Mickey Owen
Catcher
Born: (1916-04-04)April 4, 1916
Nixa, Missouri
Died: July 13, 2005(2005-07-13) (aged 89)
Mount Vernon, Missouri
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
MLB debut
May 2, 1937, for the St. Louis Cardinals
Last MLB appearance
September 11, 1954, for the Boston Red Sox
MLB statistics
Batting average.255
Home runs14
Runs batted in378
Teams
Career highlights and awards

Arnold Malcolm "Mickey" Owen (April 4, 1916 – July 13, 2005) was an American professional baseball player, coach and scout. He played as a catcher for 13 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) between 1937 and 1954 for the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. Considered an outstanding defensive catcher,[1] his career was nonetheless marred by a crucial error[2] that he committed during the 1941 World Series.[1] He also was one of the better-known MLB players who defected to the insurgent Mexican League in 1946, which resulted in a suspension that cost him over three prime seasons of his big-league career.[3]

Career

As a major leaguer, Owen posted a .255 batting average with 14 home runs and 378 RBI in 1,209 games. His 929 hits also included 163 doubles and 21 triples. He threw and batted right-handed, stood 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) tall and weighed 190 pounds (86 kg).

Born in Nixa, in Southwestern Missouri, Owen was signed by the Cardinals in 1935 and made his major league debut in 1937, appearing in 80 games, spending the next three full seasons in St. Louis before being traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers for catcher Gus Mancuso, a minor league player and $60,000.

From 1941 to 1944, Owen averaged 46 RBI a season for the Dodgers and played for the Brooklyn team which faced the New York Yankees in the 1941 World Series. During 1941 National League season, he set a then-record for most consecutive errorless fielding chances by a catcher (508) and finished with a .995 fielding average. Yet, ironically, Owen is most remembered in baseball lore today for a costly mistake that he committed during that year's World Series. The Yankees held a 2-games-to-1 lead entering Game 4 on October 5 at the Dodgers' home field, Ebbets Field. With the Dodgers leading 4–3 and 2 outs for the Yankees in the top of the ninth inning and the count 3–2 on Tommy Henrich, Henrich swung and missed at strike 3, which would have been the final out of the game, but the ball eluded Owen and went to the backstop, allowing Henrich to make it safely to first base.[4] The Yankees then rallied and scored four runs in the remainder of the inning and won the game 7–4. Instead of the series being tied, the victory gave the Yankees a 3–1 lead. The next day, they beat the Dodgers 3–1 in Game 5 and won the World Championship. The Dodgers did not return to the World Series until 1947 and didn't win the series until 1955.

A member of the National League's All-Star team for four consecutive seasons, from 1941 to 1944, in 1942 Owen became the first player to pinch-hit a home run in an All-Star game, and during the 1944 regular season, he became the third National League catcher to ever record an unassisted double play. Owen played for Brooklyn until the end of the 1945 season. He then served in the Navy at the end of World War II.

After his discharge from the military in 1946, Owen expected to return to Brooklyn, but he failed to reach an agreement with the Dodgers and signed a contract to be a player-manager in the Mexican League, which was then outside of organized baseball and offering MLB players constrained by the reserve clause higher pay to "jump" their contracts. Other big leaguers who fled to Mexico included Alex Carrasquel, Danny Gardella, Max Lanier, Sal Maglie, Luis Olmo, Fred Martin, and (briefly) Vern Stephens, attracted by very good salaries. In retaliation for the defections, Commissioner Happy Chandler sought a lifetime suspension for all of them, although his initial penalty was later reduced to three years.

Owen's suspension was lifted in June 1949. By then, Roy Campanella and Bruce Edwards were entrenched as Brooklyn's catchers. Owen was claimed off waivers on July 2 by the Chicago Cubs and he returned to the majors on July 4 against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. Starting at catcher, he went hitless in three at bats (ironically, against Lanier and Martin, whose suspensions had also been lifted the month before, and who pitched for St. Louis that day).[5] Owen played for the Cubs through the 1951 season, became a player-manager with the Norfolk Tars in the Yankees' farm system, then finished his major league playing career with the Boston Red Sox in 1954.

Following his retirement as a player, Owen spent two seasons (1955–56) as a Red Sox coach, managed the Jacksonville Braves of the Sally League for part of the 1957 campaign, then worked for the Cubs as a scout.

He returned to the Ozarks and founded the Mickey Owen Baseball School on Route 66 near Miller, Missouri, in 1959. Owen sold the school in 1963, but remained an instructor until the 1980s. Notable alumni include Michael Jordan, Joe Girardi, Scott Siman and Charlie Sheen.[6]

Personal life

In 1964, Owen ran for Greene County sheriff and won. He also won three more elections, serving in office until 1981. Owen ran for Lt. Governor of Missouri in 1980 and finished third with 13% and 79,038 votes. Owen was still playing in old timers' games in the 1980s.

Owen lived the last years of his life in the Missouri Veterans Home in Mount Vernon. He died in Springfield, Missouri, at age 89.

In popular culture

In his 1942 book Many Happy Returns: An Unofficial Guide to Your Income Tax Problems, Groucho Marx — a lifelong Dodgers fan — referenced Owen's infamous World Series error:

I wrote this book because I had to. It was a creative urge—the same thing that prompted Beethoven to compose the Eighth Symphony. This was actually a patchwork job, adding together snatches of the Third and Fifth, thus making the Eighth. The Ninth was when Catcher Owen dropped the ball and the World Series, but I'd rather not discuss it, because it cost me $14, not deductible.[7]

References

  1. ^ a b Marlett, Jeffrey, Mickey Owen, Society for American Baseball Research Biography Project
  2. ^ This in accord with the scoring rules in effect in 1941. The play would be scored a passed ball today.
  3. ^ The Associated Press (13 July 2005): "Mickey Owen, Best Known for Dropped Third Strike in 1941 Series, Dies." ESPN.com
  4. ^ Owen nearly in tears in Dodgers dressing room
  5. ^ Retrosheet box score (4 July 1949): "St. Louis Cardinals 9, Chicago Cubs 4 (Game 1)"
  6. ^ "Mickey Owen, Dodgers Catcher of 1940s, Dies at 89".
  7. ^ Marx, Groucho (1942). Many Happy Returns: An Unofficial Guide to Your Income Tax Problems. Simon and Schuster. p. 12. ASIN B0007E5U1I.
Preceded byGeorge Susce Boston Red Sox bullpen coach 1955–1956 Succeeded byLen Okrie (1961)