Har Bell Heritage Hero Athlete - Mickey Owen
To many an Ozarks' sports fan, the baseball career of native son Mickey Owen is summed up in a single play. A passed ball on a third strike during the 1941 World Series that some believe robbed him, his teammates and their fans of a championship title. But in the life of Mickey Owen there was much more. So much more.
Born April 4, 1916 in Nixa, Missouri, Owen's remarkable and colorful professional life as a big league catcher began in 1937 when he broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals and roamed the fields there with the likes of Frankie Frisch, Johnny Mize and Dizzy Dean. He would spend three seasons in the Redbird uniform before a trade in 1940 saw him pack his bags and head to the Big Apple, joining the famed Brooklyn Dodgers. It was during his stint with Brooklyn that Owen's most famous, or infamous moment occurred.
It was game four of the '41 World Series with the Dodgers railing the rival New York Yankees two games to one in the best-of-seven finale. With the Dodgers leading 3-2 in the top of the ninth inning, New York's Tommy Henrich was at the plate and faced a 3-and-2 count by Brooklyn pitcher Hugh Casey. Henrich swung and missed at the offering, but Owen was unable to hold onto the pitch, it scooted away and Henrich reached first base safely. The Yankees then went on to tally four runs and gained a 7-4 victory and a 3-1 edge in the Series. They then captured the championship with another win in game five.
For Mickey Owen, it was the moment that unfortunately defined his baseball career. Never mind that earlier that same season he had established a baseball record for most errorless chances by a catcher with 508 perfect attempts, it was that World Series passed ball that would follow him. He did however press on and remained with Brooklyn through the 1945 season, then answered his country's call to serve during World War II. Following his discharge from the military in 1946, Owen expected to return to Brooklyn, but the Dodgers had other ideas. Unable to come to terms on a contract with them, Owen became one of a handful of big league players that opted for bigger money in the wildcat Mexican League. That decision nearly proved fatal to Owen's baseball career. Baseball Commissioner A.B. Chandler, bitter at the move made by those individuals, placed a five-year ban from major league participation on Owen and the others. A ban that would keep him out of the game until 1949, when Chandler modified the penalty.
Mickey Owen got back in the game, spent time with the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox before ending his career in 1955. He would later serve as a big league scout and ultimately returned to the Ozarks where he opened the highly successful Mickey Owen Baseball School near Miller, Missouri. That move kept him close to the game, even, when in 1964 he made a career shift and entered politics. At the urging of friends, Owen ran for Greene County sheriff that year and won. He would serve 16 years in that capacity and later embarked on a highly publicized, but unsuccessful bid to become Lt. Governor of Missouri, cris-crossing the state by foot and jogging to draw attention to his campaign.
In the October 1999 Big Sports issue, when we reflected back on many of the great names that have been scattered over the Ozarks' sports scene during this century, it was most rewarding to single out an athlete, a sportsman if you will, that may have been the area's greatest sports ambassador -- Mickey Owen, October 1999's Heritage Hero.