Mel Ott Essentials
Bats: Left Throws: Right
Born: March 2, 1909 in Gretna, LA USA
Died: November 21, 1958 in New Orleans, LA USA
Debut: April 27, 1926
Last Game: July 11, 1947
Hall of Fame: Inducted as a Player in 1951 by BBWAA
Full Name: Melvin Thomas Ott
Standing just 5’9″ tall and weighing only 170 pounds, Mel Ott hardly presented an imposing figure to opposing pitchers when he stepped into the batter’s box. Yet, in spite of his diminutive stature, Ott was the National League’s top home run hitter during the first half of the twentieth century, holding league records for home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, and bases on balls upon his retirement in 1947.
Born in Gretna, Louisiana on March 2, 1909, Melvin Thomas Ott was only 17 years old when he made his major league debut with John McGraw’s New York Giants in April of 1926. Although other members of the Giants’ coaching staff wanted to change the youngster’s unorthodox batting style, which included an unusually high leg kick immediately prior to the pitcher’s release of the ball, McGraw refused to let them tinker with young Ott’s technique. The Giants manager took note of the power and bat speed that Ott’s approach at the plate enabled him to generate, and he wisely permitted his protege to continue employing the same hitting style to which he had become accustomed.
Ott was used sparingly his first two seasons, appearing in a total of only 117 games for the Giants in 1926 and 1927, and hitting just one home run in his first 223 official major league at-bats. But the lefthanded-hitting Ott became New York’s starting rightfielder in 1928, and he soon learned how to take full advantage of the Polo Grounds short rightfield porch by pulling the ball into the stands over the 257-foot sign. Ott hit 18 home runs, drove in 77 runs, and batted .322 in 124 games, before blossoming into a full-fledged star the following year. In just his second full season, the 20-year-old Ott posted the most impressive numbers of his long and illustrious career. He batted .328, finished second in the National League with 42 home runs and 151 runs batted in, placed third with 138 runs scored, a .635 slugging percentage, and a .449 on- base percentage, and led the league with 113 walks.
Ott continued to compile impressive numbers the next three years, placing among the league leaders in home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage each season. He was particularly effective in 1930 and 1932. In the first of those years, Ott hit 25 homers, knocked in 119 runs, scored 122 others, and batted a career-high .349. Two years later, he led the National League with 38 home runs, drove in 123 runs, scored 119 times, and posted a .318 batting average.
As Ott established himself as one of the National League’s most feared batsmen, he also developed into a solid outfielder. Blessed with good running speed and a strong throwing arm, Ott was among the senior circuit’s top defensive right fielders. He accumulated as many as 20 outfield assists in five different seasons, and he also committed fewer than five errors seven different times over the course of his career.
After a solid 1933 season, Ott posted exceptional numbers from 1934 to 1938. He surpassed 30 home runs each year, leading the league in that category in four of those five seasons. He also topped 100 runs batted in, 100 runs scored, and batted over .300 in four of those five years, leading the league in RBIs and runs scored once each. Ott was most productive in 1934, when he batted .326, scored 119 runs, and led the league with 35 home runs and 135 runs batted in. He finished fifth in the N.L. MVP voting at season’s end. Ott had another outstanding year in 1938, when he batted .311, knocked in 116 runs, and led the league with 36 homers and 116 runs scored, en route to earning a fourth-place finish in the league MVP balloting. The Giants captured the National League pennant in both 1936 and 1937, and they finished no lower than third in any of the other three years.
Ott remained a starting outfielder for the Giants through 1945, having one more big year in 1942, when he batted .295, drove in 93 runs, and led the National League with 30 home runs, 118 runs scored, and 109 bases on balls. He managed the Giants from 1942 to 1948, serving as the team’s player/manager for all but the final campaign. Ott retired in 1947 with 511 home runs, 1,860 runs batted in, 1,859 runs scored, 2,876 hits, and a .304 batting average. Over the course of his career, Ott surpassed 30 home runs eight times, knocked in more than 100 runs nine times, scored more than 100 runs nine times, and batted over. 300 ten times. He led the league in home runs and walks six times each, runs batted in once, runs scored twice, slugging percentage once, and on-base percentage four times. He was selected to a total of 12 All-Star teams. Ott was the first National League player to surpass 500 home runs, and he remained the senior circuit’s all-time home run leader until he was finally passed by Willie Mays in 1966. Ott holds the major league record for leading his team in home runs for 18 consecutive years.
Still, Ott’s status as a truly great home run hitter has been questioned by many baseball historians, since the friendly right-field porch at New York’s Polo Grounds enabled him to hit 324 of his 511 career homers (or 63 percent) at home.
Ott was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951, just four years after he retired from the game. He spent his final few years as a radio and television commentator for Detroit Tigers broadcasts, before being killed tragically in an automobile accident at only 49 years of age in New Orleans on November 21, 1958.