Inside Pitch

March 21, 1975: Hall of Famer Joe Medwick dies


March 19, 2012

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – For most of the 1930s, there were few hitters in baseball as good as Joe Medwick. And for one nearly perfect season in 1937, no National Leaguer could match the Cardinals’ star left fielder.

In the 75 seasons since, the result has been the same: No NL player has been able to produce another Triple Crown in the Senior Circuit.

The 1937 NL Triple Crown winner, Joe "Ducky" Medwick was a ten-time All-Star and won a World Championship in 1934. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Medwick passed away 37 years ago this week on March 21, 1975. His legacy as one of the game’s greatest hitters remains stronger than ever.

Joseph Michael Medwick was 25 in 1937, and his historic season seemed perfectly in place with his career arc. Debuting with the St. Louis Cardinals as the team’s regular left fielder in 1933, Medwick was a powerful gap hitter who consistently hit over .300 with a slugging percentage of better than .500.

Medwick led the NL in triples with 18 in 1934, his first of six straight seasons with at least 100 RBI. In 1935, Medwick pushed his batting average over .350 for the first of three straight years, and the next year he hit an NL-record 64 doubles to go along with a league-leading 138 RBI. In 1937, however, Medwick led the league in just about everything.

The blockily-built Medwick led the NL that year in runs (111), hits (237), doubles (56), home runs (31, tied with Mel Ott), RBI (154), average (.374), slugging percentage (.641) and total bases (406).

“Ducky”, as he was called, was a notorious bad-ball hitter who disdained walks (drawing only 41 that year). But he also didn’t strike out (fanning just 50 times in 1937), leaving opposing pitchers scratching their heads.

“I think he shouldn’t be allowed to carry a bat to the plate,” said pitcher Dutch Leonard, who faced Medwick often as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. “Make his use his fists to swing. Then he’d only hit singles.”

Medwick capped his 1937 season with the NL Most Valuable Player Award, but amazingly finished only two points ahead of runner-up Gabby Hartnett in the vote. Perhaps the voters did not fully realize the history they were witnessing.

In the modern (post 1900) era, four batters have won NL Triple Crowns. Rogers Hornsby took home the title in 1922 and 1925, and Chuck Klein won it in 1933. So by the start of the 1938 season, the NL Triple Crown had been won four times in 16 years.

Since then, four American League batters in five different seasons have captured the Triple Crown: Ted Williams (1942 and 1947), Mickey Mantle (1956), Frank Robinson (1966) and Carl Yastrzemski (1967). But few NL batters have even come close to the feat.

Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey rewarded Medwick with a $22,500 raise in 1938, pushing his salary to $27,500 following his Triple Crown season. In 1938, Medwick hit .322 and once again paced the NL in RBI (122) and doubles (47).

Rickey offered a contract for 1939 for $22,500.

“You know what (Rickey) told me?” said Medwick. “He said: ‘Well, Joe, you didn’t have the kind of year you had the year before.’”

Three-quarters of a century later, no one in a National League uniform has.

Medwick was traded to the Dodgers during the 1940 season, and bounced to the Giants and Braves and back to the Dodgers again before finishing his career with the Cardinals in 1948. He fashioned a .324 career batting average and was named to 10 All-Star Games.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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