Jan 14, 2016

Former New York Giants Hall of Fame First Baseman: Johnny Mize (1942 / 1946-1949)

John Robert Mize was born on January 7th, 1913 in Demorest Georgia. The six foot, two left hand hitter was known as "the Big Cat". Mize attended Piedmont College & was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1930.

He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds organization while in the minors but an injury nullified the trade. He was brought up to the Cards in 1936, at the age of 23 years old, making an impression right away. He was a smooth fielding first baseman, with a keen batting eye who never stepped out of the batter's box between pitches.

In his rookie year he hit .329 (8th in the NL) with a .402 on base % (7th in the NL) , 19 HRs (5th in the NL) 30 doubles & 93 RBIs (9th in the NL). That year the Cardinals finished second and would do so three times in Mize's years in St. Louis (1936-1941). He would play in four All Star games as a Cardinal & come in second in the MVP voting twice.

In 1937 he batted a career best .364 but lost out on the batting title to team mate Ducky Joe Medwick who hit .374. Mize finished second in doubles (40), third in RBIs (113) & fourth in HRs (25) all behind league leader Medwick. In 1938 he led the NL in triples with 16, slugging (.614%) & total bases (3260 to go along with his 27 HRs & 102 RBIs. That season he became the first player to hit three HRs in a game twice in the same season.

Mize would lead the NL in slugging & total bases for three straight years. In 1939 he led the NL in HRs (28) for the first of two straight seasons. In 1940 he once again was runner up in the MVP voting, although he led the league in HRs (43) & RBIs (137). His 43 HRs broke Rogers Hornsby's Cardinal record & would stand until Mark McGwire broke it in 1998 with his MLB record at the time 70. Mize's .314 average had him finish fifth. That year Mize once again hit three HRs in a game on two different occasions.

Unfortunately playing in St. Louis & not getting to any World Series in those years had him over shadowed by other star players. Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio & Lou Gehrig all got more attention but Mize's numbers are similar.

By 1941,  the Cardinala GM Branch Rickey, thought Mize was getting past his prime, a ritual Rickey was famous for. He traded Mize to the New York Giants for three players & $50,000.

Mize played for Giants Manager; Mel Ott with the third place New York club. He led the club in hitting (.305) RBIs (110) & was second to Ott in HRs (26). At first base he led all first baseman in fielding (.994%) & would do so again in 1947.

Trivia: That same season he sued the Gum Products Co. who issued Double Play baseball Cards, with his image without his consent.

From there Mize went off to Military service for three years during World War II. After taking a year to adjust, he had a monster 1947 season. He led the league with a career high 51 HRs, 138 RBIs & 137 runs scored. He made the All Star team again and would do so in each of the four full seasons he played in New York with the Giants.

This year he finished third in the league's MVP voting. Mize tied for the HR title with Pittsburgh's Ralph Kiner & would do so again the next year with 40 round trippers. From that point on Kiner would win three more HR titles for a record six straight.

At first base Mize was tops in fielding once again (.996%) assists (118) put outs (1381) & games played (154).

The Giants fell to fourth & fifth places the next two years. Mize once again was on a good team historically that didn't win on years he played there. Mize hit three HRs in a game six different times, and was one of few players who did it in both leagues.

Trivia: Mize is credited as one of the first players to regularly smear mud under his eyes in order to block sun glare.

After the 1949 season he was unhappy with his playing time & was traded to the AL New York club. He would spend his last five seasons there playing as a part time player. In 1950 at age 37, he still hit 25 HRs while only playing in 90 games. Mize finally saw World Series action in his final five years.

Post Season: In the 1949 Series he got two pinch hits in two at bats against the Brooklyn Dodgers. In Game #3 his ninth inning pinch hit single drove in the two winning runs. Later in the 1952 Series he hit HRs in three straight games (#3-#4-#5). A fourth HR that series, was taken away by Brooklyn's Carl Furillo. Furillo saved the game with his catch,  preserving a Dodger win.

In his 15 year career, Mize batted .312 (88th all time) with 2011 hits, 359 HRs (80th all time) 367 doubles, 1118 runs scored (238rd all time) with 856 walks (196th all time) 1337 RBIs (89th all time) & a .397 on base % (71st all time).

At first base he played 1667 games (45th all time) turning 1320 double plays (40th all time) with 14850 assists (46th all time) & 14862 put outs (49th all time) with a .992 fielding %.

After many years of falling short in the Hall of Fame voting he was finally elected by the veterans committee in 1981. Mize missed three crucial years of play in his prime to military service. Also he got into the big leagues later than almost any other Hall of Fame player, which also contributed to lower stats.

Retirement: In 1961 he coached for the Kansas City A's. In the seventies he worked for a development compnat in St. Augustine Florida. He passed away in 1993 at age 80 in Demorest, Georgia.

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