NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 18: OF JOE MEDWICK
Medwick was a gifted athlete who could have played football for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame, but he came with a sizable ego and a shorter temper. When he arrived in St. Louis to join the Cardinals in 1932, the 20-year-old native of New Jersey introduced himself to his new teammates as “Muscles.”
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It was too late, though. Ducky had already stuck and it had less to do with water fowl than it did with Medwick’s sensitivities. The incorrigible pranksters of the burgeoning Gas House Gang knew the sobriquet pushed his buttons, especially when they added “Wucky” to the end. Dizzy, Ripper and Pepper notwithstanding, it wasn’t hard to rouse Ducky Wucky’s ire. It seems like Medwick was always at the center of a brawl.
As chronicled by the Hall of Fame baseball writer, Bob Broeg, Medwick once decked teammate Tex Carleton for taking too long in the batting cage. Another time, during a game against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds, he laid out pitcher Ed Heusser for criticizing his defense.
Dizzy Dean made the same mistake in Pittsburgh by calling Medwick out for what he saw as a lack of effort on a Texas-leaguer looped his direction in left. The two exchanged words but, thankfully, no punches. But when Medwick put the Cardinals into the lead with a grand-slam home run, he proceeded to take a long draw from the dugout water fountain and spit on Dean’s shoes.
“Let’s see you hold that damned lead,” he told him.
By Broeg’s account, Dean and his brother, Paul, made a collective move toward Medwick, who by that point had grabbed a bat — “Go ahead and step up here, boys, and I’ll separate you.”
And then there’s the incident for which Medwick is probably best remembered.
The Cardinals were in Detroit with a 7-0 lead in the decisive seventh game of the 1934 World Series. Ol’ Diz, who had won 30 games that season, was mowing down the Tigers through six innings. With two out in the top of the seventh and Pepper Martin on second base, Medwick lined a Tommy Bridges pitch off the wall in right field for an RBI triple. As he slid safely into the base, he caught a spike on the thigh from Marvin Owen, which Medwick repaid with a double kick to the Detroit third baseman’s bread basket.
Players from both sides prevented any further fisticuffs, but Tigers’ fans in the left-field bleachers greeted Medwick to his position with a shower of fruit and the occasional beer bottle. The Cardinals outfielders added fuel to the furor by playfully using a grapefruit in their between-inning warm up.
After a 17-minute game delay, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis ordered Medwick removed from the game, which, naturally, resulted in a dugout tantrum from the ill-tempered left fielder. Later, though, Medwick would muse: “I understand why they threw (fruit) at me. What I don’t understand is why they brought it to the ballpark in the first place.”
None of these incidents and controversies, however, should obfuscate the fact that, on the ballfield, Medwick was more Muscles than Ducky-Wucky. He was a great contact hitter to all parts of the field with enough pop to splinter the outfield bleachers with regularity.
The Cardinals felt his impact in his first full season, 1933, when he batted .306/.337/.497 with 19 home runs and 98 RBIs. As the Gas House Gang’s cleanup hitter in ’34, he improved to .319/.343/.529 with 18 home runs, 106 RBIs, 40 doubles and a league-best 18 triples.
Each of the next two seasons would have been career years for other players, too. His .353 average in 1935 was nearly matched the next season at .351, but he added an NL-best 64 doubles and 138 RBIs to his production.
But the year to remember was 1937 when Medwick became the last National League player to hit for the triple crown. In fact, he led the league in everything but triples, on-base percentage and walks. He batted .374/.414/.641 with 237 hits, 111 runs scored, 56 doubles, 10 triples, 31 home runs, 154 RBIs and 406 total bases.
In all, Medwick batted .335 during his time in St. Louis and averaged 110 RBIs per season over an eight-year stretch.
But after he “slumped” to .322 in 1938 (and led the NL in RBIs in doubles for the third year in a row), notoriously cheap Cardinals owner Sam Breadon forced Medwick to take a pay cut. When he asked for the $2,000 back in 1939 the Cardinals traded him to Brooklyn for four spare parts and some cash.
Less than a week had passed between the trade and the Cardinals’ first visit to Medwick and his new team at Ebbets Field. Emotions were still raw. In the team hotel on the morning of the series’ second game, Medwick had words with St. Louis starting pitcher Bob Bowman, who ended the verbal sparring with a warning to his former teammate — “I’ll take care of you.”
He made good on his promise in the bottom of the first inning with a beanball that knocked Medwick cold.
Muscles was never quite the same again. He still hit better than .300 three more times, but only twice again played more than 130 games in a season and never hit more than seven home runs or drive in 100 runs.
It took a little longer for him to get back in the baseball writers’ good graces, though. It was 20 years after his retirement before they inducted him into the Hall of Fame with 84.8 percent of the vote. True to form, Muscles took the last jab.
“This was the longest slump of my career,” he said during his induction speech. “ I had gone 0 for 20 before, but never 0 for 20 years.”
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1932-’40, 1947-’48
.335/.372/.545 | 10x All-Star | 1 WS ring | MVP’37 | Triple Crown ‘37 | 39.9 WAR | HoF’68
TOP 100 SCORE: 4.11