, it can be said that Trout had some bad luck on the mound, and at least once – at the craps table too. After his playing career, Dizzy worked as a Tiger broadcaster for three years starting in 1953. He also ran for sheriff of Wayne County in the 1950s, but lost. He passed away at the age of 56 in 1972.