This series was originally published at the Redbird Daily, but is now proud to call Cards Conclave home. This installment was written by Rusty Groppel.
Let’s get started with the final dozen.
#12 – Johnny Mize, 1B (1936-1941, 4x All-Star, Batting Title, HOF)
Johnny Mize was an extraordinary hitter. Interestingly, he was a distant relative of Ty Cobb, a fellow Georgian. Additionally, his second cousin married Babe Ruth. The way he hit, you would think he picked up some tips along the way. But before we get into the numbers, let’s discuss the interesting path he took to the big league team.
Mize was originally signed by the Cardinals, however they traded him to the Reds in 1934. I don’t know why and it could have been a huge mistake by the Cardinals; but fortunately for them, Mize pulled a groin and the Reds voided the trade. Back with the Cardinals, Mize injured his other leg in 1935, retiring from baseball having never reached the big leagues.
Right there, just like that, a Hall of Fame career could have ended before it began.
The Cardinals talked him back into the game, sending him to a St. Louis physician that performed surgery on bone spurs in his leg. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to play regularly in the minor leagues, the Cardinals just kept him around in St. Louis. They figured he could at least pinch hit. In his own words, “I’m the only guy who played in the major leagues because I couldn’t play in the minors.”
In his debut season of 1936, Mize would take 469 plate appearances, hitting 19 homeruns with 93 RBIs and a robust slash line of .329/.402/.577.
Needless to say, he cemented himself at 1B.
A Run of Dominance for the “Big Cat”
Decades before Andres Galarraga would hold the moniker, Mize earned the nickname of the “Big Cat” for his smooth and nibble nature in the field. His glove had nothing on his bat.
During his 6 seasons with the Cardinals, Mize would make 4 All-Star teams, receive MVP votes in 5 seasons (including back-to-back 2nd place finishes in ’39 & ’40), lead the league in HR twice, Doubles once, Triples once, RBIs once, and OPS every year from ’38 to ’40. During that same 3-year span, he would also lead the NL in extra base hits, posting totals of 77, 86, and 87.
His slash line in 1939 was incredible, standing tall at .349/.444/.626. Had Mel Ott (Hall of Famer) not topped him by .005 in OBP, he would have led the NL in all 3 categories. In 1940, Johnny took home 2 legs of the Triple Crown. His 43 HR’s and 137 RBI’s were both tops in the NL. Unfortunately, his .314 batting average was not enough to carry him home. Had he pulled of that incredible feat, he would have been the 2nd Cardinal to do so in a 3-year period (Joe Medwick completed the Triple Crown in 1937).
Mize and Carl Yastrzemski are the only players to have three seasons of hitting 40 or more home runs, without a season of hitting between 30 and 39 home runs, which is just incredibly interesting.
But Seriously, folks. This Guy Was Insane
Tommy Pham had an incredible 2017, slashing .306/.411/.520. We all recognized how rare and impressive the .300/.400/.500 accomplishment was. Which really puts Johnny Mize’s Cardinal career in perspective. He posted that slash line EVERY SINGLE SEASON that he was in St. Louis. 6 years, without fail. For his Cardinals career he had a combined slash line of .336/.419/.600!!!!
I hope Pham can have a run like that. I mean, my goodness, a Pujols/Musial-esque performance like that is bound to land you a sweet endorsement deal.
Making the time in St. Louis even more unique, Mize would only accomplish that 3/4/5 feat 1 more time in his 9 seasons after leaving the Cardinals.
Where He Ranks
Mize’s 43 homerun output in 1939 is the highest single-season total by a Cardinals left-handed hitter. Stan Musial never reached it, Jim Edmonds challenged it (hitting 42 HR’s twice), but still it stands, un-toppled by a lefty slugger for nearly 80 years.
Johnny Ranks in the franchise’s top 10 in so many career categories, I had to make a chart.
|Adj. Batting Wins||4th|
|Adj. Batting Runs||4th|
|Extra Base Hits||14th|
Of note, he ranks ahead of Stan Musial in both batting average and on-base percentage. Granted, had he played his entire career in St. Louis, this wouldn’t be the case, but it’s impressive all the same.
Rounding it Out
Unfortunately, Johnny’s 6 year tenure occurred during a 7 year world series drought. They had won in ’34, shortly before his debut, and then again in ’42, the year after he was traded to the Giants. It is largely believed that a few hold outs for more money left Mize at odds with ownership and led to his trade. Sending the future Hall of Famer to New York would be one of the most lopsided trades the Cardinals have ever done. The most productive player they received was backup catcher Ken O’Dea, and the biggest return in the trade was the $50,000 they got from the Giants. Luckily, they didn’t miss a beat and won 3 World Series in the 1940’s.
Mize would spend 3 years in the military from ’43-’45 and would finish his career with the Yankees. Though he was nowhere near the hitter that he was in St. Louis, he contributed to 5 straight World Series championship clubs.
But it all started with 6 amazing seasons in St. Louis, landing him among our all-time greats.
Thanks for Reading!