It’s not unusual in sports to see an athlete put together a so-called “second act” that pushes him over the top, elevating him from star or superstar to legend.
In football, we’ve seen such performances from Steve Young and Ottis Anderson, both of whom started their NFL careers with one franchise only to bask in the limelight somewhere else later on.
In the NBA, you can point to guys like Jason Kidd and James Harden.
And Major League Baseball is rife with players who either took advantage of the ubiquitous “change of scenery” scenario to become stars or who used a new opportunity to regain — or surpass — former glory.
A few “second act” names spring to mind right away from the diamond whenever the topic comes up — Dennis Eckersley, Nolan Ryan, David Ortiz, Craig Biggio.
But what about players who have pulled off successful third, or even fourth, acts … coming back or reinventing or just plain old succeeding through change after change?
That’s a rarer bird to be sure.
One player who pulled it off, though, and to great aplomb, was eventual Hall of Famer Johnny Mize.
After the St. Louis Cardinals signed Mize as an amateur before the 1930 season, he spent the next five years trying to push into the majors. The Cards had other plans, though, and sold him to the Cincinnati Reds that winter … but Cincy nullified the trade in the spring after Mize injured his groin.
Once again “stuck” with the bit first baseman, the Cardinals finally gave him a shot two years later … and he stuck.
That summer of 1936, Mize treated St. Louis fans to a .329 batting average with 19 home runs and 93 RBI.
He followed that up with four straight seasons of 20+ home runs, including National League-leading totals of 28 and 43 in 1939 and 1940. He even threw in a batting title in ‘39 to sweeten the deal.
But a drop-off to 16 homers in 1941 got Mize shipped to the New York Giants for 1942, and he rebounded with 26 dingers.
Then, like so many others, Mize spent 1943 through 1945 in the military, and when he came back to the Giants in 1946, he was 33 years old.
Nevertheless, he hit 22 home runs in just 101 games that summer, then exploded for a league-leading 51 in a full 154 games in 1947.
Mize followed that up with another home run crown, slamming 40 at age 35 in 1948.
His bat cooled off in 1949, though, and his playing time diminished. Mize let it be known that he wasn’t happy about the turn of events, and the Giants sold him to the crosstown Yankees late in the season.
Mize made it into just 13 games for the Bombers down the stretch, but the new marriage gave him his first taste of October baseball that fall — he collected two hits and drove in two runs in two pinch hitting appearances in the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
And that performance sort of cast the die for what was to come.
From 1950 through 1953, as Mize rounded out his 30s, he started some games at first for the Yanks — about half in 1950-51, tailing off the latter two years — and was always available as a powerful pinch-hitting bat.
Although he smacked 25 homers in 1950, Mize never climbed above ten again, and he never hit .300 as a Yankee.
But he did exactly what they needed him to do, providing timely hitting and providing a veteran presence for a young and super-talented team that was building itself into a dynasty.
Mize was a superstar in the 1952 Fall Classic, too, banging three home runs and driving in six while batting .400 over five games as the Yankees again dispatched the Dodgers (in seven games).
Finally, at age 40 in 1953, Mize finished out his playing career but not before helping the Yanks win yet another title.
Coincidentally (or not), the year after Mize hung up his spikes, New York’s streak of titles ended at five, losing the American League pennant to the Cleveland Indians.
Another streak that ended that next summer was the run of Johnny Mize baseball cards.
But, while the Big Cat didn’t appear on a Topps or bowman card that year, he did grace a class advertisement for Red Man Tobacco, where he’s shown doffing his Yankees cap … one last time.
While you won’t find an original copy of this ad very often, reproduction tin versions are fairly easy (and inexpensive) to come by and make nifty display items.
And, while those repros aren’t the original, they’re sort of a second life for an old classic — sort of fits the mold of Mize’s career itself, don’t you think?
Check prices on eBay (affiliate link)
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Mize made one final All-Star team, his tenth, in that final season of 1953. You can find an amazing artifact from that contest for sale on eBay …
That’s a game-used Mize bat, autographed and authenticated, and brandished with the markings of that long ago Midsummer Classic.
Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).
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