Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Mize’

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Johnny Mize

March 31, 2016
Johnny Mize while with the Giants

Johnny Mize while with the Giants

1. John R. Mize was born in Georgia in 1913. He was a cousin of Ty Cobb and his second cousin Clare married Babe Ruth.

2. In 1928 he joined the Piedmont College baseball team. At the time he was 15 and still attending High School (obviously eligibility rules were different then). He was good enough to catch the attention of Frank Rickey, Branch Rickey’s brother. After watching Mize play one semipro game in Taccoa Frank Rickey signed him to play for the Cardinals. In case you’re wondering where you know the name “Taccoa,” it’s the name of the town made famous in the TV series “Band of Brothers.” The original members of Easy Company trained there.

3. He joined the Cardinals farm system in 1930 and moved steadily up the chain. In 1932 St. Louis switched him from the outfield to first base because he was considered too slow to track down ball in the outfield.

4. In 1935 he was traded to Cincinnati, but because of a previous groin injury he failed his physical and was returned to the Cards.

5. He made the Cardinals roster in 1936 and remained with St. Louis through 1941. While with the Cards he won a batting title (1939), two home run titles (1939 and 1940), the 1940 RBI title, and picked up a triples title in 1938. In 1938 he had 16 triples and no stolen bases.

6. In 1942 he was traded to the New York Giants for $50,000 and three players: Bill Lohrman, Ken O’Dea, and John McCarthy. He led the NL in slugging and RBIs that season.

7. He lost 1943 through 1945 to World War II while in the Navy. His main Naval job was to play ball.

8. He returned to New York in 1946 and hit .337. In 1947 he led the league in runs and RBIs. He also led the league with 51 home runs. He struck out only 42 times, the only player to hit 50 home runs without striking out 50 times.

9. He won another home run title in 1948 and was traded late in 1949 across town and leagues to the Yankees. That got him to his first World Series.

10. He stayed with the Yanks through 1953. He initially played first base, but by the end of his career was doing a lot of pinch hitting. As a rule he did well enough in the World Series but in 1952 he was great. Mize hit .400, had three home runs and one double in six hits and drove in six runs.

11. He was done after 1953. He did some coaching, but spent most of his time making a living in real estate and running a liquor store. He was chosen for the Hall of Fame in 1981.

12. He died in Georgia in 1993.

Mize's grave from Find a Grave

Mize’s grave from Find a Grave

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First in St. Louis

March 3, 2016
Johnny Mize with the Cardinals

Johnny Mize with the Cardinals

Did you ever notice how certain teams breed players at particular positions? The Yankees do it at Second Base, in Center Field, and Catching. The Red Sox produce great left fielders. The Dodgers and Giants come up with superior pitchers. St. Louis is one of those. As the title of this little excursion should alert you, for the Cards it’s First Base.

The Cardinals began business in the 1880s as part of the fledgling American Association. They were then called the Browns and were immediately successful and began with an excellent first baseman. Charles Comiskey started at first for the Browns for most of the 1880s. He wasn’t that great a hitter, but he was considered a good fielder (for his era), an innovator in first base play, and spent much of the decade as the team manager. The team won four pennants with him as player-manager.

The team moved to the National League in 1892 and slipped back toward the bottom of the field. They got very little out of their first baseman until Jake Beckley joined the team in 1904. He had one great season, winning a number of league titles, but wasn’t much beyond that. He was followed by Ed Konetchy and Dots Miller as first basemen for the rest of the Deadball Era. They weren’t bad (Konetchy hit over .300 a couple of times), but weren’t particularly notable either and the Cards floundered.

