His football career in high school nearly ended his athletic life all together. Mickey was kicked in the shin during a practice during his sophomore year, and it quickly became infected with osteomyelitis. A disease that just a few years earlier would have been incurable, and would have crippled him for life. However, a midnight drive to the hospital in Tulsa enable Mickey to be treated with the new miracle cure, Penicillin, and he avoided having his leg amputated.
Mickey's professional baseball career began in with the Baxter Spring Whiz kids in 1948, a semi-professional team local to Mickey. New York Yankees scout came to see Mantle's teammate, third basemen Billy Johnson, in 48 but Mantle hit three home runs in that game -- thoroughly impressing the scout, Tom Greenwade. Greenwade returned in 1949 after Mantle graduated from high school and signed him to a $140 per month contract ($1,388 today) with a $1,500 ($14,868 today) signing bonus to play minor league ball. He was assigned to play for the Independence Yankees in the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri Class-D League, and he played shortstop for the Independence club. Mantle ended up hitting an impressive .313 for the Independence Yankees this year, but not before enduring a long slump. During the slump, Mantle called his father and old him he wanted to quit baseball. Much to his credit, Mutt got in the car and drove to Independence to counsel his young son, convincing him to keep at his lifelong dream. Clearly, Mickey did and was promoted to the Class-C Joplin Miners in 1950. In 1951, the impressive twenty year old Mantle was invited to the Yankees Instructional Camp during spring training. Yankees manager Casey Stangle was so impressed by the kid, he decided to start him in right field in 1951 and the legend was finally in pin stripes.
Unfortunately, Mantle's story isn't all puppy dogs and unicorns yet. He endured a significant slump early in 1951 and was sent down the Kansas City Blues where he continued to struggle -- failing to find the power that made him
|Mantle's Rookie Card|
The Yankees would go to the World Series in 1951 against the Giants. During the series, Willie Mays would hit a fly ball to right-center field that Mantle pursued. Joe DiMaggio called for the catch and made it for the out, however while getting out of DiMaggio's way, Mantle would trip over an exposed drain pipe and injure his right knee. Mantle had torn his ACL, a common injury today. Injuries would plague Mantle's career. Mantle would play the rest of his career with the torn ACL -- clocked at 3.1 seconds from home plate to first base. The fastest ever recorded.
DiMaggio went on to retire after 1951, and Mantle moved to his home -- centerfield for the New York Yankees. He would play there from 1952 through the 1965 season, he was the moved to first base for his final two seasons. His career took off, making the All Star team in 1952 and improving steadily each year until 1956 when he had his break out season. He hit .353 with 52 home runs and drove in 130 runs winning the Triple Crown and the first of his three Most Valuable Player awards. His career continued to shoot nowhere nowhere but up, and in 1961 he became the highest paid player in baseball -- awarded with a contract of $75,000 per year ($591, 899 today). It is worth mentioning that this was not the richest contract in history at the time, DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Hank Greenberg were pulling down just over $100,000 but had recently retired. And Babe Ruth's top salary had been $80,000. Mantle would retire with a career high of $100,000 in 1963, after which he is rumored to have said, "I've made enough," and never asked for another raise.
The famous season of 1961 saw Roger Maris playing right field for the Yankees, next to Mantle. Deemed the "M&M Boys", they engaged in the historical run to chase Babe Ruth's seemingly unbreakable record of 60 home runs in a single season. While people initially saw Mantle as a hick from the country, he began to hone his media skills and became much beloved by the press in and out of New York. And as the season wore on, and Mantle and Maris looked more and more like they'd break Ruth's record, the people were on Mantle's side. The Yankees were clearly
|The M&M Boys of 1961, Mantle on the right.|
After 1965, Mantle was plagued with injuries season after season and would miss time in each of his final three seasons until he finally announced his retirement before the 1969 season. While his numbers weren't ever the best all time, they were certainly among them, and his fame reached heights that few ever had and ever will reach, including being one of the inspirations for the "Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey and The Duke)" by Terry Cashman. Watch a video made for it below.
After baseball, Mantle would do appearances all over the country, and signed on in 1968 as a part-time color commentator with NBC. He would go on to be a part-time commentator for the Montreal Expos in 1972, and do a number of other television gigs. In the 1980's he led the Baseball Memorabilia craze by appearing at show after show and being generous with his autograph. Mantle was famous for his poor business deals, but the opening of Mickey Mantle's on Central Park South in New York City in 1988 and it went on to become one of New York's most sought after reservations for years. In 1992, Mantle penned the best-selling, "My Favorite Season" about the 1956 season in New York. He continued to fight his alcoholism and partying into retirement before finally passing away in on August 13, 1995. He left behind his wife, Merlyn and four sons. He had separated from Merlyn in 1980 and lived out his remaining days with his agent, Greer Johnson. He was rumored to have been with Greer for many years before the separation.
|Mantle's 1968 Baseball Card|
All in all, Mickey Mantle was one of the original "Boys of Summer" and an inspiration to more than one generation of baseball fans. I remember listening to my grandfather talk about Mantle, as well as others, and seeing him play in Yankee Stadium. These stories were one of the things that I attribute to my lifelong love of the game, and my inspiration to play and study the history of the game. Derek Jeter has most recently inspired the same feelings for the game for me and this generation of baseball fans, however the sport is sorely missing guys like Mantle, DiMaggio and Jeter today. We look to Mike Trout and David Wright to take up the torch as the "All American Boys of Summer" today!
Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs. He also a lifelong baseball fan who has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes. Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of Time, Towering Pines Volume One:Room 509, The Star of Christmas, Philadelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel. Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!
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