Joseph Michael Medwick was born November 24, 1911, in Carteret, New Jersey, the fourth child of Elizabeth and John Medwick, a carpenter. Both parents had been born in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and immigrated to the United States in 1893. According to his obituary, Joe was a four-sport star at Carteret High School, participating in track, football, basketball, and baseball. He won all-state honors as a high-school halfback and had many offers of college athletic scholarships to play football. However, he preferred baseball. As a teenager, Joe was signed off the New Jersey sandlots by the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
While playing with Houston, Medwick acquired the nickname Ducky. Some say it was because he waddled like a duck when he walked. The New York Times reported that a young woman spotted him splashing around a swimming pool and remarked, “He swims just like a duck.” His teammates picked up on it and started calling him Ducky or, even worse, Ducky Wucky. Joe detested the name, but it caught on and for years sportswriters routinely referred to him as Ducky. Medwick much preferred to be called Muscles and induced some of his teammates to use that appellation.
Ten times he was named to the National League All-Star team; he won the circuit’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1937; and in that same year he became the league’s last batter to win the Triple Crown by leading the loop in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in during the same season.
His hard-charging style of play got him pulled out of the seventh game of the 1934 World Series by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, when Detroit Tigers fans started pelting him with garbage after he slid hard into third base on a triple. (Audio) Landis also ordered Tigers third baseman Marv Owen, into whom Medwick had slid, benched. Medwick remains the only known player to be thrown out of a game for his own personal safety. When asked about the incident by reporters after the game, a perplexed Medwick said, "Well, I knew why [the Tiger fans] threw that garbage at me. What I don't understand is why they brought it to the park in the first place."
On June 12, 1940, the Cardinals traded Medwick along with pitcher Curt Davis to the Brooklyn Dodgers for four players and a sum variously reported as $125,000 or $200,000.
After waiting impatiently for 20 years, Medwick was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1968. “It was like a 20-year slump,” he said the day after his election. His long wait may have been caused by the antagonism felt toward him by many baseball writers, whom he often dismissed rudely when they approached him for interviews. By 1968 this animosity had been largely forgotten and he received votes from 84.8 percent of the writers casting ballots.
On March 21, 1975, Joseph Michael Medwick died at St. Petersburg, Florida, of a heart attack. He had been working as a batting instructor in the Cardinals’ spring-training camp. He was 63 years old. The great player was survived by his widow, Isabelle; a son, Joe Medwick Jr. of Key Largo, Florida; and a daughter, Susan Medwick George of St. Louis. He was buried in St. Lucas Cemetery in Sunset Hills, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.