- Category : Baseball Player
- Type : GE
- Profile : 6/3 - Role Model / Martyr
- Definition : Split - Large
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Limitation 2
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.
He played his entire 18-year major-league professional career for the New York Yankees, winning 3 American League MVP titles and playing for 16 All-Star teams. Mantle played on 12 pennant winners and 7 World Championship clubs. He still holds the records for most World Series home runs (18), RBIs (40), runs (42), walks (43), extra-base hits (26), and total bases (123).
Mickey Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma. He was named in honor of Mickey Cochrane, the Hall of Fame catcher from the Philadelphia Athletics, by his father, Mutt, who was an amateur player and fervent fan. According to the book Mickey Mantle: America's Prodigal Son, by Tony Castro, in later life, Mickey expressed relief that his father had not known Cochrane's true first name, as he would have hated to be named Gordon. 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. His father died of cancer at the age of 39, just as his son was starting his career. Mantle said one of the great heartaches of his life was that he never told his father he loved him.
When Mantle was four years old, the family moved to the nearby town of Commerce, Oklahoma. Mantle was an all-around athlete at Commerce High School, playing basketball as well as football (he was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma) in addition to his first love, baseball. 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 drive to Tulsa, Oklahoma, 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 professional career. Additionally, Mantle's osteomyelitic condition exempted him from military service, which caused him to become very unpopular with fans, as his earliest days in baseball coincided with the Korean War (though he was still selected as an All-Star the year his medical exemption was given, and was known as the "fastest man to first base.")
Mantle's first semi-professional team was the Baxter Springs (Kansas) 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 righty and one lefty, into a river well past the ballpark's fences. Greenwade wanted to sign Mickey on the spot but, 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, which he did. Greenwade signed 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. Tom Greenwade was quoted in the press release announcing Mantle 's signing as saying that Mantle was the best prospect he'd ever seen. Because of his blinding speed, he was dubbed "The Commerce Comet." Mantle also played for the Yankee's farm club, the "Joplin Miners" in Joplin, Missouri. He would later invest in a Holiday Inn motel in that city, with his name attached to it.
On arrival at the Yankees April 17, 1951, he became the regular right fielder (playing only a few games in the infield between 1952 to 1955). Speaking of his prized rookie, Yankees manager Casey Stengel told SPORT magazine (June 1951) that, "He's got more natural power from both sides than anybody I ever saw." Joe DiMaggio, in his final season, called Mantle, "the greatest prospect I can remember." In his first game with the Yankees, Mantle wore uniform #6. In his first World Series Game, October 4, 1951, the Yankees were pitted against the Giants for what was Willie Mays's first World Series Game as well.
Mantle 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 Yankees outfield. Mantle played center field full-time until 1965, when he was moved to left field. His final two seasons were spent at first base. Among Mantle's many accomplishments are all-time World Series records for home runs (18), runs scored (42), and runs batted in (40).
Mantle 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 and, based on where it was found, was estimated years later by historian Mark Gallagher to have traveled 643 feet (196 m). Another Mantle homer, this one hit right-handed off Chuck Stobbs at Griffith Stadium in Washington on April 17, 1953, was measured by Yankees traveling secretary Red Patterson (hence the term "tape-measure home run") to have traveled 565 feet (172 m). Though it is apparent that they are actually the distances where the balls ended up after bouncing several times , there is no doubt that they both landed more than 500 feet (152 m) from home plate. Mantle twice hit balls off the third-deck facade at Yankee Stadium, nearly becoming the only player (other than Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson) to hit a fair ball out of the stadium during a game. On May 22, 1963, against Kansas City's Bill Fischer, Mantle hit a ball that fellow players and fans claimed was still rising when it hit the 110-foot (34 m) high facade, then caromed back onto the playing field. It was later estimated by some that the ball could have traveled 620 feet (190 m) had it not been blocked by the ornate and distinctive facade. While physicists might question those estimates, on August 12, 1964, he hit one whose distance was undoubted: a center field drive that cleared the 22-foot (6.7 m) batter's eye screen, beyond the 461-foot (141 m) marker at the Stadium.
Although he was a feared power hitter from either side of the plate, Mantle considered himself a better right-handed hitter even though he had more home runs from the left side of the plate: 372 left-handed, 164 right-handed. That was due to Mantle having batted left-handed much more often, as the large majority of pitchers are right-handed. In addition, many of his left-handed home runs were hit in Yankee Stadium, a park much friendlier to left-handed hitters than to right-handed hitters. When Mantle played for the Yankees, the distance to the right-field foul pole stood at a mere 296 feet (90 m), with markers in the power alleys of 344 and 407, while the left-field power alley ranged from 402 to 457 feet (139 m) 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 HR, and 130 RBI, and his first of three MVP awards.
