Memories & Dreams: Plaque Check Joe Medwick

By Marty Appel

He was an occasional member of the makeshift Gas House Gang band, and presumably just as bad as the rest of them, but on a team of popular players with colorful nicknames, he managed to stand out.

In fact, young Larry Berra, before he was Yogi, had Ducky Medwick on his paper route in St. Louis and thought life didn’t get any better than that.

Joe Medwick was one of only two Hall of Famers (with Goose Goslin), who were born and raised in New Jersey.  And while we have pretty much settled on him being “Joe” today, he was “Ducky” or “Ducky Wucky” back then. The name fell on him when he played for Houston in the Texas League in 1931, not an attempt to have him fit in with the Dizzys and the Daffys and the Rippers and the Peppers in the Cardinals clubhouse.  A girl in the Houston bleachers thought he walked like a duck and made up the nickname – which stuck with him through a 17-season major league career.  So popular was he in Houston, in fact, that a local confectioner created a Ducky Wucky chocolate bar.

Joe hit over .300 in his first eleven big league seasons, and won the Triple Crown in 1937, leading the National League in games, at bats, runs (111), hits (237), doubles (56), homers (31), RBIs (154), batting (.374), slugging (.641), and total bases (406).   He only struck out 50 times, and played his usual high level of defense in left field.  Who ever had a better year than that!?  And of course, he won the MVP award.

But Medwick also had a temper.  There are at least four occasions when he slugged his own teammates in the heat of an argument, plus letters to Cardinal management complaining of his treatment of autograph-seeking fans, and a sizable lawsuit from a man who claimed to have been punched by Joe while watching a high school football game between Carteret (Joe’s alma mater) and Perth Amboy.

And then there was a very a very historic moment in the 1934 World Series when he slid hard into Detroit third baseman Marv Owen.

Owen’s spiked shoe came down on Medwick’s leg, Joe kicked back,  and the two tussled.  Peace restored, Medwick took his place in left field.  But Tigers fans were having none of it, and began to pelt Joe with all sorts of fruits, vegetables and bottles.  There was no helmet to don, but Medwick took the produce shower and even playfully tossed the edibles back and forth with teammates Pepper Martin and Ernie Orsatti.

Near the first base dugout, Commissioner Landis had seen enough.  He summoned Medwick to his box and told him he was removing him from the game for his own safety.  With the Cardinals up 9-0 in the seventh inning, it was a benign gesture.  If the score had been 1-1, it would have been a far more controversial move.  Medwick departed and fortunately, did not slug the Judge.

Sportswriters had all sorts of nicknames for Medwick apart from Ducky.  He was Lord Medwick of Carteret, he was Muscles, and he was The Hungarian Rhapsody.

After nine year with the Cardinals, Joe was traded to Brooklyn in mid-season 1940, and in his sixth game, was beaned by ex-teammate Bob Bowman.  The resulting concussion forever reduced his effectiveness as a player but a year later, he helped the Dodgers win the National League pennant, hitting .318.   When his career ended in 1948, he was sitting on a .324 career average.  His Hall of Fame election came 20 years later, with some feeling that sportswriters who knew him personally were punishing him with a long wait.

He died while serving as a spring training instructor for the Cardinals in St. Petersburg in 1975.