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On This Date in Sports August 1, 1945: Ott 500

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Mel Ott of the New York Giants becomes the third player to hit 500 career home runs. The milestone comes in the third inning off John Hutchings during a 9-2 win over the Boston Braves at the Polo Grounds. Ott, who spent his entire 22-year career with the Giants, is the first player from the National League with 500 home runs. He would finish his career in 1947 with 511 home runs. 

Mel Ott was born in Gretna, Louisiana, on March 2, 1909. Growing up in suburbs of New Orleans, Mel Ott was often overlooked by baseball scouts. The local minor league, the New Orleans Pelicans, refused to Ott, stating that he was too short. Mel Ott ended up working at a local lumber company, where he became a star on the company team. On a visit to New York, Mel Ott was encouraged to try out with the New York Giants. Manager John McGraw was impressed and signed him to a contract. 

Making his debut at the age of 17, Mel Ott would see only sporadic play over the first two seasons, as he was often referred to as McGraw’s “Boy Wonder.” Mel Ott came to New York as a catcher, but John McGraw feeling he was too small to play catcher at 5’9” trained him to become an outfielder. In 1928 Mel Ott became the Giants regular right fielder. A year later, he had a breakout season with a career-best 42 home runs. 

In 1932, Mel Ott led the National League with 38 home runs; it would be the first of six home run crowns for Ott. Mel Ott, known for his high leg kick, played a vital role in the Giants’ 1933 World Championship, as he slowly became the face of National League baseball in New York. Mel Ott played in the All-Star Game 11 consecutive season between 1934-1944. Ott also led the National League in walks six times. Had OBP been a stat in the 1930s, Ott would have led the league four times. 

In 1942, Mel Ott took on a new role with the Giants becoming the team’s manager. While the Giants were struggling during the war, Ott became the reliable player that fans could embrace. By 1945, Mel Ott was on the decline, as he battled chronic knee pain. Facing the Boston Braves in a night game at the Polo Grounds, Ott stood on the doorstep of history. The Giants sat at 50-47 as August began while the Boston Braves managed by Del Bissonnette had a record of 43-52.

Both starting pitchers struggled that night as Nate Andrews, the starter for Boston, did not retire a batter, as the first four Giants, including Mel Ott singled. Ott’s singled in scored Whitey Lockman. George Hausman scored on a single by Danny Gardella Ott would score on a sacrifice fly by Phil Weintraub to make it 3-0 as Johnny Hutchings took over on the mound for the Braves. Van Mungo, the Giants starter, was not much better, as the Braves scratched out a run in the second. In the third inning, Boston scored again on a single by Tommy Holmes. This led Ott to change pitchers bringing in Slim Emmerich. Emmerich got the Giants out of the inning with a  3-2 lead thanks to a double play off the bat of Carden Gillenwater.