Mel Ott

Mel Ott and the New York Giants

I’ve been thinking a lot about the New York Giants (the baseball ones that haven’t existed in the city since the 50s, though technically, when is the last time the football one existed in the city as well?) and Mel Ott. It’s weird to me because I feel like this franchise was extremely successful for a good period of time in the city and they seem like an afterthought. Up through the time Babe Ruth had retired from the sport, the Giants and Yankees were tied for World Championships, and the Giants had won more pennants than a team who ultimately became world famous (in walking around Europe a few years ago, I saw numerous New York Yankee hats, and I’m not sure most of the people wearing them even knew what baseball was) Maybe I’m off base on this, but in my perception, I mostly recognized the New York Giants simply off the logo that Willie Mays wore on his head in his earlier days and the reason Chris Berman would say New York Football Giants on NFL Prime Time when I was a kid.

Add to this Mel Ott. Mel Ott played in Babe Ruth’s later days. He played with Gehrig, Williams, DiMaggio, and other great ball players from the same era. He was 20th all-time in WAR. He finished better than Mantle, Seaver, Frank Robinson, Mike Schmidt, and Albert Pujols. He finished just below Lou Gehrig and Rickey Henderson. He led the NL in walks 6 times. OBP 4 Times. He was the first in the NL ever to hit 500 home runs. He fell just short of 3000 hits with 2876. He was a 12-time All-Star and had a career OPS + of 155. Mel Ott was an amazing hitter. He’s one of the best ever to swing a bat, and while I think he’s recognized as one of the greats, I do think there’s something about him that’s missing from the memories of many. He just doesn’t seem to be the household name that so many players who weren’t as good, and again…..why?

The New York Giants ended up getting overshadowed by the Yankees. Their star power and the coverage that centered around Babe Ruth seemed to overshadow not just the National League team but the entirety of baseball. While he was setting records and showcasing his big-time personality, it seems the Giants were playing second fiddle, and it seems that no amount of winning would ever overcome that attention. The figures for the Yankees always had a flashiness, whether it was DiMaggio, Ruth, Mantle, or even a more low-key figure in Lou Gehrig who got a lot of attention for his spectacular play alongside Ruth and numerous World Series. He also had his games played streak and the tragic way his life came to an end.

Even the Brooklyn Dodgers have an aura to them in the media. For example, in Ken Burns’s baseball documentary, there’s a lot of focus on the team and their struggle to capture their first World Series. There’s a romanticism about Ebbets Field I certainly don’t see about the Polo Grounds. The Dodgers broke the color barrier. Their logo lives on because of this, and truthfully the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets seem to exist because of the legacy of the Dodgers.

I think the New York version of the Giants has faded for numerous reasons. They don’t have a history of the stars that the Yankees had. They didn’t break a major barrier like Brooklyn. Their best player, whom many alive relate to, also played in San Francisco upon their relocation. There’s a national league team that has kind of replaced them in the Mets. There’s a team in a different sport with its own major legacy that has replaced the name.

On top of that, the Giants have established their own legacy in San Francisco. They’ve been in the Bay Area for 64 years now (still short of the time they were in New York, but not by much) They went through attendance issues, threats of being moved to building one of the best parks in the majors, having the all-time home run leader on their team (as polarizing as he was) and winning 3 championships and really, finally cementing their place in San Francisco.

Mel Ott was just….a good baseball player, and the Giants never had the other guys to go with him and draw the major attention. He didn’t set records (well, except the 500 homer in the NL thing, I guess. Plus he had the NL record for homers until 1966), and he didn’t date movie stars he was just good at hitting a baseball. (He was clutch as well as he hit an extra-inning blast in the 1933 World Series in the clincher to give his team the title). Also while he dominated the power game in the NL, Ruth already did it, and Ruth did it with flair. Ruth did it while getting more money than the president.

I guess the bottom line of this is Mel Ott was one of the best to ever play the game and that needs to be remembered and the New York Giants (the baseball kind) really had a strong history, and they need to not be forgotten.

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