Friday, August 1, 2014

Mel Ott Joins the 500 Home Run Club

On this day in Baseball History August 1, 1945: In a game against the Boston Braves at The Polo Grounds, Mel Ott hit his 500th career home run against Johnny Hutchings, becoming only the third player after Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx to reach the 500 home run plateau. In doing so, Ott became the first National League player to hit 500 homeruns and would be the only NL player on the list until Willie Mays joined him on September 13, 1965.

An interesting anecdote on that day's achievement and the after party can be found on page 152 of the book Mel Ott: The Little Giant of Baseball by Fred Stein, Published in 1999. Here is how Stein describes it:
After missing a few weeks with injury, Ott returned to the lineup and continued to thump the ball at a .340 clip. In a night game at the Polo Grounds on August 1, the little manager clouted his 500th career home run. It was a typical Ott home run, a sharply pulled smash into the upper right field stands. Belted off mountainous righthander Johnny Hutchings of the Braves, the ball bounced back onto the field where it was retrieved by Giants trainer Willie Schaefer. At the time, the only players with more career home runs were Babe Ruth with 714 and Jimmie Foxx with 527.

Later that night there was a big party at Toots Shor's restaurant in midtown Manhattan to celebrate Ott's milestone. Before Mel arrived at the restaurant that night, Shor sat at a table with Sir Alexander Fleming, the Scottish bacteriologist who had been awarded the Nobel prize for his discovery of penicillin. When Mel walked in the door, Shor jumped to his feet and gave Sir Alexander an inadvertant putdown. "Excuse me, Alex" he said, "I've got to greet someone who just came in who is really important."
As was alluded to in the passage above was that what made Ott's achievement remarkable was that unlike the other two players ahead of him on the home run list, Ott was small in comparison. We all know what kind of shadow Ruth cast as he stood 6'2" and weighed 215 pounds. Foxx, who's nickname was The Beast stood at an even 6'0" and weighed a muscular 195 pounds. Ott stood at a 5'9" and a slim 170 pounds. He more than made up for it by utilizing a leg kick and powerful swing of the bat.

Many historians and baseball people believed that Ott's home ballpark: The Polo Grounds gave him a major advantage due to the park's dimensions. While the park had a cavernous center field, due to its bathtub shape, the park had short fences in right field (257ft.) and in left field (277ft.) If the park caused an unfair advantage, then why weren't all the Giants hitting home runs like Ott was. In the end he still had to hit the ball to take advantage of the porch. If he did, then so be it.

When Ott retired as a player in 1947, he had 511 career home runs, over 200 more than any other National Leaguer, and a total exceeded only by the aforementioned Babe Ruth (714) and Jimmie Foxx (534). Ott held National League career records in runs batted in (1,860), runs scored (1,859) and bases on balls (1,708). His records would all be broken in later years. For his career, Ott was named an All-Star 12 times, led the league in home runs six times, and retired with a lifetime batting average of .304.

Ott would be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1951 with 197 out of 226 votes for 87.17% of the vote.

Regardless of his physical size, Ott was truly a Giant.

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco

For Further Reading:

- Click Here to access Mel Ott's career statistics from Baseball
- Click Here to access the boxscore for the August 1, 1945 game between the Boston Braves and the New York Giants from Baseball
- Click Here for an interesting article on Jimmie Foxx entitled Baseball, 1929 Jimmie Foxx by The Pop History Dig website