Cheap Seats

On this date in Cardinals History: March 11, 1981

On this date 30 years ago former Cardinals first baseman Johnny Mize was named by the veterans committee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Big Cat was signed by the Cardinals in 1930 as a 17-year-old prospect out of Georgia. He missed out on World Series glory, toiling in the minors when the Cardinals played in the Fall Classic in 1930, 31 and 34 before making his major league debut in April 1936. He was traded away after the 1941 season, also missing the Cardinals 1942, 43, 44 and 46 World Series appearances.

But in his six years with the Redbirds, Mize was a hitting machine, batting .336 while averaging 25 homers and 109 RBIs. He was the lefty slugging compliment to righthanded swinging Cardinals outfielder Joe Medwick.

Mize twice led the National League in homers with 28 in 1939 and 43 in 1940. The latter figure stood as the Cardinals single season homer record until 1998 when it was broken spectacularly by Mark McGwire.

While that record is gone, he hold another impressive distinction: Mize has the most three-homer games in major league history with six. Mize is also credited with starting the eye black craze with his practice of smearing mud beneath his eyes to reduce glare and help him see pitches.

He was traded to the Giants in December 1941 for three players and cash. He was largely made expendable by a slugging lefty hitter out of Donora, Pa. by the name of Stan Musial who was called up in September of that year and tore the cover off the ball in his bog league audition.

Don't feel too bad because Mize missed World Series glory with the Cardinals. He was sold by the Giants to the Yankees in August of 1949. He then played a valuable part time role with the Bronx Bombers in 1949, 50, 51, 52 and 53 Fall classics. He hit three homers and batted .400 during the 1952 series, his best.

A 10-time All-Star, Mize appeared on an average of a little better than 40 percent of sportswriters ballots his last five seasons of eligibility before he needed the help of the veterans to make the cut. Like many of his contemporaries, his stats were hurt by his service in World War Two, spending March 1943 until October 1945 in the Navy.