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by Harold Friend
Johnny Mize played for the New York Yankees from 1949 through 1953 when they won five straight World Championships. Johnny Mize was a part-time first baseman and pinch hitter who played a pivotal role on the championship teams. He had a Hall of Fame career with the St. Louis Cardinals, hit 51 home runs for the 1947 New York Giants to tie Ralph Kiner for the home run championship, and in 1948, Mize and Kiner again tied for the home run crown, with each hitting forty. Mize had a .312 lifetime batting average and his .562 slugging average is higher than that of Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays.
Fifty Home Runs With Fewer Than Fifty Strikeouts
Hitting fifty one home runs in 1947 was remarkable, but what is astonishing is that Mize struck out only forty two times, making him the only player to ever hit as many as fifty home runs and strike out fewer than fifty times in a season. Mize was a big left handed hitter who made contact and is an excellent illustration of the fact that a power hitter does not have to be free swinger.
Johnny Mize Joins the Yankees
When reporters informed freshman Yankees' manager Casey Stengel that Mize was now one his players, the Yankees' manager was forthright with "his writers" (In those days, we didn't have "media". There were writers who followed a team). Stengel was surprised at the deal and said that he didn't know how he would use Mize. "Had a worthwhile pitcher been available, I certainly would have grabbed him. But there wasn't any, so with the chance at hand to add possibly a little extra punch, we took Mize."
Mize's best World Series was in 1952 against Brooklyn, when he batted .400 with three home runs. The Yankees won in seven games and the following season again beat Brooklyn as Mize appeared in only three games as an unsuccessful pinch hitter each time. On October 7, 1953, Mize announced his retirement at the age of forty. Mize had a sense of humor and told reporters that all doubt about retiring was removed when at the Yankees' World Series victory dinner, Dan Topping, upon meeting Mize's mother, needled John that his mother looked younger than he did.
In his career Johnny Mize hit three hundred and fifty nine home runs, a total topped at the time by only Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Jimmy Foxx, and Lou Gehrig. How things have changed. But Mize has always said that his proudest achievement was hitting three home runs in one game six times.
Hall of Famer
Johnny Mize was an outstanding player who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981. His Hall of Fame plaque reveals a truth that, like Mize, is often overlooked when it comes to analyzing the attributes that make great hitters. The first three words on the plaque are "Keen eyed slugger". Sports writer Tom Meany said it best when he wrote "Taking a pitch, Mize actually followed the ball with his eyes right into the catcher's mitt, and he maintained he could see the bat hit the ball." So did Ted Williams. Pretty good company.
Briordy, William. "Giants Sell Veteran First Sacker to Bombers for Undisclosed Sum." New York Times. 23 August 1949, p. 31.
Drebinger, John. "Mize Retires as Player After Long Reign Among Top Sluggers of Baseball." New York Times. 7 October 1953, p. 44.
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