COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – It is a rare instance for a player to combine the skills of power and speed.
In most instances, Mel Ott's career exemplified power, but not speed. But on July 27, 1927 – 84 years ago this week – Ott hit the first home run of his career while showing off his running skills.
Playing in his second year in the big leagues as an 18 year-old for the New York Giants, Ott cracked a low line drive to center field – one that should have probably been allowed to fall for a base hit. But Hack Wilson, manning center field for the Chicago Cubs, attempted to make a shoestring catch on the ball..
Wilson's dive proved to be futile, as the ball skipped by him – and the race was on. Ott churned around the bases and earned himself the first four base knock of his career – an inside-the-park home run.
That home run would prove to be an isolated aberration in his first two seasons for the Giants. Hall of Fame Manager John McGraw saw the potential in the developing teenager, with the only problem being McGraw's vision did not foresee Ott's future in his original position, catcher.
So over time, the Giants slowly built Ott's comfort in the outfield, but tried him in several spots filling in for a team loaded with future Hall of Famers. In both Ott's rookie and sophomore seasons in the league, the Giants boasted an infield of future Hall of Famers at every position.
Sportswriter Samuel J. Merin wrote about Ott in Baseball Magazine saying, "This season Ottie has captivated the hearts of all Giant followers. Ott's versatility is phenomenal. When Andy Cohen was out, Mel filled in at second. He teamed up with Travis Jackson in three of the fastest twin-play killings ever seen at the Polo Grounds. Then Freddy Lindstrom developed a kink in his back, so Master Melvin took up the hot corner and melted the hearts of opposing right-hand hitters by plays frankly called freaks."
"This youngster certainly has seen his ball games from every available position on the field. And when he grows up – stop, Harlem, why are you grinning?"
Ott gave New Yorkers plenty to smile about as he played his entire career for the Giants, becoming the National League record holder for career home runs. His 511 career home runs stood as the peak for 20 years until another Giant – Willie Mays – passed him on the career list.
"Ott is the best looking young player at bat in my 24 years with the club," said Giants owner Charles Stoneham.
On July 23, 1951, Ott was inducted into the Hall of Fame with fellow slugger Jimmie Foxx. They were the first players ever to be inducted as a duo with more than 500 career home runs a piece. It has since been done on only one other occasion, when Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson were inducted in 1982.
Kevin Stiner was the spring 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum