Mar 5, 2020

Mel Ott: New York Giants Hall of Famer (1926-1947)

 Melvin Thomas Ott (Known as “Master Melvin”) was born on March 2, 1909 in Gretna, Louisiana. He was born into a family of Dutch ancestry and semi pro ball players. A young Ott worked in a lumber yard 90 miles outside of New Orleans, eventually going to play for their semi pro baseball team. The millionaire lumber company owner went to New York to tell New York Giants manager John McGraw about his star player, Ott. 

McGraw signed Ott as soon as he saw him belt line drive HRs during the try out, he was only 16 years old. He was not built like your typical HR hitter, standing only 5’ 9” at 170 lbs. Ott had an unusual swing, lifting his forward leg just before hitting the ball. This helped his power swing and he would go on to become one of the game’s best all time HR hitters. 

McGraw was afraid minor league managers would ruin his swing, so he brought Ott right up to the big league club. He sat on the bench all year studying the game. By 1928 he was the Giants starting right fielder, and became one of the game’s best players. In the outfield he made 29 assists, with 12 double plays, and mastered the caroms off the Polo Grounds strange dimensions. 

Those dimensions would help his power production down the short 258 foot, right field line. He hit 42 HRs & drove in a career high 151 runs coming in second in both categories. He would go on to lead the league in HRs six times, come in second seven times, and be in the top eight 14 straight seasons. He became the youngest player at age 22 to reach the 100 HR mark in 1931. 

By 1937 he passed Rogers Hornsby as the all time NL HR leader, a record he held until Willie Mays broke it 31 years later. Ott became the first National Leaguer to hit 500 home runs in 1945, and was the all time NL leader when he retired from the game. 

He also holds the MLB record for leading his team in HRs, 18 consecutive years from 1928 to 1945. In today’s free agency era, that record will probably never be surpassed. Of Ott's 511 career home runs, 323 of them, or 63 percent, came at home, the most by any player ever hit at the Polo grounds. He also has the distinction of hitting the most HRs in any MLB city and in New York as well. Ott hit 343 career HRs in New York ball parks, four more than Babe Ruth. In 1934 he led the league in RBIs (135) and came in the top ten 12 times.

  In 1936 he became the first player to drive in over 100 runs, eight straight seasons, and only three other players have done it since. He would have twelve 90 plus RBI seasons. When he retired he was the NL RBI leader of the 20th century & second overall to only Cap Anson.

He hit over .300 nine times including a career high .349 in 1930. He made the All Star team 12 straight seasons (1934-1945) and although he never won an MVP Award, he was in the running 13 times. Ott also put up incredible on base percentages, leading the league four times, coming in second another four times, and postings a .414% in his career. 

He also led the league in walks six times, and walked over 100 times ten different seasons. Ott is only one of five players ever to be walked with the bases loaded. Twice in his career he walked six times in a doubleheader, setting the MLB record. He drew five walks in a game on three different occasions & set another record walking seven straight times in June 1943.

Ott didn’t strike out too often either, in his career he only whiffed 896 times in 9456 at bats. Mel Ott was also one of the most popular players in the game. He was known a true gentleman, easy going & considerate. He once said "I could watch the fans yelling and laughing and I'd think, 'What an ungrateful fellow a ballplayer would be who just didn't give everything he had every moment of every inning in every game.”

Post seasons: Ott would play in three World Series (1933-1936-1937) winning the championship in 1933. 

 In the 1933 World Series against the Washington Senators, Ott Opened up game #1 with a big four hit day, topped off by a two run HR, leading to a 4-2 Giants win. He would go hitless in the next two games, then return to have a two hit game in Game #4. 

In Game #5 he was the tenth inning hero as he hit a solo HR off the Senators Jack Russell, breaking the tie & leading New York to the win. the victory clinched the first Worlds Championship for Manager Bill Terry, after the John MCGraw era, with New York going up four games to one. 

