Born 101 years ago today, Mel Ott was one of the greatest and most beloved New York Giants of all time.
As an undersized, 16 year old hitting sensation, Ott caught the eye of then Giant manager John McGraw. McGraw saw something special in the 5'9", 170 pound catcher with an unorthodox batting style and blazing speed. McGraw signed the teenager from Gretna, Louisiana, sat him at his side and taught him the ins and outs of the big leagues. He could see that Ott was too small to be an everyday catcher so McGraw wisely moved him to right field. At the age of 17, in 1926, Mel appeared in 35 games, hitting .383 in 60 plate appearances.
In 1927 his playing time increased to 82 games and the rest, as they say, is history. In his first full season as a starter, Mel hit .322 which was the first of ten seasons where he would average at least .300. His lifetime batting average ended up at .304 and he twice led the league in on base percentage (1930 & 1932). In 1945 Mel became the first man in National League history to hit 500 home runs. He finished his career with 511 career home runs.
In the field Ott had a rifle arm, superior speed and an amazing knack for playing balls off of the caroms of the Polo Grounds walls. Throughout his playing career he was widely recognized as the premier right fielder in the National League. In both 1929 and 1935 he led NL outfielders in double plays.
Master Mel became the Giants player/manager in 1942 and held those positions through the 1947 season. The Mel Ott led Giants had their best finish in 1942, ending the season in third place. In what is perhaps a reflection of Mel’s mild mannered managerial style, Dodgers coach Leo Durocher said of Ott, “nice guys finish last.”
Mel’s playing days were over after the 1947 season and his managerial duties ended in 1948. His post playing days were centered around baseball as a broadcaster for the Mutual Broadcasting System and the Detroit Tigers. The Giants retired his #4 in 1949 and in 1951 Mel Ott was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Melvin Thomas Ott was killed in an automobile accident in November of 1958 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Happy 101st birthday to one of the greatest hitters and all time good guys in baseball.