Mickey Mantle

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Mickey Mantle
Personal Info
Birth October 20, 1931
Death: August 13, 1995
Professional Career
Debut April 20, 1939, New York Yankees
Team(s) New York Yankees (1951–1968)
HOF induction: 1974
Career Highlights
  • AL MVP (1956, 1957, 1962)
  • AL Triple Crown (1956)
  • AL Gold Glove Winner (1962)
  • 16-time AL All-Star (1952–1965, 1967, 1968)

Mickey Charles Mantle (October 20, 1931 – August 13, 1995) was an American baseball player who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974. Mantle played his entire 18-year, major-league professional career for the New York Yankees, winning three American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) titles and playing for 16 All-Star teams. Mantle played on 12 A.L. championship pennant winners and seven World Series championship clubs. He still holds the records for most World Series home runs (18), RBI (40), runs (42), walks (43), extra-base hits (26), and total bases (123).

When Mantle finished second to Roger Maris in the pursuit of Babe Ruth's home-run record in 1961, fans from Mantle's earlier days renewed their admiration. He spent the last years of his career as a wildly popular icon of the sport. Mantle was their hero; the blond-haired, gifted, all-around athlete from Oklahoma who overcame chronic physical problems to excel in his sport as few others had. Mantle died on August 13, 1995 at age 63 from liver cancer after years of alcohol abuse. On his tombstone were the words he requested: "A great teammate."

Contents

Youth

Mickey Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma. His father, an amateur player and fervent fan, named him in honor of Mickey Cochrane, the Hall of Fame catcher from the Philadelphia Athletics. Mantle always spoke warmly of his father and said he was the bravest man he ever knew. "No boy ever loved his father more," he said. Sadly, his father died of cancer at the age of 39, just as his son was starting his career.

After moving to Commerce, Oklahoma, at the age of four, Mantle was an all-around athlete at Commerce High School, playing basketball and football in addition to his first love, baseball. He was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but his football playing nearly ended his athletic career, and indeed his life. Kicked in the shin during a game, Mantle's leg soon became infected with osteomyelitis, a crippling disease that would have been incurable just a few years earlier. A midnight ride to Tulsa enabled Mantle to be treated with newly available penicillin, saving his leg from amputation. He suffered from the effects of the disease for the rest of his life, and it probably led to many other injuries that hampered his accomplishments. Additionally, Mantle's condition exempted him from military service during Korean War. Ironically, he was selected as an all-star the year his medical exemption was given, and was known as the "fastest man to first base."

Playing career

Minor leagues

Mantle had played shortstop in the minor leagues. His first semi-professional team was the Baxter Springs (Kan.) Whiz Kids. In 1948 Yankees' scout Tom Greenwade came to Baxter Springs to watch Mantle’s teammate, third baseman Billy Johnson, in a Whiz Kids game. During the game Mantle hit two homers—one right-handed and one left-handed—well past the ballpark's fences. Greenwade wanted to sign Mantle on the spot, but upon finding out that he was only 16 and still in high school, told him he would come back to sign him with the Yankees on his graduation day in 1949. Good to his word, Greenwade was there on schedule, signing Mantle to a minor-league contract with the Yankees Class D team in Independence, Kansas. Mantle signed for $400 to play the remainder of the season with a $1,100 signing bonus. Greenwade was quoted in a press release announcing Mantle's signing as saying that Mantle was the best prospect he'd ever seen.

With the Yankees

On April 17, 1951, Mantle became the regular right fielder. He also played a few games at shortstop and third base from 1952 to 1955. He moved to center field in 1952, replacing Joe DiMaggio, who retired at the end of the 1951 season after one year playing alongside Mantle in the outfield. Mantle played center field until 1967, when he was moved to first base.

Among Mantle's many accomplishments are all-time World Series records for home runs (18), runs scored (42), and RBI (40). He also hit some of the longest home runs in Major League history. On September 10, 1960, he hit a ball left-handed that cleared the right-field roof at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. Based on where the ball was found, it was estimated years later by historian Mark Gallagher to have traveled 643 feet. Another Mantle homer, this one hit right-handed, at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. on April 17, 1953, was measured by Yankees traveling secretary Red Patterson to have traveled 565 feet. Although these are the distances where the balls ended up after bouncing several times, there is no doubt that they both landed more than five hundred feet from home plate. At least twice Mantle hit balls off the third-deck facade at Yankee Stadium, which nearly made him the only player to hit a fair ball literally out of the stadium. His last such effort was on May 22, 1963, against Kansas City pitcher Bill Fischer. Fellow players and fans noted that ball was still rising when it hit the 110-foot high facade, and then caromed back onto the playing field. It was later "guesstimated" that the ball would have traveled 620 feet had it not been impeded.