That changed in the 1920s. St. Louis began a long drive toward the top of the standing that culminated in the 1926 National League pennant. Most of the glory had to go to Rogers Hornsby, but the Cards found a pretty fair first baseman to help the Rajah along. He was Jim Bottomley and he was good enough to enter the Hall of Fame, although some think he’s one of those guys who shouldn’t be there. Bottomley won a home run crown and a couple of RBI titles. He lasted through the championship seasons of 1926, 1928, 1930, and 1931 before being replaced by Rip Collins. Collins was a power hitter who fit in quite nicely with the raucous Cardinals team of the 1930s. He hit well, won a home run title, drove in a lot of runs, and became a mainstay of the “Gas House Gang.”

But by 1936 St. Louis had found another power hitting first baseman. His name was Johnny Mize and he became the dominant first baseman in the NL for several years. (I’ve never done anything on him and I need to remedy that). He won a batting title, and RBI title, and a couple of home run titles before being traded to the Giants. He did well there and later helped the Yankees to a couple of championships. But he left just as the Cardinals found the promised land again. The 1942 through 1946 Cards won three championships and four pennants. Ray Sanders did most of the work at first (with Johnny Hopp holding down first in 1942). He was no Mize, but he played well enough. His departure led to a long series of Cardinal first basemen that didn’t last long nor did they provide a lot of thrills. But in some ways it didn’t matter. If all else failed, St. Louis could always bring Stan Musial in from the outfield to play first. He did it a lot and no one cared if he could field or not. He was pretty good with the glove, but his forte was the use of the bat.

Things got back to normal for St. Louis at first with the arrival of Bill White in 1957. He would hold down the position through 1965 and become a major factor in the Cardinals championship run of 1964. He was good with the bat, good with the leather. He was one of the men who constituted an all-St. Louis infield in the All Star game of 1963 (Julian Javier, Dick Groat, and Ken Boyer were the others). White hung around until replaced in 1966 by Orlando Cepeda. Cepeda had been, with Willie McCovey, part of a terrible fielding left field combination at San Francisco. One of them could go to first, but the other would have to stay in left and leak runs or be traded. McCovey was younger, so he got to go to first and Cepeda was traded. The trade was to St. Louis where he ended up at first also. It worked. He won an MVP in 1967 and was part of two pennant winning teams in 1967 and 1968, the ’67 team winning the World Series.

But Cha Cha was getting old and was never much at first, so by 1969 the team was looking for a new first baseman. They tried a couple of different options, but finally settled on ex-catcher, ex-third baseman Joe Torre. He lasted a couple of years before moving on for Keith Hernandez.

Hernandez was the great fielding first sacker of his day. He was universally touted for his defensive skills, so much so that people forgot he could also hit. He won an MVP in 1979 (a tie with Willie Stargell of Pittsburgh), then joined in a championship season in 1982, before moving on to the Mets. And that was it for a while for St. Louis at first base. True they had Jack Clark for a while (and picked up a couple of pennants with him at first) and Pedro Guerrero but neither was a satisfactory answer to their woes at first. That changed with the arrival of Mark McGwire in 1992.

McGwire was the power hitting machine that eventually set a single season home run title. We’ve come to see that record as dubious because of the steroid issue, but for St. Louis it provided a boost in attendance and in winning. By 2001, after a couple of playoff appearances, injuries, questions about steroids, and age took McGwire to the showers. But St. Louis had one throw left at first.

Albert Pujols came to the Cards in 2001. He was rookie of the year and a heck of a hitter. But he had no set position. They tried him in the outfield, then at third. Finally they decided to move him to first. He wasn’t very good at first, at least not for a while. But he got better with the leather and there was never anything wrong with the way he swung the lumber. The team won a pennant, then two World Series’ with Pujols at first. He picked up a ton of hardware including three MVP awards. In 2012 he left for Southern California. St. Louis has yet to replace him.

Although there have been periods when St. Louis first basemen were pedestrian, it’s not all that common. Throughout most of their history they’ve managed to find excellent, if not truly great, first basemen. There’s no Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle handoff nor a Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski baton pass, but over a century and a half, the Cardinals have produced an excellent first base tree.

