Delayed in the mail, I got a birthday present the other day. It was sent by my sister, someone whom I believe has attended all of one major league baseball game in her life, certainly not more than a handful. She neither loves the game, nor knows it. But she loves her brother, which is plenty enough for me. We are not alone as a family that was unable to get together over the holidays, and I was touched by her thoughtfulness.
One of the items she sent stunned me, as it was a signed envelope on which a one-time Yankee player, Johnny Mize, is featured. I’ve always been fascinated by Mize for a number of reasons, none of which Sis was aware of. She just found this piece in a market somewhere, and figured — rightly — that her crazed Yankee fan brother would like it.
First, Johnny arrived in the Bronx the same year I did, in my case born to my parents in 1949. Mize had starred for National League teams in St. Louis and New York (the Giants) for 10 years around a three-year stint of military service in World War II. Top 10 finishes in several offensive categories (home runs, rbi’s, total bases, even a third-place finish and two seconds in the MVP vote) dot his years in the NL. His record of having hit three home runs in a game six times has been equaled just twice, by Sammy Sosa and now Mookie Betts.
But an aging Mize was no longer a full-time player when the Giants sold his contract to the Yankees as I was learning to walk in 1949. No longer a star, he was a valuable halfway player with a feared lefthanded power bat, and he would conclude his career clearing 37 fences and driving in 179 runs in the Bronx.
And in that beloved borough, Mize would set another mark, one unlikely to be ever matched. The Yankees are the only team to ever win five consecutive World Series titles, from 1949 through 1953. Johnny was on hand for all five of them, and only them.
Following the last one, Mize retired and left the Bronx. So did I, moving with my family across the Hudson River to New Jersey.