Power from either side

Mickey Mantle monument at Yankee Stadium

Although he was a feared power hitter from either side of the plate, Mantle had more home runs as a lefty. However, it should be noted that there are more right-handed pitchers than left-handed ones, so a preponderance of his at-bats were from the left side of the plate. In addition, many of his left-handed home runs were struck at Yankee Stadium, a park that was, and is, notoriously friendly to left-handed hitters and brutal on right-handed hitters. When Mantle played for the Yankees, the distance to the right-field foul pole stood at a mere 296 feet (90 meters), while the left-field power alley was a distant 457 feet (139 meters) from the plate.

In 1956 Mantle won the Hickok Belt as top professional athlete of the year. This was his "favorite summer," a year that saw him win the Triple Crown, leading the majors with a .353 batting average, 52 home runs and 130 RBI on the way to his first of three MVP awards. Though the American League Triple Crown has been won twice since then, Mantle remains the last man to win the Major League Triple Crown. Mantle may have been even more dominant in 1957, leading the league in runs and walks, batting a career-high .365 (second in the league to Ted Williams' .388), and hitting into only five double plays, a league-low. In that year, Mantle reached base more times than he made outs (319 to 312), one of two seasons in which he achieved this feat.

Chasing the Babe

On January 16, 1961, Mantle became baseball's highest-paid player of the year by signing a $75,000 contract. During the 1961 season, Mantle and teammate Roger Maris chased Babe Ruth's single season home-run record. Five years earlier, in 1956, Mantle had challenged Ruth's record for most of the season and the New York press had been protective of Ruth on that occasion also. When Mantle finally fell short, finishing with 52, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief from the New York traditionalists. Nor had the New York press been all that kind to Mantle in his early years with the team: he was criticized for striking out frequently and being injury-prone, was called a "true hick" from Oklahoma, and was perceived as being distinctly inferior to his predecessor in center field, Joe DiMaggio.

Over the course of time, however, Mantle (with a little help from his teammate Native New Yorker Whitey Ford, had gotten better at "schmoozing" with the New York media, and had gained the favor of the press. This was a talent that Maris, a blunt-spoken upper-Midwesterner, was never willing or able to cultivate; as a result, he wore the "surly" label for his duration with the Yankees. So as 1961 progressed, the Yankees were now "Mickey Mantle's team" and Maris was ostracized as the "outsider," and "not a true Yankee." The press seemed to root for Mantle and to belittle Maris. But Mantle was felled by an abscessed hip late in the season, leaving Maris to break the record.

Retirement

The first four New York Yankee retired numbers in order, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle (number 7). At the far right is famed Yankee's manager Casey Stengel's number, 37.

Mantle announced his retirement on March 1, 1969, and in 1974, as soon as he was eligible, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; his uniform, number 7, was retired by the Yankees. He had briefly worn uniform number 6, as a continuation of Babe Ruth's 3, Lou Gehrig's 4, and Joe DiMaggio's 5, in 1951, but his poor performance in his first year in the majors led to his temporary demotion to a minor league team in mid-season. When he returned, Bobby Brown, who had worn number 6 before Mantle, had reclaimed it, so Mantle was given number 7. When he retired, "The Mick" was third on the all-time home run list with 536.

Despite being among the best-paid players of the pre-free agency era, Mantle was a poor businessman, having made several unlucky investments. His lifestyle would be restored to one of luxury by his position of leadership in the sports memorabilia craze that swept the United States beginning in the 1980s. Mantle was a prize guest at any baseball-card show, commanding fees far in excess of any other player for his appearances and autographs. This popularity continues long after his death, as Mantle-related items far outsell those of any other player except possibly Babe Ruth, whose items now exist in far smaller quantities.

Mickey Mantle's Restaurant & Sports Bar opened in New York at 42 Central Park South in 1988. It became one of New York's most popular restaurants, and his original Yankee Stadium Monument Park plaque is displayed at the front entrance.

In 1983 Mantle worked at the Claridge Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., as a greeter and community representative. As a result, he was suspended from baseball by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn on the grounds that any affiliation with gambling is automatically places a person on the "permanently ineligible" list. Kuhn had reportedly warned Mantle before he accepted the position that he would have to place him on the list if he went to work there. Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who had also taken a similar position, had faced the same sanction. Mantle accepted the position, regardless, as he felt the rule was "stupid" since he was no longer even a player. He was reinstated on March 18, 1985, by Kuhn's successor, Peter Ueberroth.

