Updated: Jun 19
Johnny Mize, who was known to many as “Big Jawn” and “The Big Cat”, served in the U.S. Navy during WWII. He fought through adversity in his baseball career, not letting injury deter his path to success. The Foundation honors Mize for his demonstrated strength and commitment to his country through his service on and off the baseball diamond.
While still in high school, Mize was recognized early for his talent and potential, even serving as a ringer for Piedmont College’s baseball team. Mize, along with Spud Chandler, played for the Tuccoa semi-pro team in Georgia. He was scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals, signed with them in 1930, and played for their farm team for four years. He briefly played in Cincinnati before returning to the Cardinals after suffering a knee injury in 1935. This injury did not discourage or sideline him for long as he made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in 1936. His rookie year was extremely successful, as he hit .329. He followed his rookie performance with even stronger seasons, finishing second in the league in 1937 for hits and leading the league in hitting in 1939. In 1941, four days after the Pearl Harbor attack, Mize was traded to the Giants, where he continued to prove he was a valued player.
In 1943, Mize joined the U.S. Navy after passing his physical at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. He was based at Great Lakes and played for the Bluejackets baseball team with Frankie Baumholtz, Joe Grace, Johnny Lucadello, George Dickey, and Tom Ferrick.
By 1944, he had reached the rank of Specialist First Class and was sent to Hawaii to play with the Navy’s other Major League Baseball All-Stars. He was based at the Naval Air Station Kaneohe and is known for the 425-foot home run he hit. Mize and the Navy’s Fifth Fleet team then went on a tour to the Pacific, stopping at the Marshall Islands, Guam, Saipan, Palau, and Leyte. Mize and his teammates soon found themselves on islands with an enemy presence. It wasn’t uncommon for a Japanese sniper round to reach close proximity of the ball field. Proving that in wartime, even playing baseball is not always a safe place to be.
Mize was discharged in October 1945 and returned to the Giants in 1946. He retired at the end of the 1953 season, ending his career while he was with the New York Yankees. Over his playing career, he had played in 10 All-Star games and hit home runs in every major league stadium in the country. He had a career batting average of .312 with 359 home runs, 1,337 RBIs and 2,011 hits. Mize was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.
The Foundation honors Mize for his longstanding commitment to his country and sacrifices he made while serving in the Navy. He is admired for his ability to overcome adversity and the passion for baseball that he brought with him to the military.