One hundred years ago today Johnny “Big Cat” Mize, was born in Demorest, Ga. Mize, above, played 15 seasons in the majors between 1936 and 1953, winning five World Series titles and being elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Mize, a 10-time All-Star, was a keen hitter and a smooth fielding first baseman who cracked 359 home runs, registered an overall .312 batting average and knocked in 1,337 runs during his career.
But perhaps his most astounding feat came in the 1947 season, when he hit 51 homers for the then-New York Giants while striking out just 42 times. Compare this with, say, Cecil Fielder, who hit 50 home runs for the Detroit Tigers in 1990 but struck out more than 180 times.
Fact is, free-swinging sluggers are part and parcel of major league baseball today. Mize had 524 career strikeouts in 15 seasons. By comparison, Sammy Sosa broke that figure in a little more than three seasons with the Chicago Cubs between 1998 and 2002.
Managers back 75 or even 50 years ago would have had a hard time tolerating a player who struck out 150 times a season. And players wouldn’t have let it happen, either.
Back then, a batter would often shorten his swing in order to make contact once a pitcher got two strikes on him; today they just let ‘er rip. The end result is a few more home runs and a lot more strikeouts.
As an example, look at what Babe Ruth accomplished: In the seasons in which Ruth hit 50 or more homers he never came close to striking out even 100 times. He demonstrated remarkable control, hitting for power and average, and also accumulating a sizeable number of bases on balls.
The Georgia Peach made his pro debut as an 18-year old with the Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League on April 26, 1904, in a game against the Columbia (SC) Skyscrapers.
What’s conveniently forgotten is that Cobb’s first go-round with the Tourists lasted just two days, as the future Major League Hall of Famer was quickly cut.
He then signed with the Anniston (Ala.) Steelers for $50 a game and spent three months in the Tennessee-Alabama League before being recalled to Augusta in July by new owner and manager Harry Wingard.
Cobb’s first season with Augusta was less than auspicious, as he finished with a .237 batting average in 35 games.
The next year was a different story: by mid-summer Cobb was leading the Sally League in hitting and the Tourists sold him to the Detroit Tigers for $750.