Doubleday Double Talk Remembers: Mickey Mantle

Doubleday Double Talk Remembers is designed to connect fans with the game of baseball’s past one player and story at a time. A Doubleday Double Talk Remembers will be published every Friday and will go over the life and legacy of the players from our past, from Babe Ruth to Hank Aaron to Steve Dalkowski to Eddie Gaedel, every player has a story and Daryll Dorman and Giuseppe Vitulli are here to provide you with just that. Sometimes we forget about how important baseball’s past is, so Doubleday Double Talk Remembers is simply the writers at Doubleday Double Talk’s way to pay homage to the past of the beautiful game of baseball.

The Mick. Those words quickly evoke the image of New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. Mantle, who played all 18 seasons of his career with the New York Yankees, became one of the greatest players in history during that time. As good as he was – Mickey is also a player(similar to Ken Griffey Jr)- you just can’t help but think he could’ve been even better.

Mickey Mantle was born in Oklahoma and loved baseball from an early age. He was athletically skilled in many sports and was even offered a scholarship by the University of Oklahoma to play football. Luckily for us – he did not accept. He was signed by the Yankees out of high school in 1949 for $140/month with a $1,500 signing bonus.

Mickey had always been a natural talent – but he struggled some in the minor leagues. He was called up to the team in 1951 as the obvious heir apparent to Joe Dimaggio who was due to retire at the end of the season. He recounts the struggle with this story about how his dad got him through an early major league slump:

“Casey had to send me down to the minors,” he said. “I went back to Kansas City. I got a hit my first time up and the next 22 I didn’t even hit the ball. I was really down. I called my Dad. I said, ‘Dad, I can’t play.’ He said, ‘You wait right there.’

“I think he’s coming up to give me a pep talk. He walks in the hotel room and starts throwing my stuff in a bag. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘I thought I raised a man. You ain’t nothing but a damned coward. You come back and work with me in the (zinc) mines.’ He was crying. I was crying. I said, ‘Let me try again.’ “

Of course, Mickey did get back on track and to the big leagues. He was good enough to earn the starting right field role for the Yankees in 1952. The switch-hitter played center field and he played hard. One day hurt himself playing in the outfield stepping wrong on a drain pipe, an injury he blames for knee injuries that plagued the remainder of his career. He made it to the All-Star Game and really broke out in 1956 winning his first of three MVP awards and winning the Triple Crown.

Mantle was signed to the largest contract in Major League history at the time ($614,198) before the 1961 season, in which he and Roger Maris chased Babe’s Ruth single-season home run record of 60 home runs. Maris, of course, would break it that season with 61 which held until Mark McGwire broke that in 1998.

By the time Mantle retired in 1968, he had limped through several seasons with sub-par performance. He did still hit 536 home runs, and he was the Yankees leader in games played. In the end, he had to retire at age 36 but his last quality season was when he was only 32 years old. He later said, “Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else’s brain, who knows how good a player I might have been.”

Mickey came from a family of alcohol abuse, and he did not escape its effects. He ran his body haggard, and it took a toll in many ways. He still averaged 130 games a season if you take out the injury season in 1963. Mantle had four sons with his wife Merlyn Johnson, but he was pretty obvious about his cheating ways. He even brought mistress along with his wife to his 1969 retirement ceremony.

His post-baseball life was a little sad, as he had to signed autographs including a deal with a gambling casino that got him temporarily banned from baseball under Commissioner Bowie Kuhn because of baseballs strong aversion to gambling. Baseball

Hall of Fame 2018 inductee Chipper Jones recounted meeting Mantle – his hero – at a 1992 signing. He asked The Mick if signing autographs all the time took its toll on him: ‘Son, I have a recurring dream. I’m standing at the pearly gates and God walks up and apparently I’ve got this worried look on my face. (God) says ‘Mickey, I’m going to let you in … but came you sign these dozen baseballs.”. At the time – it was funny for Chipper – but in retrospect, he felt it was a sad indictment of Mickey’s life post-retirement.

In the end, his lifetime of alcohol abuse led to a very poor liver as he finally went into treatment for alcoholism in 1994. By then though the damage had been done. Despite a liver transplant – he died in August 1995.

Mantle captured the hearts of Americans in a way few baseball players ever has. He played hard with his All-American smile and good looks. He even had a few songs made after him, including “Talkin’ Baseball” and more recently The Bleachers “Dream of Mickey Mantle” which mentions “All the hope I had when I was young, I hope I wasn’t wrong / I miss those days so I sing a don’t take the money song.”

Mantle was an iconic Yankees player who won 7 World Series titles while on the team. He counted playing in Don Larsen’s perfect game one of the highlights of his playing career. He inspired countless children across America to play like Mickey Mantle.

 

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