Sunday, March 1, 2015

Today in American History: Mickey Mantle Retires - 03/01/1969

Today in American History: Mickey Mantle announces his retirement on March 1st, 1969.  "The Mick" or "The Commerce Comet" as he was called, hung up his spikes after 18 seasons with the New York Yankees.  In Mickey's Hall of Fame career he amassed 536 home runs, 1,509 runs batted in, 2,415 hits, batted an impressive .298 while currying 20 All Star appearances, 3 MVP awards, the Triple Crown award (leading the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in during a single season), lead the league in home runs four times, batting average and runs batted in once plus had his number retired by the New York Yankees and was named on the Major League Baseball All Century Team.  "The Mick" embodied everything that everyone loved about baseball, all in one good looking, friendly, athletic package.   He was the face of baseball for his career, playing in 7 World Series with the Yankees.

Born on October 20, 1931 in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, his family moved to Commerce, Oklahoma in 1944.  Baseball was in his life from an early age, his father (Mutt) loved the game, he grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan and was even named after his father's favorite player, catcher Mickey Cochrane.  Later in his life, Mantle expressed his relief that his father did not know Cochrane's given name, Gordon.  In high school, Mantle lettered in football, basketball and baseball and was even offered a football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma.

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 
stand out in the lower minor leagues.  Once again, Mickey called his father and told him he wanted to quite baseball.  Mutt, once again, drove up to Kansas City, but this time he did not try and talk his son out of quitting.  Instead, he began packing his son's stuff telling him, "I thought I'd raised a man, but I see I raised a coward instead.  You can come back and work the mines with me."    Mantle found his swing, hitting .361 with 11 home runs in the next forty more games in Kansas City, he rejoined the Yankees.  During the 1951 season, Mantle ended hitting .267 with 13 home runs and 65 runs batted in over 96 games.

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.
Mantle's team, and Maris was seen as an outside, someone who wasn't a "true Yankee."  But, fate was not on Mantle's side in 1961 and he was famously hospitalized for an abscess that grew in his right hip after receiving a bad flu shot.  Mantle would miss the remainder of the 1961 season finishing with 54 home runs.  Roger Maris would go on to hit 61 home runs in 1961, gaining him little but the wrath of the people for breaking the beloved Ruth's record.  The people wanted the record for Mantle, not Maris.  I highly recommend watching the movie, "61" made by Billy Crystal to see an engaging and reasonable historically accurate depiction of the 1961 season and what Roger Maris had to to through during his chase and ultimate eclipse of Ruth's record.

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 TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia 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!

Be sure to check out Bruce's Allentown Education Examiner Page, his Twitter and his Facebook!

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