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Dunk eats a poisoned hot dog.
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Death on the Diamond is a baseball-themed 1934 mystery film directed by Edward Sedgwick, starring Robert Young.

The St. Louis Cardinals arrive for spring training. The team did not do very well the previous year, so owner/manager Pop Clark (David Landau), determined to turn things around, went out and signed star pitcher Larry Kelly (Young). Cocky young Larry immediately falls for Pop's pretty daughter Frances (Madge Evans), who is the team secretary. Pop doesn't have time to worry about that, though: he mortgaged his interest in the team to buy Larry, and if the Cardinals don't win the pennant, Pop loses control of the team to the man who loaned him the money, Harry Ainsley. There's also a gangster, Joe McEvoy, who accepted a lot of bets on the Cardinals and stands to lose a million dollars if St. Louis wins the pennant.

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The Cardinals surprise everyone by rocketing to the top of the standings. Someone out there is determined to stop the Cardinals from winning, however, so they result to murder, killing Cardinal players one by one. As the season heads for the home stretch the Cardinals players have to concentrate on winning the pennant and staying alive.

Some scenes were shot at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, the Cardinals' actual home field of the era. A pre-stardom Ward Bond appears briefly as a cop, a pre-stardom Mickey Rooney appears briefly as the bat boy, and a pre-stardom Walter Brennan appears even more briefly as a hot dog vendor.

In Real Life, the Cardinals really did win the pennant in 1934, and the World Series too.


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Tropes:

  • Artistic License – Sports:
    • The Cardinals win their Opening Day game 4-2 on a two-run hit in the bottom of the ninth. The only problem is that a baseball game immediately ends when the home team takes the lead in the bottom of the ninth or extra innings, so since the hit wasn't a home run, the game should have ended 3-2 when the first run crossed the plate.
    • Expensive free agents like Larry Kelly were not a thing in baseball at this time, due to the reserve clause, and would not be a thing for another 40 years. One might Hand Wave this by saying that Larry was pitching for some other baseball organization, like the Pacific Coast League.
  • Big Game: The season finale with the pennant on the line. Larry starts out pretty shaky, because he's pretty sure there's someone in the stadium who is out to kill him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Larry. When another player points out that Dunk (the catcher) led the team in hitting last year, Larry says "Oh yeah? Look where he led them to!"
  • Dies Wide Open: Higgins, as seen when they open the door to his locker and his corpse comes tumbling out.
  • Down to the Last Play: After all that business with players getting murdered by a serial killer, it seems a little anti-climactic when Larry wins the game and the pennant with a walkoff (inside-the-park!) home run in the bottom of the ninth.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: Newsboys passing out papers with the crazy headline "CARDINALS DEFY KILLERS!"
  • Genre Mashup: A very bizarre mixture of Sports Stories and Mystery Fiction.
  • Gilligan Cut: A fan at the final ballgame says "Everything ought to be all right; they've got all these cops." Cut to a cop in a stadium tunnel, lying on the ground either unconscious or dead.
  • Hand of Death: Seen several times, like the Hand Of Death that reaches out to replace a good jar of mustard with a poisoned one, or the Hand Of Death that slips an explosive wristwatch into the sleeve of Larry's uniform.
  • His Name Is...: Dunk, who has been poisoned, is asked who called Higgins to the phone. He starts to raise a trembling finger, only to collapse to the ground in death.
  • Impairment Shot: A blurry shot from the POV of poor unfortunate Dunk, looking at his teammates as he's dying from eating poisoned mustard.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Averted. When Larry, on the mound, sees Patterson sticking the bomb in the sleeve of his jacket, he turns and throws a perfect fastball to nail Patterson in the head. This may seem improbable, but Larry is a major-league pitcher.
  • Laughing Mad: The killer is none of the more likely suspects, but Patterson the groundskeeper, a former major-league player who played for Pop. He blames Pop for the failure of his baseball career and thinks he could manage the team better than Pop. His villain rant ends with him screaming "I planned it! I planned it all!", then laughing maniacally.
  • Manly Tears: "Crawfish", the umpire, breaks down and sobs when his friend Dunk dies.
  • Running Gag: Dunk's inordinate fondness for hot dogs. When he has a hot dog knocked out of his hand, he pulls another one out from inside his suit.
  • Serial Killer: Stalking a baseball team, of all things.
  • Serious Business: Well, sure, baseball is important. But a baseball team probably wouldn't keep playing out the schedule while the players were being murdered. In one scene a Cardinals player is shot and killed by a sniper when running from third base to home, and they keep playing the game.
  • Skewed Priorities: Why the hell are they still playing baseball through all of this?
  • Sports Stories: A very odd example in that the typical baseball "loveable underdogs fight for the pennant" plot is actually just the background for a murder mystery.
  • Time Passes Montage: The progress of the season is shown by clips of baseball action while newspaper headlines show that the Cardinals are climbing up the standings.
  • We Interrupt This Program: A radio announcer says "Pardon me, folks, for interrupting this broadcast," as he takes the microphone from a singer to to deliver the latest report of a Cardinal being murdered. This may be the Trope Maker.
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