The Hall of Fame first baseman born this day 106 years ago spent six of his best years in St. Louis, but he is a name not normally brought up among the elite St. Louis Cardinals first basemen of all time, in part because an MVP award he deserved was taken away.
Johnny Mize didn’t spend a remarkable amount of time with the St. Louis Cardinals, but he did spend more time with the birds on the bat than any other team during his career, and the production that he did put up when he was a Cardinal is something to be marveled.
During his Cardinals tenure from 1936-1941, “The Big Cat” hit over .300 every season he was in St. Louis, while recording an OPS of at least .975 in five of his six Cardinals seasons.
Unfortunately, he was never able to claim the MVP award in St. Louis, finishing as a runner up in the 1939 and 1940 seasons. He put up lines that certainly worthy of an MVP award, as Mize slashed .339/.444/.626 with 28 homers, 108 RBI’s, and an 8.0 WAR in 1939, and followed that up with a .313/.404/.626 line while cracking 43 home runs, driving in an impressive 137 runs, and finishing with a 7.4 WAR.
Interestingly enough, two different players from the Cincinnati Reds were the ones who stole the glory from Mize. 1939’s NL MVP was pitcher Bucky Walters, while 1940 was taken by first baseman Frank McCormick.
The Stage for Mize’s MVP
I won’t argue that Walters’ 1939 win wasn’t well deserved, because Walters had a jaw dropping year. On top of posting a 27-11 record with a 2.29 ERA in 319 innings, he hit .325/.357/.433 as a pitcher, which is simply insane production.
However, there is a legitimate argument that Mize should have won the 1940 MVP.
Even without taking WAR into account, the numbers seem to favor Mize. Before I go on, the reason I will not be adding the third place into this conversation is because it just wasn’t close in terms of voting between the top two and the rest.
On top of that, third place went to… Bucky Walters. Walters was great once again in 1940, but he put up nowhere near the hitting numbers he did in 1939, barely managing above the Mendoza line. His 300 innings of 2.48 ERA ball was impressive, but he didn’t receive even a single first place vote.
Not to sound redundant, but if that wasn’t enough, Walters and McCormick also had the player who finished fourth in the 1940 MVP voting as well, and the only other player within a relatively reasonable distance of the top two. Pitcher Paul Derringer was another great pitcher for the Reds, which only made McCormick’s life easier. He recieved a single first place vote, but just 36% of the total vote.
So Mize and McCormick were the two guys who were vying for the first place spot, and they both had great years in their own right. While I believe that if this situation happened in the modern era, the vote would heavily favor Mize. However, I will not cast the final vote, and will instead let you see for yourself how a committee today might vote. If you’re here early enough, you can even voice your own opinion.
As of the posting of this article, most St. Louis Cardinals fans seem to be with me on this boat. If you haven’t guessed it already, Player A in this poll is McCormick in 1940, while B is Johnny Mize. The list in this poll covers most if not all of the stats that were available to be used for determining a player’s production.
Even if you account for postseason, McCormick didn’t have a remarkable enough postseason to usurp Mize’s productivity. He hit just .214/.241/.250, though he did start a rally in the bottom of the seventh in Game 7 of the 1940 World Series, which eventually brought McCormick and the Reds the title. That single hit was clutch, it still shouldn’t have been enough to stop Mize and his near Triple Crown season from capturing the 1940 NL MVP.
Some people might say it isn’t quite egregious enough to call a robbery per say, but that’s exactly what I am calling it. The numbers aren’t ridiculously slanted, and McCormick even distinguishes himself over Mize in many regards. However, the offensive production from Mize far outweighs McCormick’s defensive edge, and the fact that McCormick had some ridiculous talent around him should basically cancel out the difference in wins.
To me, there is no question that Johnny Mize should have been the NL MVP in 1940.
Mize’s tenure as a whole
Even without this MVP award, Mize’s career with the Cardinals was still impressive. He finished with a .336/.419/.600 slash line in 854 games with the Cardinals. His 1048 hits places him tied for 27th on the all-time Cardinals list with Matt Holliday, and just above Jim Edmonds, despite playing two less seasons with the Redbirds than they did.
He has the 17th most RBI’s in St. Louis Cardinals history with 653, and he is the only player of the top 25 to play less than 8 seasons for the Cards.
To top it all off, he ranks among the best Cardinals ever when looking at slash line. Among hitters in the Cardinals modern era (majority of career post-1920) with at least 500 PA’s, Mize is 3rd in AVG, SLG, and OPS for the Redbirds, while placing 4th in OBP. He falls just behind some of the most distinguished names in Cardinals history, from Albert Pujols to Mark McGwire to Rogers Hornsby, which is something that should be recognized and appreciated.
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Mize went on to play for the New York Giants (now San Francisco) and the Yankees, but neither of those teams saw anywhere close to the elite offensive production that Mize brought to St. Louis He was elected into Cooperstown in 1981 by the Veterans’ Committee, and the Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum in 2014.
While he is a Hall of Famer, I still don’t feel like Mize gets the recognition he deserves. His name isn’t often mentioned among some of the most impressive Cardinals in history, and I honestly think the lack of a stand out award like an MVP or a World Series title plays a part in that.
Would we think of Mize differently if he won the 1940 MVP, even though his Cardinals career was before World War II? Would he be more recognized as one of the greatest Cardinals first basemen ever with an MVP under his belt, even though he played for only six seasons? Honestly, considering how high he ranks all-time in so many offensive categories, I say it would.
While he didn’t have the longest or most storied career, the elite production that Johnny Mize provided to the Cardinals is something that shouldn’t be overlooked in Cardinals history. Mize was one of the most prolific offensive talents the Cardinals have ever had, and even though it didn’t translate to award winning success, he still deserves recognition for all he did as a St. Louis Cardinal.