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Ain’t he a wonder? Why he’s a big cat.
Joe Orengo

Early Years

John Robert Mize was born Januray 7, 1913, in Demorest, Georgia. He grew up an avid fan of the local Piedmont College baseball team, and he signed up to play against them as part of the local semipro team. One day, a St. Louis Cardinals scout came through town to watch the game, and was so impressed by Mize, that he signed him on the spot to a minor league team. At the tender age of 18, Johnny played his first year of professional ball. It took him five years to make it to the majors with the Cards, after a bone spur in his knee nullified a contract he had signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 1935.

The Big Cat Strikes

The greatest rookie I’ve ever seen.
Charley Dressen, Cincinnati Reds manager

Nicknamed "The Big Cat", Mize stood at 6'2" and weighed nearly 220 pounds. His first year in the big leagues he hit 19 home runs and batted an astounding .329. The following year he batted .364 in his first full campaign with the team and appeared in the first of ten All-Star Games for him, and in 1938 he batted .337 while leading the league in triples, despite being something less than a speed threat. He also captured his first OPS title, a feat he would repeat in 1939 and 1940. 1939 proved to be his peak season, when he hit .349 to lead the league in batting, while also hitting 28 home runs to capture that title. He fell just 20 RBIs short of capturing the National League Triple Crown.

The Big Cat In the Big Apple

We always did know how to pitch to him,
but some days when you’re squatting behind the plate Mr. Mize’s bat swells up.

Roy Campanella

Despite Mize's mighty hitting contributions, the late thirties Cardinals were lackluster, and never contended seriously for a pennant. In 1941, the team decided to ship their star slugger to the New York Giants for $50,000 and three average starters, a move possibly precipitated by Branch Rickey's contract clause giving him 20% of the team's profits. The next year, Johnny batted .305 with the new club and knocked in 110 runs to lead the league, but before he could step up and play any more with the Giants, he was drafted and joined the Navy. Though he never saw combat, Johnny spent three years of his life defending our country during World war II. By the time he returned to baseball in 1946, he was 33 years old and his knees were not as strong as they used to be.

This of course didn't stop his feats with the bat: after a respectable 22 home run, .337 campaign in his shortened 1946 season, Mize clubbed 51 home runs in 1947 to tie for the league lead with Ralph Kiner. He also became the only player in major league history to hit 50 homers and strike out less than 50 times. He led the league again in home runs the following year, slamming 40 dingers over the walls at the Polo Grounds.

The Big Cat Strikes Again

In 1949, the Giants were struggling to stay afloat financially, and as the season neared its end, they sold The Big Cat to their crosstown rivals the New York Yankees. He finished out the year with the Yankees, and then played for them in his first World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Twice he was called up to pinch hit; twice he got a hit and knocked in a run, and helped his team sweep the Dodgers.

From 1950 to 1953, Mize platooned at first base with Joe Collins, playing on days when his knees felt well enough to be on the field. His famous bat speed had diminished, but he still proved to be a valuable backup (leading the league in pinch hits twice), and the team made it to the World Series every year that he played with them. In the 1952 Fall Classic, Johnny was called up to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth of a game the Yankees were losing 3-2 to the Dodgers. He stepped in and promptly hit a two run double to give the Yankees the victory. He also hit three home runs in that series, and was named the Team MVP by his teammates.

After Baseball

After 17 years in professional baseball, Johnny finally retired after the 1953 season and became a scout for the Giants. He moved up to coach a few minor league squads, and served as bench coach for the Kansas City Athletics from 1960 to 1961.

In 1981, Johnny Mize was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. He passed away June 2, 1993, in his hometown of Demorest. He was 80 years old. His National League record for home runs in a season by a left handed batter stood until 2001, when some upstart named Barry Bonds finally passed him. Today you can visit the Johnny Mize Museum and Johnny Mize Athletic Center at his old school, Piedmont College.

Career Statistics

YEAR   TEAM    G   AB    R    H  2B 3B  HR  RBI SB CS  BB  SO    BA
1936 STL NL  126  414   76  136  30  8  19   93  1     50  32  .329
1937 STL NL  145  560  103  204  40  7  25  113  2     56  57  .364
1938 STL NL  149  531   85  179  34 16  27  102  0     74  47  .337
1939 STL NL  153  564  104  197  44 14  28  108  0     92  49  .349
1940 STL NL  155  579  111  182  31 13  43  137  7     82  49  .314
1941 STL NL  126  473   67  150  39  8  16  100  4     70  45  .317
1942 NYG NL  142  541   97  165  25  7  26  110  3     60  39  .305
1946 NYG NL  101  377   70  127  18  3  22   70  3     62  26  .337
1947 NYG NL  154  586  137  177  26  2  51  138  2     74  42  .302
1948 NYG NL  152  560  110  162  26  4  40  125  4     94  37  .289
1949 NYG NL  106  388   59  102  15  0  18   62  1     50  19  .263
     NYY AL   13   23    4    6   1  0   1    2  0  0   4   2  .261
     TOT     119  411   63  108  16  0  19   64  1  0  54  21  .263
1950 NYY AL   90  274   43   76  12  0  25   72  0  1  29  24  .277
1951 NYY AL  113  332   37   86  14  1  10   49  1  0  36  24  .259
1952 NYY AL   78  137    9   36   9  0   4   29  0  0  11  15  .263
1953 NYY AL   81  104    6   26   3  0   4   27  0  0  12  17  .250
CAREER      1884 6443 1118 2011 367 83 359 1337 28  1 856 524  .312
* Bold denotes led league.

Hall of Fame Index
Joe Medwick | Paul Molitor

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