Johnny Mize, the franchise’s all-time best left-handed power hitter, practically was given away by the Cardinals after he ran afoul of management.
On Dec. 11, 1941, the Cardinals traded Mize, a first baseman, to the Giants for pitcher Bill Lohrman, catcher Ken O’Dea, first baseman Johnny McCarthy and $50,000.
Though the Cardinals didn’t receive fair value for Mize _ McCarthy never played for the Redbirds, Lohrman earned one win in five appearances with them and O’Dea primarily was a backup _ the deal didn’t hurt them. Buoyed by the emergence of their all-time best player, outfielder Stan Musial, the Cardinals won three consecutive National League pennants and two World Series championships from 1942-44. Meanwhile, Mize missed three prime seasons (1943-45) while serving in the Navy during World War II.
Still, trading a player who set the franchise standard for slugging by a left-handed batter and who would earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame remains one of the most lopsided and controversial in Cardinals lore.
In six years (1936-41) with the Cardinals, Mize produced a .336 batting average (1,048 hits in 854 games) and a .419 on-base percentage, but what made him extra special was his power.
In 2016, Mize remains the Cardinals career leader for:
_ Highest career slugging percentage (.600) by a left-handed batter. Among Cardinals, only right-handed batters Mark McGwire (.683) and Albert Pujols (.617) are ahead of him.
_ Most home runs (43) in a season by a left-handed batter. Only McGwire (70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999) and Pujols (49 in 2006, 47 in 2009 and 46 in 2004) hit more than 43 as Cardinals.
With the Cardinals, Mize also won a NL batting title (.349 in 1939), a NL RBI title (137 in 1940), two NL home run titles (28 in 1939 and 43 in 1940) and three times led the NL in slugging percentage, total bases and extra-base hits.
However, the Cardinals never won a pennant in any of Mize’s six seasons with them.
After the 1940 season, Mize got crossways with club owner Sam Breadon and general manager Branch Rickey when he held out in a failed effort for a substantial increase to his annual salary of $16,000.
“When you hold out a couple of times against the Cardinals, you know you’re finished with the organization,” Mize told Donald Drees of the St. Louis Star-Times. “I sensed the change in attitude toward me during the (1941) season. I was pretty certain I wouldn’t be with the club in 1942.”
Also, with the Cardinals battling the Dodgers in the pennant stretch, Mize was out of the lineup for the final 10 games of the 1941 season because of an arm injury. During his recovery, Mize watched Cardinals games from the grandstand instead of from the dugout. That disappointed Cardinals manager Billy Southworth, who wanted Mize in uniform and on the bench in case needed as a pinch-hitter, according to Dick Farrington of The Sporting News.
Though Mize still was producing at a high level _ he hit .317 with 39 doubles, 16 home runs and 100 RBI in 126 games for the 1941 Cardinals _ and, at 28, just entering his prime, the Cardinals made it known he was available.
The Cardinals were confident Johnny Hopp or Ray Sanders, both 25 and left-handed batters, could take over for Mize at first base. Hopp hit .270 in 80 games for the 1941 Cardinals. Sanders had 40 doubles and 120 RBI for the Cardinals’ Columbus (Ohio) farm team in 1941.
The Dodgers, who won the 1941 pennant and finished 2.5 games ahead of the runner-up Cardinals, appeared poised to acquire Mize at the baseball winter meetings in Chicago.
What the Cardinals wanted most for Mize was cash and a catcher.
Larry MacPhail, Dodgers general manager, offered to deal first baseman Dolph Camilli and catcher Herman Franks for Mize, with the understanding the Cardinals would send Camilli to the Braves for a substantial amount of cash, The Sporting News reported.
MacPhail “thought he had the Mize situation well in hand,” wrote J. Roy Stockton of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
However, as the winter meetings neared an end, a hitch developed in the proposed deal and talks stalled. Breadon told Rickey “to waste no further time dickering and to take any fair offer for (Mize),” according to the Post-Dispatch.
The Giants had been trying to get the Cardinals to trade Hopp to them, The Sporting News reported. When Rickey dangled Mize and the Giants agreed to include $50,000, the deal was done.
“Larry MacPhail probably was the most surprised person … when it was announced that Mize had been traded to the Giants,” wrote the Post-Dispatch.
Young and affordable
In response to criticism of the trade, Breadon told the Star-Times, “We haven’t weakened our club at all.”
“It has always been our policy to move up young men and we feel that either Hopp or Sanders will do a fine job,” Breadon said.
Noting that the Mize deal followed the 1930s trades of two other hard-hitting St. Louis first basemen, Jim Bottomley and Rip Collins, the Post-Dispatch opined, “Mize was disposed of by the Cardinals in accordance with their policy of getting rid of veterans when young and promising replacements are available.”
Mize batted .305 with 26 home runs and 110 RBI for the 1942 Giants, who finished in third place at 85-67 but 20 games behind the champion Cardinals (106-48).
Though neither Hopp (.258 batting average, three home runs, 37 RBI) nor Sanders (.252 batting average, five home runs, 39 RBI) produced exceptional numbers, the 1942 Cardinals were boosted by superb pitching and the excellence of Musial (.315 batting average, 32 doubles, 10 triples, 10 home runs) in his first full season with the club.
Previously: How Johnny Mize almost didn’t play for Cardinals
Previously: How Mark McGwire learned about Johnny Mize