 New York finished second in 1934 to the St. Louis Cardinals Gas House Gang. Ott went on to lead the league in HRs (35) as well as RBIs (135) that season and have the first of none straight seasons with on base percentages over .400%. 

 In 1936 the Giants won another pennant, with Ott earning another HR crown (35) as well leading the league in slugging, while driving in 135 runs (2nd in the NL). 

Post Season: In the '36 version of the subway series, Ott began Game #1 with a pair of hits. he returned to have another multi hit game in Game #3, then finished off with a two run HR off Lefty Gomez in Game#5. Overall he batted .304 in the series (7-23) with two doubles, a HR & three RbIs. The Giants lost this series four games to one. 

 In 1937 New York won another pennant, Ott led the league in HRs (31) & walks (102) while posting a .408 on base % (5th in the NL) with 95 RBIs (6th in the NL). The Giants lost this World Series in five games as well, with Ott hitting another HR in the final game, but overall he hit just .200 in the series (4-20).

In 1942 Mel was Named player-manager, at age 33. That season he led the league in HRs (30) for the sixth & last time. He also led the league in runs scored (118) and walks (109). He also hit .295 and drove in 93 runs. 

 Manager: He would serve as team player/manager for five years, finishing his playing career in 1947. As a manager he finished third in his first season at the helm of the Giants in 1943, it was the team's best record under his leadership. They then fell into an eighth place finish in 1943, the teams lowest finish since the 1915 season. The Giants rose to fifth place in 1944 & 1945 then another horrible eighth place(61-93) season in 1947.

Ott managed the Giants for seven years between (1942 -1948) going 464-530 (.467%) in 1004 games. After 76 games in 1948 he was replaced by Brooklyn Dodger rival; Leo Durocher, as the Giants would enter a new era 

 Quotes: It was Leo Durocher who came up with the famous line “Nice guys finish last”, this was in reference to Mel Ott. Although it was taken somewhat out of context, Durocher was referring to Ott's easy going style, "I never knew a baseball player who was so universally loved. Why, even when he was playing against us, he would be cheered and there are no more rabid fans than in Brooklyn." said Leo Durocher. 

In his 22-season Hall of Fame career, Ott played in eleven All Star games. He batted .304 with 511 HRs (24th all time), 1,860 RBIs (12th all time), 1708 walks (9th all time) 1,859 runs scored (14th all time) 2,876 hits (41st all time) 1071 extra base hits (23rd all time) 488 doubles (67th all time), 72 triples, a .414 on base percentage (27th all time) and a .533 slugging average (42th all time). 

 Defensively he twice led NL outfielders in double plays, and only made 98 errors in 4865 games played. As a right fielder he is second all time with 238 assists, fourth in put outs & games played at the position. Overall Ott posted a .990 fielding % as an outfielder. He also turned 60 double plays from the outfield position. He is also one of only six NL players to spend a twenty or more seasons with one team. 

 Retirement: After managing, Ott was a broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers (1956-1958) on radio and television.

Passing: In November 1958; Mel and his wife Mildred, were driving on a Mississippi highway on a foggy night. A car crossed over the lane and hit them head on. They were both rushed to the hospital with severe injuries. One week later, Mel Ott passed away from his injuries, he was only 49 years old. His wife did survive the injuries. 

New York Giant Hall of Famers; Frankie Frisch & Carl Hubbell also died in car accident related deaths. Ott is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York. 

Honors: He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951 with 87% of the vote. His #4 was retired by the New York Giants in 1949. Today his number is posted on the left field facade of the San Francisco Giants ball Park. In 1999 Ott was ranked #42 in the Sporting News top 100 players list. The Mel Ott Little League, named in his honor is celebrating over 50 years in Amherst, NY.

1 comment:

Art Gilman said...

The great story omitted his agreeing to go in and play third base after Lou Chiozza (?) broke his leg in a collision with left fielder Joe Moore in '37(?)