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Johnny Mize’s World Series-changing single

Mize already had Hall of Fame career, but he added to his legacy with a big hit in 1949.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Dodgers must have been relieved to see the back of Johnny Mize when the Giants shipped him out in August 1949. The Hall of Fame first baseman had spent all of his career in the National League until he left the Giants. He put up a 1.044 OPS against Brooklyn in his time with the Cardinals and Giants. That was a higher OPS than he had against any other team, and did so in nearly 900 plate appearances.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, he didn’t go very far.

After six years with the Cardinals, Mize was traded to the Giants in December 1941. He played a total of four seasons with the Giants, but spent a couple seasons serving in World War II in the middle of that. He had some extremely successful seasons with the Giants, leading the league in home runs twice. As the 1949 season went along, however, their relationship started to sour.

While Mize’s hitting numbers were fine in 1949, they weren’t quite what they were in previous seasons. He also wasn’t thrilled playing for manager Leo Durocher. The Mize-Giants relationship would end on August 22nd when the Yankees purchased him for $40,000.

The deal was criticized from the Yankees’ perspective, as it seemed like Mize was in decline. In 13 games, however, he posted an OPS of .828, helping the Yankees squeak past the Red Sox by a game for the American League pennant.

Meanwhile in the NL, the Dodgers won nine of their last 12 games to similarly take the NL by just a game. The two teams would meet in the World Series for the second time in three years, and Mize would get his first shot at the postseason against his favorite punching bag.

Much as he had been down the stretch of the season, Mize played mainly off the bench in the series. Tommy Heinrich got the start at first base in Game One and drove in the game’s only run.

The Dodgers struck back with a 1-0 win of their own in Game Two, but Mize got a chance in that one. In the eighth inning, Mize pinch hit and picked up a single. He was pinch run for, and the rally amounted to nothing in the end.

Game Three was playing out similarly tightly as it headed into the late innings. The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the third inning, but the Dodgers got that run right back in the fourth. Other than the Dodgers leaving two on in the eighth, neither team got much of a rally going until the ninth.

With one out in the top of the ninth, Yogi Berra drew a walk ahead of Joe DiMaggio. That theoretically should have been a perfect scenario, but DiMaggio fouled out for the second out of the inning. Bobby Brown kept the inning alive with a single, and Gene Woodling followed that with a walk to load the bases.

Cliff Mapes was due up next, but Casey Stengel decided to go to his bench. Mapes was 0-6 in the series to that point, so the Yankees manager sent Mize out there for arguably the biggest at-bat of the World Series.

The future Hall of Famed paid off on Stengel’s faith, delivering a single. Two runs scored, Woodling moved to third, and then scored on a Jerry Coleman single in the next at-bat. Mize had helped the Yankees up a 4-1 lead in the crucial game three.

The Dodgers rallied in the ninth, but came up short. The Yankees held on for a 4-3 win, and took a 2-1 lead in the series. Mize wouldn’t be needed again, as the Yankees won the next two games to close out the series in five games.

Mize recorded just two plate appearances in the series, but finished with the second highest Winning Percentage Added of any Yankee in the series. Only pitcher Joe Page had a higher mark.

If this were a movie, the grizzled veteran who had never done it before would get his big hit and walk off into the sunset. That is not what Mize did. Instead, he became a fixture for the Yankees for the next four years. While he topped out at 373 plate appearances, he played a further four years for the Yankees, winning another four rings. He was quite valuable as well, as Mize was an above average bat for all of his career with the Yankees. In 1952, he managed an OPS of 1.567 and hit three home runs in the World Series. That was when the Yankees once again beat the Dodgers. If the World Series had an MVP award back then, he would have been one of the contenders.

Johnny Mize was a really well spent $40,000 for the Yankees. What could have been a guy wrapping up his career instead turned into a valuable part of five championships. Meanwhile, the Dodgers probably wished that he’d gone anywhere else.