 

The Last Segregated World Series: Casey’s Crew

May 8, 2015
Hank Bauer

8 Hank Bauer

In the 1950 World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies were tasked with defeating the current World Champion New York Yankees. The Yanks were winners of two of the previous three World Series and were a formidable foe.

They were led by retired player and former dental student (Thanks, Bloggess) Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel. He’d taken the reigns in New York in 1949 and led his team to a championship. In 1950 they were one game better than in 1949.

He had Joe Collins and Hall of Famer Johnny Mize at first. Both played about the same amount of games and both hit left-handed. Collins was a slightly better fielder and Mize the better hitter. For the season Mize hit .277 and was third on the team with both 25 home runs and 72 RBIs. His .946 OPS and 142 OPS+ were both second on the team. Jerry Coleman played second, hit .287 with no power, and was finding himself pushed by 22-year-old rookie Billy Martin. No one was pushing Hall of Fame shortstop Phil Rizzuto. He hit .324, led the team in both hits (200) and runs (125), played a good shortstop, and won the American League MVP for 1950 (his only MVP award). Billy Johnson and Bobby Brown (later AL President) were in a rough platoon system at third. Johnson hit .260, Brown .267.

Four men did most of the outfield work. Hall of Fame center fielder Joe DiMaggio was 35 and a year from retirement, but he hit .301, led the team with 35 home runs and a .979 OPS. His 122 RBIs were second on the team and his 5.3 WAR was third. In typical DiMaggio fashion he posted 80 walks to go along with only 33 strike outs. Hank Bauer was settling in as the new right fielder. He had 13 homers and hit .320. Gene Woodling did more work in left field than anyone else, hit .283 with only six home runs and made two errors all season. Cliff Mapes was the fourth outfielder, but got into 108 games. He had 12 home runs, but hit only .247.

The only other everyday players who appeared in 20 or more games were Jackie Jensen and Tommy Henrich. Jensen was a rookie outfielder who hit all of .171. Henrich was in his final season. He started 30 games at first, but spent most of his time as the main left-handed pinch hitter. He hit .272 with six home runs, a .918 OPS, and only six strikeouts to go with 27 walks. He had 41 total hits for the season, twenty were for extra bases: six doubles, eight triples, and the already mentioned six home runs. A lot of people forget that Henrich, never noted for his base stealing speed led the AL in triples twice (1947 and 1948).

Yogi Berra did almost all the catching. He had a great year hitting .322 (second to Rizzuto), with 28 home runs (second to DiMaggio), and a team leading 124 RBIs. His OPS was .915 and his WAR 5.6 (again second to Rizzuto’s 6.7). He struck out all of 12 times in 656 plate appearances and walked 55. His backups were future Yanks manager Ralph Houk and Charlie Silvera. Between them they got into 28 games (Houk started one game, Silvera seven).

The New York pitching corps was aging, unlike Philadelphia’s. Of the six men who started 10 or more games, only one was under 30. If you kick that up to all the men who pitched in 10 or more games, there were only two (and Bob Porterfield only pitched 20 innings over 10 games). Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, Tommy Byrne, and Allie Reynolds all started at least 29 games with Byrne, at age 30, being the youngest (Reynolds at 33 was the oldest). Raschi had 21 wins but an ERA of 4.00. Lopat was 18-8 but had given up more hits than he had innings pitched (WHIP of 1.307). Reynolds led the team with 160 strikeouts and Byrne had 160 walks (with 118 strikeouts). Fred Sanford only started 12 games but walked more than he struck out. The other guy (and the other pitcher under 30) was a rookie named Whitey Ford. He went 9-1 over 20 games (12 starts), had a 2.81 ERA, and was on the way to a Hall of Fame career.

The bullpen was still anchored by Joe Page. He’d posted 13 saves, but his ERA was north of five and he had given up 66 hits in 55 innings. Tom Ferrick was 35 and had posted nine saves, for second on the team. And by way of trivia, Lew Burdette, age 23 pitched 1.1 innings over two games in his rookie campaign. In 1957, now playing at Milwaukee, he would handcuff his former team to lead the Braves to a World’s Championship.

