On the Lighter Side: Late baseball legend Mel Ott had Louisiana roots

Joe Guilbeau

I will go on record to say that Mel Ott was the greatest athlete ever to come out of Louisiana.

Known for his unusual but powerful high-leg-kick batting stance, Ott distinguished himself with the New York Giants for 22 seasons. Ott was the first National League player to hit 500 home runs, and he led the league in homers six times.

Mr. Joe Guilbeau

Ott was unusually slight for his stature for a power hitter at 5-9 and 170 pounds, but indeed he was one of the greatest baseball sluggers of all time. He is listed with Mickey Mantle, Roy Campanella, Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

Ott was highly feared by opposing pitchers. Although he was a small man, they knew he could jack the ball out of the park on any pitch.

He is one of the very few players to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded. Sometimes, he would have five walks in a game. One time he drew a walk in seven consecutive plate appearance, a Major League Baseball record. 

In 2006, Ott was featured on a United States postage stamp. I have some of these stamps. He was on the cover of Time magazine. Some would say he was the greatest baseball player ever seen.

Melvin Thomas “Mel” Ott was born March 9, 1909, in Gretna. He was a right-fielder and played his entire career for the New York Giants (1926-47). He batted left-handed and threw right-handed.

In his 22-season career, Ott batted .304 with 511 home runs, 1,860 RBIs, 2,876 hits, 488 doubles, 72 triples, 89 stolen bases, a .414 on-base percentage and a .533 slugging average. He was also walked 1,700 times.

He would have hit more home runs if he had not been walked so many times.

According to Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher, one of the most popular: “I never knew a baseball player who was universally loved. Why, even when he was running against the Dodgers at Ebbits Field (of all places), he would be cheered – and there were no more rabid fans than in Brooklyn."

Ott was signed by the Giants as a 16-year-old and would remain with the Big League club for the rest of his career (1926-47). Though he didn’t play much in the early days, manager John McGraw refused to send him to the Minor League.

“I don’t want anyone tinkering with that natural swing,” he said.

Ott was adored by hometown Giant fans, and for a good reason. A six-time League leader in homers, he hit 30 or more per season over eight years while also compiling nine seasons with at least 100 RBIs.

Using an unorthodox left-handed swing in which he lifted his right foot just before he brought his bat around, hitting the ball into the porch of the polo grounds.

Ott was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951 with 57 percent of the vote. His No. 4 jersey was also retired by the Giants in 1949, and it’s posted on the façade on the upper deck in the left field corner of Oracle Park in San Francisco, which became the home for the Giants in 1958.

Ott was on the All-Star team 12 times, led the National League six times, managed the Giants for seven seasons, in most years as a player/manager.

Sadly, Ott died Nov. 21, 1958 as a result of an auto accident. He was only 49.

He is buried in Metairie Cemetery.

As a side note, he and the late Diocese of Baton Rouge Bishop Stanley Joseph Ott were relatives.

Mel Ott was the greatest baseball player of all time.