Johnny Mize entered major league baseball in 1936, and soon took on the nickname “The Big Cat” because of the poise in his stance when he was at bat and his ease in the field.
“Did you ever see a pitcher knock him down at the plate?” Mize’s Cardinals teammate Stan Musial said. “Remember how he reacted when brushed back? He’d just lean back and on his left foot, bend his body back and let the pitch go by. Then he’d lean back into the batter’s box and resume his stance, as graceful as a big cat.”
The first baseman really came into his own in 1938, the first of three consecutive spectacular years where he led the National League in total bases every year. He led the NL in slugging percentage with a .614 mark on 1938 to go with a .422 on-base percentage. Mize followed it up in 1939 by winning the batting title with a .349 average. He also led the NL in home runs with 28 and had a .444 on-base mark. In 1940, he was once again the home run leader, this time with 43, and he led the league in RBI. He led in RBI twice more, in 1942 and 1947.
The left-handed batter was the runner-up for the NL Most Valuable Player Award in both 1939 and 1940 before being traded to the Giants following the 1941 season.
After a leave of absence to defend his country in World War II and a broken toe that limited him to 101 games in 1946, Mize came back in a big way in 1947. He launched 51 long balls and tied Ralph Kiner of the Pirates for the league lead. Mize also led the NL in RBI and runs scored, and became the first player to strike out less than 50 times in a season while hitting more than 50 home runs. No player has matched that since.
He again tied Kiner for the home run title the following year, this time with 40 homers.
Mize joined the Yankees in 1949, winning five consecutive World Series titles with his new team as a valuable bench player. In the 1952 Fall Classic against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Mize hit three home runs.
In 15 big league seasons, Mize totaled 2,011 hits, 359 home runs and 1,337 RBI to go with a .312 batting average.
Mize was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981. He passed away on June 2, 1993.