Year Inducted: 1981 (Veterans Committee)
Outside of the 1970s, and some scattered picks here and there, has the Veterans Committee really been that bad overall? It’s difficult to justify the mentioned picks, but they have made some incredibly good decisions when the BBWAA has erred and overlooked some deserving candidates. Some, like Orlando Cepeda, get inducted by the Veterans Committee quickly, others like Earl Averill have to wait for a long time, but justice is typically done. Unfortunately, today’s entry is an example of the latter, having to wait nearly 30 years after his career to be inducted. But, rest assured, Johnny Mize was clearly an excellent pick.
The Big Cat played 15 seasons in St. Louis and New York (for both the Giants and Yankees), and was a left handed beast. He slashed .312/.397/.562 for a wRC+ of 157. His wRC+ is higher than a slew of other great hitters, including Albert Pujols, Hank Aaron and Hank Greenberg. It still ranks in the top 15 all-time to this day, and was in the top 10 upon his retirement. Mize hit 359 home runs in his career, which ranked 6th when he retired. It’s hard to imagine a time when such a thing were possible but until the 1960s only 4 people had topped 400 home runs in a career (Ruth, Foxx, Ott and Gehrig), and then a whole group of players would join them (e.g. Williams, Mantle, Mays, Aaron, etc.) in the ensuing years. He also clocked 367 doubles and 83 triples en route to getting over 2000 hits, 1300 RBI and 1100 runs scored.
Mize lost 3 years of his prime to serve in WWII, which makes his numbers even more impressive. Williams is the popular player to discuss how much service time affected his career (and to be fair, he may have topped 700 home runs were it not for his service), Mize was one of several other players that were affected as well. It’s possible that Mize lost roughly 100 home runs due to his service in WWII, which would have cemented him as a first ballot Hall of Famer as he should have been in the first place.
So, why did the BBWAA overlook Mize? Well, it’s impossible to say for certain, but Mize’s numbers quickly fell down the career leaderboards while he was on the ballot. By 1973, his last year on the ballot, he was down to 25th on the all-time list, and passed by players like Rocky Colavito and Norm Cash (both fine players, but not anywhere close to being all-time greats), so it was easy for the BBWAA to forget about Mize.
Thankfully the Veterans Committee stepped in and corrected that mistake 8 years later. Mize was one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game, and rightfully enshrined in Cooperstown.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 9/23/16, this Hall of Fame second baseman was a member of the Class of 2000 and another star of the early years.