47 years gone but not forgotten

This week will mark 47 years since one of Wiggins’ most famous residents passed away.

Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean died on July 17, 1974. Born in a small shack in Arkansas to tenant farmers, Dean grew up to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, and St. Louis Browns during Major League Baseball’s most iconic eras from 1930 until 1947. He was well known to many baseball legends like Babe Ruth and cemented his celebrity as a sports broadcaster after his baseball playing career drew to an end.

He moved to Wiggins with his wife. He was well-known by many residents during his life here. After his death, the bulk of his memorabilia was donated to establish the Dizzy Dean Museum in Jackson, Mississippi. The Dean exhibit is now part of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame & Museum. Dean’s collection is the museum’s most valuable collection of artifacts and the large exhibit on full display year-round.

“He was just nice to everybody,” columnist Rick Cleveland said. “He was this one guy that was popular with everybody, everywhere. He was universally loved He’s still my favorite part of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.”

As a teenager in Hattiesburg, Cleveland caddied for Dean in a pro-amateur golf tournament that benefitted a local charity. He remembers Dean’s signature humor and way with words to this day.

At the tournament, a spectator asked Dean why he always swung so wide at the golf tee.

“If you had to swing around a belly as big as mine, you would slice it, too,” Dean told the man.

Dean’s quick-witted response still makes Cleveland chuckle.

“I have never forgotten that,” he said.

Cleveland remembers how Dean brought many sports legends under one roof when he died.

“We went to the funeral. I remember Dad and I were able to sit where they had a roped-off area for various visiting celebrities and we sat right behind Bear Bryant, and Johnny Vaught,” Cleveland said. “Oh, it was unbelievable how many people were there at First Baptist Church of Wiggins.”