Also in 1956, Mantle made a (talking) cameo appearance in a song recorded by Teresa Brewer, "I Love Mickey," which extolled Mantle's power hitting. The song was included in one of the Baseball's Greatest Hits CDs.
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 a league-low five double plays. Mantle reached base more times than he made outs (319 to 312), one of two seasons in which he achieved the feat.
On January 16, 1961, Mantle became the highest-paid baseball player by signing a $75,000 contract. DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg and Ted Williams, who had just retired, had been paid over $100,000 in a season, and Ruth had a peak salary of $80,000. But Mantle became the highest-paid active player of his time.
Mantle's relationship with the New York press was not always friendly. 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 struck out frequently, was injury-prone, was 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 Whitey Ford, a native of New York's Borough of Queens) 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" jacket for his duration with the Yankees. So as 1961 progressed, the Yanks were now "Mickey Mantle's team," and Maris was ostracized as the "outsider," and said to be "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.
In the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 3 of the 1964 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Mickey Mantle blasted Barney Schultz's first pitch into the upper right field stands at Yankee Stadium, which won the game for the Yankees, 2-1.
Injuries slowed Mantle and the Yankees during the 1965 season, and they finished in 6th, 25 games behind the Minnesota Twins. Mantle hit .255 that season with only 19 home runs. After the 1966 season he was moved to first base with Joe Pepitone taking over his place in the outfield.
Mantle's last home run came on September 20, 1968, off Boston’s Jim Lonborg.
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 led to his temporary demotion to a minor league in mid-season. When he returned, Bobby Brown, who had worn Number 6 before Mantle, had reclaimed it, so Mantle was given Number 7 by Yankees longtime equipment manager Pete Sheehy.) 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 bad investments. His lifestyle would be restored to one of luxury, and his hold on his fans raised to an amazing level, by his position of leadership in the sports memorabilia craze that swept the USA, beginning in the 1980s. Mantle was a prized 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, due to the distance of years, now exist in far smaller quantities.
Despite the failure of Mickey Mantle's Country Cookin' restaurants in the early 1970s, Mickey Mantle's Restaurant & Sports Bar opened in New York at 42 Central Park South (59th Street) 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. Mantle let others run the business operations, but made frequent appearances.
In 1983, Mantle worked at the Claridge Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as a greeter and community representative. Most of his activities were representing the Claridge in golf tournaments and other charity events. But Mantle was suspended from baseball by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn on the grounds that any affiliation with gambling were grounds for being placed on the "permanently ineligible" list. Kuhn warned Mantle before he accepted the position that he would have to place him on the list if Mantle went to work there. Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who had also taken a similar position, had already had action taken against him. Mantle accepted the position, regardless, as he felt the rule was "stupid." He was placed on the list, but reinstated on March 18, 1985, by Kuhn's successor, Peter Ueberroth.
Mickey Mantle's career was fraught with injury. Beginning in high school he accumulated both acute and chronic injuries to bones and cartilage in his legs. Applying thick wraps to both of his knees became a pre-game ritual, and by the end of his career, simply swinging a bat caused him to fall to one knee in pain. Baseball scholars often ponder "what if" he had not been injured, and he was able to lead a healthy career.
As a 19-year-old rookie in his first World Series, Mantle tore the cartilage in his right knee on a pop fly by Willie Mays while playing right field. Joe DiMaggio, in the last year of his career, was playing center field. Mays' pop-up was hit to deep right center, and as both Mantle and DiMaggio converged to make the catch, DiMaggio called for it at the last second, causing Mantle to suddenly stop short as his cleats caught a drainage cover in the outfield grass. His knee twisted awkwardly and he instantly fell. Witnesses say it looked "like he had been shot." He was carried off the field on a stretcher and spent the rest of the World Series watching from the hospital.
On December 23, 1951, he married hometown girl Merlyn Johnson in Commerce, Oklahoma; they had four sons. In an 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 quiet about his many marital infidelities.
The couple's four sons were Mickey Jr. (1953-2000), David (1955), Billy (1957-1994, whom Mickey named for Billy Martin, his best friend among his Yankee teammates), and Danny (1960). Like Mickey, Merlyn and the sons all became alcoholics, and Billy developed Hodgkin's disease, as several previous Mantle men had. This led to him developing a dependence on prescription painkillers.
