`Jersey Joe’ Medwick, ill-fated Dodgers’ slugger of the 1940s

On the knight of June 12th, 1940, Dodger general manager Larry MacPhail sent outfielder Ernie Koy, infielder-outfielder Bert Haas, pitcher Sam Nahem and Carl Doyle plus $125,000 (a lot of money in 1940) to Branch Rickey, then GM of the Cardinals, for Joe Medwick and right-handed pitcher Curt Davis.

MacPhail promised the people of Brooklyn a pennant. When he landed Medwick he figured the flag would fly in Flatbush for the first time in 20 years!

Joe terrorized National League pitchers since he broke into the majors in 1932. The strong right-handed-hitting outfielder compiled a lifetime batting average over .330 during his first nine years!

Jersey Joe won the Triple Crown and MVP award in 1937 with a .374 BA, 154 RBI's and 31 home runs. Now the native of Cartaret, N.J. would play in Ebbets Field as the Dodgers left fielder. Brooklyn was ecstatic!

Just one week later St. Louis came to play in Brooklyn. On the morning of June 19th, manager Leo Durocher and Joe Medwick, who were staying at the New Yorker Hotel, were coming down in the elevator when they met Bob Bowman, right-handed picture of the Cards, who were guests at the hotel.

Medwick and Durocher started needling Bowman who was to pitch that day. One word lead to another, and the exchange between the three became quite heated. According to Durocher, Bowman said to Medwick, "I'll take care of you today!" Joe replied, "You'll be out of the game before I come up!"

 Joe Medwick, Leo Durocher and Curt Davis

That afternoon the first three batters for Brooklyn hit safely and two runs had scored when Medwick, hitting clean up came up to face Bowman. The Cardinal pitcher let go with a wicked fast ball aimed right at Medwick's head. Joe tried to duck, but he was not fast enough. The ball hit him in the head (no protective helmets then) and down he went flat on his back, legs flying-he was out cold! Both benches emptied and only quick action by the umpires prevented a brawl.

Durocher had to be restrained from going after Bowman--"You said you'd get him," shouted the Dodger manager.

The crowd in the stands was on the verge of a near riot. Cardinal manager Billy Southworth quickly removed Bowman from the field and the pitcher returned to the hotel with police protection. MacPhail, who came down from the press box, was livid. He actually came up to the Dodger dugout steps and was screaming at the Cardinals. He contacted league president Ford Frick and demanded Bowman be banned from baseball for life!

Mrs. Medwick, seated behind the Brooklyn dugout, attending her first game in Ebbets Field, was in tears as they carried Joe on a stretcher and rushed him to Caledonian Hospital. Lost in the excitement that day was the fact that St. Louis won the game 7 to 5.

Fortunately, Medwick made a remarkable recovery and was back ready to play in five days! Perhaps he should have waited longer, for he was never the same hitter again. The 28-year-old slugger hit .301 as the Dodgers finished second to the Reds, 12 games behind. 1941 would be the year!

A plaque honoring Joe Medwick

Medwick hit .318, knocked in 88 runs and clouted 18 home runs as the Dodgers won the flag promised by MacPhail. Not a bad year for Joe, but a far cry from what he did before the beaning.

Joe Medwick had a lifetime batting average of .324 after 17 years of play. He connected for 2,471 hits, including 540 doubles, 113 triples and 205 home runs. We'll never know how much more impressive those figures would be if the events of that frightening June 19, 72 years ago, had not happened.

Joe was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1968. Seven years later on March 21st, 1975, Joe died in St. Petersburg, Florida, a victim of a heart attack. He was 63.