Troubled family

On December 23, 1951, he married Merlyn Johnson in their hometown of Commerce, Oklahoma. In his autobiography, Mantle said he married Merlyn not because he loved her, but because his domineering father told him to. While his drinking became public knowledge during his lifetime, the press kept his many marital infidelities quiet.

The couple had four children, all sons: Mickey Jr. (born in 1953), David (1955), Billy (1957), and Danny (1960). Like Mickey, Merlyn and the sons all became alcoholics, and Billy developed Hodgkin's disease as several previous Mantle men had.

Mickey and Merlyn had been separated for 15 years when he died, but neither ever filed for divorce. Mantle lived with his agent, Greer Johnson. Johnson was taken to federal court in November 1997 by the Mantle family to stop her from auctioning off many of Mantle's personal items.

Mantle's last days

Well before he finally sought treatment for alcoholism, Mantle admitted that his hard living had hurt his playing and his family. His rationale was that the men in his family had all died young, so he expected to as well. Mantle's wife and sons all completed treatment for alcoholism, and told him he needed to do the same. He checked into the Betty Ford Clinic on January 7, 1994, after being told by a doctor that his liver was so badly damaged, "Your next drink could be your last." Also helping Mantle to make the decision was Pat Summerall, a sportscaster and recovering alcoholic who had played for the New York Giants football team and was a member of the same Dallas-area country club as Mantle.

Shortly after completing treatment, Mantle's son Billy died on March 12, at age 36, of heart trouble. Mantle became a born-again Christian due to the influence of his former teammate Bobby Richardson, an ordained Baptist minister. After the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, Mantle joined with fellow Oklahoman and Yankee legend Bobby Murcer to raise money for the victims.

Mantle received a liver transplant at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, on June 8, 1995. In July, he had recovered enough to deliver a press conference at Baylor, and noted that many fans had looked to him as a role model. "This is a role model: Don't be like me," he said. He also established the Mickey Mantle Foundation to raise awareness for organ donations. Soon, he was back in the hospital, where it was found that his liver cancer had spread throughout his body.

Mantle died on August 13, 1995, at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. He was 63 years old. Mantle was interred in the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas.

Mickey Jr. died of liver cancer on December 20, 2000, at age 47. Another son, Danny, later battled prostate cancer.

Honors

On Mickey Mantle Day, June 8, 1969, in addition to the retirement of his uniform number 7, Mantle was given a plaque that would hang on the center field wall at Yankee Stadium, near the monuments to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Miller Huggins. The plaque was given to him by Joe DiMaggio, and Mantle then gave DiMaggio a similar plaque, telling the crowd, "His should be just a little bit higher than mine." When Yankee Stadium was reopened in 1976 following its renovation, the plaques and monuments were moved to Monument Park, behind the left-center field fence.

Shortly before his death, Mantle videotaped a message to be played on Old-Timers' Day, which he was too ill to attend. He said, "When I die, I wanted on my tombstone, 'A great teammate.' But I didn't think it would be this soon." The words were indeed carved on the plaque marking his resting place at the family mausoleum in Dallas. On August 25, 1996, about a year after his death, Mantle's Monument Park plaque was replaced with a monument, bearing the words "A great teammate" and keeping a phrase that had been included on the original plaque: "A magnificent Yankee who left a legacy of unequaled courage."

Mantle and former teammate Whitey Ford were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame together in 1974, Mantle in his first year of eligibility, Ford in his second. In 1999, "The Sporting News" placed Mantle at seventeenth on its list "The 100 Greatest Baseball Players." That same year, he was one of one hundred nominees for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, and was chosen by fan balloting as one of the team's outfielders. While most fans who remember them both tend to rate Willie Mays as a better player than Mantle, Mantle remains the most popular player of the 1950s and 1960s, even as Mays, Hank Aaron, and others outlived him by many years. ESPN's "SportsCentury" series that ran in 1999 ranked him No. 37 on its "50 Greatest Athletes" series. In 2006, Mantle was featured on a United States postage stamp.

References

  • Castro, Tony. Mickey Mantle: America's Prodigal Son. Potomac Books; 2002. ISBN 1574883844
  • Gallagher, Mark. Explosion! Mickey Mantle's Legendary Home Runs. Arbor House, 1987. ISBN 087795853X
  • Herskowitz, Mickey, Danny Mantle and David Mantle. Mickey Mantle: Stories from a Lifetime with the Mick. Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2006. ISBN 978-1584795476

External links


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