They were a formidable team, World Champs, and ready to defend. They were favored over Philadelphia, which was considered an upstart.

The Best of the Giants

May 27, 2013
Will Clark

Will Clark

It’s been a while since I stuck my foot deep in my mouth and picked an all-time team for a franchise. So it’s time to do it again. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this month dealing with the Giants, especially the New York version, so it seems like a good franchise to work with now.

A few caveats first (you knew I’d do that, right?). Let me start with a simple disclaimer: I’ve never been a particular Giants fan. Growing up supporting the Dodgers, there’s not a lot of nice things to say about the Giants (only the Yankees are as deep in perdition as the Giants). That means I’ll admit to being less than confident about my choices, but it’s the best I can do using only research and a few memories. Second, I put together a 25 man roster that does not mirror a Major League roster, but it’s my list and I get to do it my way. There are nine infielders, five outfielders, two catchers, and nine pitchers. I decided to go with three bullpen men and six men who were primarily starters. I also picked a manager (bet you can guess him). Finally there are no players whose primary career is before the advent of the mound. There are som really fine Giants prior to 1892, like Roger Connor, Tim Keefe, Mike Tiernan, but they play a game that is different, so different I decided to drop them from consideration.

So with all that said, here we go diving in where God knows what we will find. Each list is alphabetical.

The Infield:  Will Clark, Al Dark, George Davis, Art Fletcher, Frankie Frisch, Travis Jackson, Jeff Kent, Johnny Mize, Willie McCovey.

Did you ever notice that the Giants have produced an inordinate number of quality first basemen? I chose McCovey, Mize, and Clark (and Cepeda spent a lot of time at first) and left out Hall of Fame first sackers Bill Terry and George Kelly. Frankly, I didn’t really have to think that hard about it. The only hard choice was Mize, who spent significant time with both St. Louis and the Yankees. I decided he was in. If they’ve had great first basemen, they’ve had mediocre third basemen. I went with Fletcher as the only third baseman because the rest of the list was Fred Lindstrom and Jim Davenport and guys like that. OK, maybe I should have considered Sandoval, but as a rule I like to stay away from current players because we don’t know how they’re stay with their team will go (but see Posey below). Short and second were mixed bags. Frisch, Kent, and Larry Doyle stood out but there wasn’t much below them. Short on the other hand had more quality players, but no one at the level of either Frisch or Kent. I left off Dave Bancroft and added Dark which may strike some as odd, but I suppose it’s merely a personal preference. And of course Jackson (who was in the top 10 Giants in WAR, which surprised me) played third toward the end of his career. 

The Outfield: Barry Bonds, Orlando Cepeda, Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, Mel Ott.

There is Bonds (whatever you think of him as a person or as a steroids user), there is Mays, and there is Ott. Everyone else is a huge drop, a really huge drop. You could make an argument that across the three outfield positions (left, center, and right) the Giants may have the best starting outfield ever. But you need backups and at the point you get past the big three you end up with a lot of quality outfielders. Cepeda’s knees sent him to first, but he began in the outfield. Irvin was a converted middle infielder who lost several years to segregation. Both are just short of the top-tier. I had to leave out both Felipe and Matty Alou, which I was sorry to do because I’d liked both when they played. Jeff Leonard and Kevin Mitchell were good for too short a time to be considered at the top.

The Catchers: Roger Bresnahan and Buster Posey.

OK, who else was there? Look at the Giants’ list of catchers and tell me you like anyone better. As a rule, Giants catching has been very weak. Buck Ewing is excluded as a pre-1890s player.  Hank Severeid maybe, but if that’s the best you can do then we’re stuck with these two. I hesitate to pick a current player like Posey, but it’s a really weak position and Posey has the advantage of coming to the Giants and they win a World Series. Then he gets hurt and they falter. Then he’s healthy again and they win another World Series. That’s a pretty good legacy, isn’t it?