Mickey Mantle has four grandchildren. Mickey Jr. had a daughter, Mallory. David and his wife Marla have a daughter, Marilyn. Danny and his wife Kay have a son, Will, and a daughter, Chloe. Danny and Will played a father and son watching as Mickey, (played by Thomas Jane), hit a home run in the 2001 film produced by devoted Yankee fan Billy Crystal, "61*."
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 many of Mantle's personal items, including a lock of hair, a neck brace, and expired credit cards.
During the final years of his life, Mantle purchased a luxury condominium on Lake Oconee near Greensboro, Georgia, near Greer Johnson's home, and frequently stayed there for months at a time. He occasionally attended the local Methodist church, and sometimes ate Sunday dinner with members of the congregation. He was well-liked by the citizens of Greensboro, and seemed to like them in return. This was probably because the town respected Mantle's privacy, refusing either to talk about their famous neighbor to outsiders or to direct fans to his home. In one interview, Mickey stated that the people of Greensboro had "gone out of their way to make me feel welcome, and I've found something there I haven't enjoyed since I was a kid."
Mantle's last days
Well before he finally sought treatment for alcoholism, Mantle admitted his hard living had hurt both his playing and his family. His rationale was that the men in his family had all died young, so he expected to die young as well. "I'm not gonna be cheated," he would say. As the years passed, and he had outlived the men in his family — having not calculated that their working in mines and inhaling lead and zinc dust aided Hodgkin's and other cancers as much as heredity did — he frequently used a line popularized by football legend Bobby Layne, a Dallas neighbor and friend of Mantle's who also died in part due to alcohol abuse: "If I'd known I was gonna live this long, I'd have taken a lot better care of myself."
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 to go to the Betty Ford Clinic was Pat Summerall, a sportscaster who had played for the New York Giants football team while they played at Yankee Stadium, now a recovering alcoholic and a member of the same Dallas-area country club as Mantle.
Shortly after completing treatment, his son Billy died on March 12, at age 36, of heart trouble, brought on by years of substance abuse. Despite the fears of those who knew him that this tragedy would send him back to drinking, he remained sober. Mickey Jr. later died of liver cancer on December 20, 2000, at age 47. Danny later battled prostate cancer.
Mantle spoke with great remorse of his drinking in a 1994 Sports Illustrated cover story. He said that he was telling the same old stories, and realizing how much of them involved himself and others being drunk, and he decided they weren't funny anymore. He admitted he had often been cruel and hurtful to family, friends and fans because of his alcoholism, and sought to make amends. He became a born-again Christian because of his former teammate Bobby Richardson, an ordained Baptist minister who shared his faith with him. After the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, he 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, because his liver had been damaged by years of chronic alcoholism, cirrhosis and hepatitis C. 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 spread throughout his body.
Though he was very popular, Mantle's liver transplant was a source of some controversy. Some felt that his fame had permitted him to receive a donor liver very quickly, bypassing other patients who had been waiting for much longer. Mantle's doctors insisted that the decision was based solely on medical criteria, but acknowledged that the very short wait created the appearance of favoritism.
Mantle died on August 13, 1995, at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. During the first Yankee home game after Mantle's death, Eddie Layton played "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on the Hammond organ because Mickey had once told him it was his favorite song. The Yankees played the rest of the season with black mourning bands topped by a small number 7 on their left sleeves.
Mantle was interred in the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas. In eulogizing Mantle, sportscaster Bob Costas described him as "a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic." Costas added: "In the last year of his life, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally came to accept and appreciate the distinction between a role model and a hero. The first, he often was not. The second, he always will be. And, in the end, people got it."
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's first year of eligibility, Ford's second.
Beginning in 1997, the Topps Baseball Card company retired the card #7 in its base sets in tribute to Mantle, whose career was taking off just as Topps began producing baseball cards. Mantle's cards, especially his 1952 Topps card, are extremely popular and valuable among card collectors. Though Topps un-retired the #7 in 2006, the number is reserved for cards of Mantle, remade with each year's design.
In 1999, "The Sporting News" placed Mantle at 17th on its list "The 100 Greatest Baseball Players." That same year, he was one of 100 nominees for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, and was chosen by fan balloting as one of the team's outfielders. 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 . The stamp is one of a series of four honoring baseball sluggers, the others being Mel Ott, Roy Campanella, and Hank Greenberg.