Johnny Mize (January 7, 1913 – June 2, 1993) was a baseball player who was a first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants, and New York Yankees. He played in the Major Leagues from 1936 through 1953 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981. By many methods of sabermetric analysis, his career records are more impressive to observers today than they generally appeared to be to his contemporaries. Although he led his league in numerous batting categories, and even though many of his statistics were comparable to theirs, he was mostly overshadowed thoroughout his career by such great contemporaries as Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg, and Stan Musial. He also had the misfortune, because of injuries and other circumstances beyond his control, not to reach the Majors until he was 23 years old, the oldest of any great power hitter, thereby losing several productive years.
Born in Georgia, Mize was known as both "Big Jawn" and "The Big Cat" for his smooth fielding around the bag at first base. He had a fine batting eye, and in his early career hit for high averages, leading the National League with a .349 batting average in 1939. In 1938 he batted .363, but Cardinals teammate Ducky Medwick took the title with a .374 average. Mize then changed targets and went for power instead of batting average. He led the National League in home runs in 1939 with 28, and in 1940 with 43, also leading the league in runs batted in twice, in 1940 and 1942. At the end of the 1941 season, however, he was traded to the New York Giants by Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey, who famously believed in trading players before they reached their declining years.
Mize spent 1943, 1944 and 1945 in military service during World War II. Returning to the Giants in 1946, a broken toe caused him to fall one short of the home-run title, won by Ralph Kiner of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1947 he rebounded to hit 51 home runs and tie Kiner for the league lead. He also led in runs and RBI, and became the only player to strike out fewer than 50 times while hitting 50 home runs. This combination of power and bat control was typical of Mize; he also had seasons of 43 home runs and 49 strikeouts, and of 40 home runs and 37 strikeouts.
In 1948, Mize and Kiner again tied for the league home run championship with 40 each. After expressing discontent about his amount of playing time, however, Mize was traded to the New York Yankees late in the 1949 season. He then spent the last 5 years of his career with the Yankees, mostly as a part-time player, ending in 1953. He was, however, was a valuable contributor to their winning an unprecedented 5 consecutive American League pennants and World Series titles. In the 1952 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, he hit 3 home runs, 1 as a pinch-hitter, and was robbed of a 4th by Dodger right fielder Carl Furillo, who made a leaping catch above the fence in the 11th inning to preserve a win for the Dodgers.
Mize holds the Major League record for the most times hitting 3 homers in one game, a feat he performed 6 times. He was also the only player to do it in both leagues — 5 times in the National League and once in the American. He finished his career with 359 home runs. Like DiMaggio, Williams, and Greenberg, all of whom spent at least 3 years in the military at the peak of their power, Mize undoubtedly lost a large number of home runs because of his service.
Mize had one notable idiosyncrasy: unlike many players, he never stepped out of the batter's box between pitches. In 1947, when, for most of the season, Mize and Kiner were both in pursuit of Babe Ruth's storied home run record of 60 in one season, it became known that Mize was related to Ruth by marriage.
For a player with such notable sabermetric statistics, Mize was late being inducted into the Hall of Fame, finally being chosen by the Veteran's Committee 28 years after his retirement. During his playing years, Mize apparently did not enjoy particularly good relations with the baseball sportswriters; members of this community vote on candidates for the Hall of Fame. And his fine batting statistics were generally overshadowed by those of bigger stars such as Gehrig, Williams, DiMaggio, and Musial. His extremely good on-base percentage, however is valued more highly today, in the light of sabermetric analysis, as well as his power statistics in general. In the lifetime statistics listings of Total Baseball, for instance, he is 17th in "adjusted on-base plus slugging", 35rd in "adjusted batting runs", 21st in "runs created per game", and 45th in "adjusted batting wins." He is 57th in "total player wins per 150 games" and 59th in "total player wins for batters". In Bill James' seminal book Win Shares, Mize is 104th for "total win shares" for all players and 54th for win shares for batters.
In 1981, the same year that he was finally elected to the Hall of Fame, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time.
- Total Baseball, The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia, 8th Edition, Sport Classic Books, 2004, pages 2,444 through 2,448
- Win Shares, by Bill James and Jim Henzler, Stats Inc. Publishing, 2002, pages 594 and 601
- Total Baseball, The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia, 8th Edition, Sport Classic Books, 2004
- Win Shares, by Bill James and Jim Henzler, Stats Inc. Publishing, 2002
- Mize's career statistics at Baseball-Reference.com
- Mize's Baseball Hall of Fame entry
- Johnny Mize Official site