Historical Player Profiles: Johnny Mize

In the continuing effort to highlight great players with lesser known reputations, the focus of today's historical profile centers on Johnny Mize. Playing fifteen seasons with the Cardinals, Giants, and Yankees, Mize was an outstanding power hitter that doesn't get the credit he deserves. He was among the early players that combined hitting for great power while also keeping a high average. Mize was a pioneer for similar current players like Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez.

Like many of his peers at the time, Mize gave up 3.5 years in his prime to serve his country in World War II. The years he gave up were prime power years from age 29-33, a time when most power hitters are enjoying great productivity. Consider that Alex Rodriguez hit about 200 home runs during that span of his life. Jim Thome managed to hammer about 220. Players like Mize that served in the war sacrificed not only financially, but also through legacy. When we compare players of today with those in previous generations, statistics are the only meaningful barometer we can use. In my opinion, that makes the sacrifices of Mize, Williams, and Feller all the more significant. Here's the basic line of the fifteen year career stats for Mize:

1884 G, 1118 R, 2011 H, 359 HR, 1337 RBI, 524 K, .312 Avg, .397 OB

Considering a modest 35 HR, 100 RBI, and 150 hits, and the major category numbers spike to 2461 Hits, 464 HR, 1637 RBI. Those are numbers similar to Thome, Cal Ripken, or Frank Thomas. The strikeout totals are impressive too considering his power numbers. Mize remains the only player in history to hit 50 homers while striking out fewer than 50 times in the same season.

Mize lacks the hardware of some contemporaries not winning any MVP awards in his career. As we noted with our piece on Ted Williams (won triple crown, lost MVP), Mize was overlooked a few of those years. I have never been a fan of pitchers winning the MVP award. They have the Cy Young award to highlight outstanding pitching. There is no singular award to highlight the best hitter objectively (as opposed to leading the league in a category). 1939 marked such a case for Mize. He was clearly the best player (.349, 28 HR, 108 RBI), but lost the MVP to a pitcher. The next year, Mize lost the MVP to Frank McCormick despite besting him in homers by 24, RBI by 10, and average by 5 points. Further, in 1947 (the same year Williams was getting shafted), Mize finished third in the NL voting. He again lost out to a pitcher, and also to Bob Elliot of Boston. That year, Mize bested Elliot by 29 homers, 25 RBI, but trailed average by 15 points (.317 vs .302).

Johnny Mize is one of those players that most people have heard of but don't know much about. He's the answer to some great trivia questions, but is rarely mentioned in the same sentence as other great 1B like Jimmie Foxx or Lou Gehrig. He combined great power with a great batting eye, high average, and incredible run production ability. He should also be remembered as a war hero that sacrificed greatly for our nation. Coming off July 4, a great time of patriotism for our country, those sacrifices are important to remember.

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