Big League Stew

Happy Birthday Boy! Joe Medwick would be 100 this week

Alex Remington
Big League Stew

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On occasion, Big League Stew honors a birthday boy per week by taking a longer look at his career. Please join us in lighting the candles.

Joe Medwick hated being called "Ducky" and he hated being called "Ducky Wucky" even more. Medwick preferred being called "Muscles," but the writers preferred the former, so that's what they called him. He loped with an awkward gait — more like waddling than walking, said some, hence the nickname — and swung at everything. You certainly wouldn't want his mechanics on a Tom Emanski video. But oh my, could he hit. "He was the best bad ball hitter in baseball history," Frankie Frisch once said. At the tender age of 22, he was one of the best hitters on the 1934 Gashouse Gang Cardinals, and then he had five of the best seasons any right-handed hitter has ever had. From 1935 to 1939, he hit .347/.388/.568, averaging 52 doubles a year.

He wasn't a pleasant man. The commissioner of baseball ordered him to be removed from game seven of the 1934 World Series: he had gotten into a fight with the Tigers' third baseman following a slide into third, and the game was halted numerous times by Tigers fans incessantly throwing food at him. He played for the notoriously tight-fisted Branch Rickey, and Charles Faber of SABR writes that he believed the two most important things in baseball were "Base hits and buckerinoes." He had a sharp tongue and frequently fought with teammates; Bill James once called him "The Albert Belle of the 1930s." Thursday was the 100th anniversary of his birth.{YSP:MORE}

Best Year: 1937: .374/.414/.641, 31 HRs, 154 RBIs, 4 SBs, 41 BB/50 K
Medwick had a Hall of Fame career, but it's incredibly easy to pick his best year. That would be 1937, his Triple Crown year, the last Triple Crown captured by a  National League player. He had a slashing line drive swing and he just swung at everything that season. He hit over .300 in each of the first 11 seasons of his career, but he was more of a doubles hitter than a home run hitter.

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Then again, that was true for the National League as a whole. In 1937, Medwick tied with Mel Ott for the league lead in homers with 31. Ott would lead the league or tie for the league lead six times, in 1932, 1934, 1936-38, and 1942, with modest homer totals between 30 and 38. For some reason, the ball just wasn't jumping off bats in the Senior Circuit like it was in the American League, where Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth were hitting 40 and 50 homers a year with impunity.

Worst Year: 1940: .301/.341/.482, 17 HRs, 86 RBIs, 2 SBs, 32 BB/36 K
In 1940, Medwick was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were trying to make a push in the National League. Despite the fact that he was only 28, it would turn out that Medwick's best years were already behind him, and he was considered a major disappointment. A major reason was that few days after he arrived in Brooklyn, in his sixth game with his new team, he was knocked unconscious and concussed by a beanball thrown by his former teammate Bob Bowman. He wasn't bad by any means, but some perceived that his aggressiveness was diminished, and his power certainly dipped in Brooklyn compared to the way he'd slugged in St. Louis.

In all, in parts of 11 seasons in St. Louis, he batted .335/.372/.545, and in parts of five seasons in Brooklyn, he his .303/.347/.455. Still good, but not MVP-caliber fearsome, which is what the Brooklyn faithful had hoped for. With the benefit of hindsight, it's possible to suspect that a too-early return from concussion — as Donald E. Hood writes, he was "suffering from a concussion, earaches, and blurred vision" — caused Medwick's career to tail off early.

Claim to Fame: He still owns the all-time National League record for doubles in a season, with 64 in 1936, and the following season, he became the first player to get four hits in an All-Star Game. (It has only been done two other times, by Ted Williams in 1946 and Carl Yastrzemski in 1970.)

But as much fame as his bat brought him, he was equally known for his surly demeanor. He had no compunction about slugging a teammate, and the feeling may have been mutual. Apparently, a former teammate once said, "When he dies, half the National League will go to his wake just to make sure that son of a bitch is dead."

But apparently he could also be witty. In a famous (and probably too good to be true) story, he met Pope Pius XII on a USO tour in 1944, and was asked his name and occupation. Supposedly, he replied: "Your holiness, I'm Joseph Medwick. I, too, used to be a Cardinal."

Off the Field: Medwick never played a game in the American League. He returned to St. Louis to finish his career with 95 games in 1947-1948; he was just 36 when he played his last major league game, a pinch-hit walk on July 25, 1948. After that, he was a minor league player-manager for the next three seasons. He may have alienated the baseball writers during his career, so he was elected into the Hall of Fame 20 years after his retirement, in 1968. He died just seven years after that, while he was working as a spring training hitting instructor for the Cardinals.

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