The Starters: Carl Hubbell, Juan Marichal, Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, Gaylord Perry, Amos Rusie.

You know, you could make a pretty fair five man rotation for the Giants just using pitchers whose last name began with the letter “M”. You could dump those bums Perry and Rusie and insert Rube Marquard and Sal Maglie and still have a darned good staff. I didn’t. I have a feeling that in a few years both Lincecum and Cain will be getting some consideration on lists like this.

The Bullpen: Rod Beck, Rob Nen, Hoyt Wilhelm.

Not the strongest part of the Giants history. Wilhelm made the Hall of Fame, but his tenure with New York was relatively short. Most of his Cooperstown credentials are from other teams. Nen and Beck are simply one, two in saves, so why not?

The Manager: John J. McGraw.

Surely you saw that coming.

So there it is in all its glory; for good ,bad, or indifferent. I think it’s a pretty fair list, but I’m sure a lot of people will disagree. Feel free to do so. (I have this nagging feeling I’ve left somebody out).

Triple Crown, I

March 17, 2010

When I think of Triple Crown, my first thought, believe it or don’t, is of horse racing. Watching Secretariat come down the stretch in the Belmont is still the most amazing thing I ever saw in sports. But baseball also has its triple crown, actually two of them: one in pitching, one in hitting. I want to look at the hitting ones.

One thing I find interesting is that Stone Age baseball produces four triple crowns, while Classical baseball (1920-1945) gives us seven, and the post-Classical baseball world gives us four again, none since 1967. I understand part of the reason that modern baseball doesn’t get triple crowns. The more teams you have the more players are in line for a shot at one. That means it’s more likely they will knock each other off. The greatest player  (non-pitcher) I ever saw was Ted Williams and that at the tail end of his career, so perhaps the best I ever saw at his peek was either Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. Neither ever wins one. Why? Well, among other things they have to beat out Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Eddie Mathews and a bunch of other people at various times. Additionally, as they get into some of the most productive years of their career baseball goes into one of the greatest of pitching periods. You try winning a triple crown when you have to face Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, and Marichal. (At least in Mays’ case Marichal is on his team). I’ve been sure for a while that a significant reason the last two triple crowns come in the AL is that neither Frank Robinson nor Carl Yastrzemski has to face Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax, or Marichal on a regular basis.

A number of people never win a triple crown, despite leading their league in all three categories at one time or the other.  Babe Ruth is one of those. In 1924 he loses the RBI title by eight to Goose Goslin of Washington. It’s the only year Ruth wins the batting title. He hits .376, which ties for the lowest average to win the title in the 1920s. Jimmie Foxx and Joe DiMaggio are among others who suffer the same fate (although Foxx does ultimately win one).

Additionally, you can look at a handful of the existing triple crowns and argue they are tainted. In two cases, Joe Medwick in 1937 and Yastrzemski in 1967, they tie for the league lead in home runs (Mel Ott and Harmon Killebrew). So they don’t really stand alone at the top of the stats. 

Of the other 20th Century triple crowns six more are tainted because the individual would not have finished first in all three categories had he been in the other league. In 1901 Nap LaJoie loses the home run title to Sam Crawford. In 1922 Rogers Hornsby loses the RBI title to Ken Wiliams. In 1933 Jmmie Foxx and Chuck Klein both win the triple crown, but knock each other off when Foxx has more home runs, but Klein has the higher batting average. In 1947 Ted Williams loses the home run title to a tie between Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize. Finally in 1966 Matty Alou puts up a better batting average than Frank Robinson. That leaves five true triple crowns (number one in all the Major Leagues in batting average, RBIs and home runs)  in the 20th Century: Ty Cobb in 1909, Rogers Hornsby in 1925, Lou Gehrig in 1934, Ted Williams in 1942, and Mickey Mantle in 1956.

There are two 19th Century triple crowns. I’m saving them for the next post.