In an era of ill-tempered ballplayers, Joe Medwick — who waddled like a duck — was one of the angriest. Even his teammates had problems with him. He once wielded a bat against teammate Dizzy Dean, he cursed out Pepper Martin to a sportswriter, cold cocked Tex Carleton for getting in his way with a photographer, and decked Ripper Collins.
That the Cardinals of the 1930s tolerated Medwich at all is something of a miracle, but they did. And for good reason: he was the heart and soul of the Redbirds’ 1934 “Gashouse Gang” — which took the World Series from the Tigers in seven games.
The shortstop on that team, Leo Durocher, said this about Medwick. “He was the meanest, roughest guy you could imagine. He just stood up there and whaled at everything within reach. Doubles, triples, home runs — he sprayed ’em all over every park.”
The “Gashouse Gang” might have been one of the best teams fielded by any franchise ever. In addition to Medwick in left, the Redbirds had Durocher and Frankie Frisch up the middle, Pepper Martin at third, Collins at first and Spud Davis behind the plate. Dizzy Dean won thirty games that year, while his brother Paul won 19.
Joe Medwick had a good year in 1934, but it wasn’t his best. He was only 22 — and while he was already known as a firebrand, he was still just a kid. He hit .319 with 18 triples, with power in the alleys that he’d leg out, ending up at second or third. That was his game.
Medwick might have been a better football player. The Cardinals signed him out of New Jersey, and he turned down a football scholarship from Notre Dame to play for them. He spent two years in the minors, mostly with the Houston Buffs, before arriving in St. Louis.
The legend is that in his first year in St. Louis the fans noticed his distinctive way of walking and began calling him “ducky” or “ducky wucky” and the name stuck. Medwick did not think the name endearing and no teammate could call him “ducky” to his face. He preferred his other nickname — “muscles.”
Despite his play, Medwick was never popular, and when St. Louis began to fade so did he. St. Louis shipped him and Durocher to the Dodgers in 1940 when he was 28, at the height of his career, and he never forgave them. Six days after joining Brooklyn, in 1940, Cards pitcher Bob Bowman saw Medwick and Durocher in a New York elevator and the two scuffled.
Bowman threatened them. “I’ll take care of both of you guys,” he said, “Wait and see.” That afternoon, Bowman beaned Medwick, who was carried from the field. The beaning caused a near-riot. Bowman had to be escorted from the field under police guard. Durocher tried to get Bowman banned for life.
One of baseball’s famous pictures is of Medwick being carried from Ebbets’ Field on a stretcher. Of course (and in all such stories) it was said that Medwick was never the same afterwards, but that’s not exactly accurate. It was Bowman who was never the same.
There are any number of stories about Medwick. When the Redbirds faced off against the Tigers in the 1934 World Series, Medwick slid into third base so hard during one play that Tigers’ fans began to pelt him with garbage. “Well, I knew why they threw that garbage at me,” he said afterwards. “What I don’t understand is why they brought the garbage to the park in the first place.”
In 1944, Medwick was given an audience with Pope Pius XII, a singular honor. Medwick could have cared less. The Pope asked him what he did for a living. “Your Holiness, I’m Joseph Medwick,” he reportedly said. “I, too, used to be a Cardinal.”
But the thing that Medwick will be remembered for, and that we remember him for this week, is that he’s the last National League player to win the Triple Crown. And it’s worth remembering. “Ducky” Medwick won the Triple Crown in 1937, and his numbers are hard to match.
In 1937, Joe “Ducky” Medwick dominated the baseball world, and when you look him up in Baseball Reference you’ll see his performance line is dark nearly all the way across: he led the league in games (156), at bats (633), runs (111), hits (237), doubles (56), home runs (31), RBIs (154), batting average (374) slugging percentage (.641) and total bases (406).
It was, and it remains, one of the greatest seasons in baseball history — and it’s one of the reasons why Ducky Medwick is in the Hall of Fame.