Saturday, August 13, 2016

Mickey Mantle (October 20, 1931 - August 13, 1995) Could Have Been the Greatest Baseball Player to Ever Play the Game

“Mickey Mantle hit 536 – many of them gargantuan – home runs in 18 seasons. He drove in 1,509 runs. And scored 1,677 runs. On one leg. As great as Mantle was – as legendary as he remains – injuries robbed The Mick of a Ruthian standing in baseball’s history.

“With bulging shoulders and arms and Popeye-like forearns, Mantle hardly looked the part of an injury-prone player. As teammate Jerry Coleman once observed, The Mick had ‘the body of a god. Only Mantle’s legs were mortal.’

“As a youth, Mantle suffered from a form of infantile paralysis that weakened his legs. In 1947, four years before his freshman season with the Yanks, Mantle was diagnosed with Osteomyelitis – an acute or chronic, and extremely painful, bone infection of his ankle and shin.

“Then, in Game 2 of the 1951 World Series, the rookie Mantle – playing right field in deference to Joe DiMaggio in center – took off after a fly ball off the bat of fellow rookie Willie Mays of the Giants, caught one of his spikes in a drainpipe covering, and ripped up his right knee. 

“He would never play another pain-free game. There were pulled muscles and sprains, fractures and abscesses. He even had a tonsillectomy in 1956. The frequent surgeries robbed him of his blazing speed. Mantle legged 49 triples in his first seven years in the majors – and just 23 in his last 11. He stole 124 bases before the age 30, and just 29 bases until his retirement at 36. 

“But he never stopped hitting. Indeed, his Triple Crown year and his 54 HR season came well after his legs failed him. And he remains the Yanks’ career leader in games-played with 2,401. ‘He is,’ manager Casey Stengel once marveled, ‘the best one-legged player I ever saw play the game.’”

(from the New York Post)

Mickey Mantle Interview with Bob Costas. 


  1. “Many argue that he was the greatest baseball player ever, and were it not for the almost constant menace of alcohol and health-related maladies during his long and successful career as a New York Yankee, chances are there would be no argument. Mickey Mantle played in twenty All-Star games, and he holds the record for most career World Series home runs, runs scored and runs batted in. He subscribed to the old adage that, ‘It is just as important to be lucky as it is to be good.’ But Mantle's luck would eventually run out. His body, hindered by alcoholism and physical afflictions, would eventually give up on him. Too weak to fight any longer, he would die of cancer in 1995 at the age of 63. In spite of his personal hardships, however, Mickey Mantle remains a hero in America…” (

  2. Mickey Mantle’s Eulogy by Bob Costas:

    “…[H]e was a presence in our lives-a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic. Mickey often said he didn’t understand it, this enduring connection and affection-the men now in their 40s and 50s, otherwise perfectly sensible, who went dry in the mouth and stammered like schoolboys in the presence of Mickey Mantle.

    “Maybe Mick was uncomfortable with it, not just because of his basic shyness, but because he was always too honest to regard himself as some kind of deity. But that was never really the point. In a very different time than today, the first baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis said, ‘Every boy builds a shrine to some baseball hero, and before that shrine, a candle always burns.’

    “For a huge portion of my generation, Mickey Mantle was that baseball hero. And for reasons that no statistics, no dry recitation of the facts can possibly capture, he was the most compelling baseball hero of our lifetime. And he was our symbol of baseball at a time when the game meant something to us that perhaps it no longer does.

    “Mickey Mantle had those dual qualities so seldom seen-exuding dynamism and excitement, but at the same time touching your heart-flawed, wounded. We knew there was something poignant about Mickey Mantle before we know what Poignant meant. We didn’t just root for him, we felt for him…

    “There was a greatness about him, but vulnerability too. He was our guy. When he was hot, we felt great. When he slumped or got hurt, we sagged a bit too. We tried to crease our caps like him; keel in an imaginary on-deck circle like him; run like him, heads down, elbows up…

    “Mickey Mantle was too humble and honest to believe that the whole truth about him could be found on a Wheaties box or a baseball card. But the emotional truths about childhood have a power that transcends objective fact. They stay with us through all the years, withstanding the ambivalence that so often accompanies the experience of adults…

    “In [his] last year, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally came to accept and appreciate the distinction between a role model and a hero… And, in the end, people got it. And Mickey Mantle got from something other than misplaced and mindless celebrity worship. He got something far more meaningful. He got love. Love for what he had been, love for what he made us feel, love for the humanity and sweetness that was always there mixed in the flaws and all the pain that racked his body and his soul…”

  3. Who are these baseball players today who pause to admire their homeruns before running the bases? What happened to the days when a baseball player simply put his head down and ran the bases after “going yard”?

    And what do these gestures to the sky signify? Do these baseball players really believe there is a supernatural being who inhabits the exosphere, watches baseball games, and cares enough about them to help them hit a homerun (or strike out an opposing batter)?

    These baseball players are not playing with “heart and emotion.” They are playing like the delusional, histrionic narcissists that they are. It is most unfortunate that their idiotic expressions of emotion are witnessed by countless young fans who idealize them.

    “After I hit a home run I had a habit of running the bases with my head down. I figured the pitcher already felt bad enough without me showing him up rounding the bases”—Mickey Mantle.

  4. From Richard Palzer:

    “Thanks for the Mantle tribute--I remember reading this before and well worth doing so again. I appreciate your including Mantle's comment about running the bases with his head down so as not to show up the opposing pitcher. He deserves the ‘Mr.’ honorific. We certainly could use such humility and sportsmanship today. I know I'm old school, but baseball should lose the bat-flipping mentality and football the end zone celebrations, which have really gotten out of hand. I prefer players who act like they've been there before instead of calling attention to themselves with their in-your-face antics. Respect the game, including your opponent. Too straight-laced of me, I suppose.”

  5. Body and Soul by B.H. Fairchild

    Half-numb, guzzling bourbon and Coke from coffee mugs,
    our fathers fall in love with their own stories, nuzzling
    the facts but mauling the truth, and my friend's father begins
    to lay out with the slow ease of a blues ballad a story
    about sandlot baseball in Commerce, Oklahoma decades ago.
    These were men's teams, grown men, some in their thirties
    and forties
    who worked together in zinc mines or machine shops or on oil rigs,
    sweat and khaki and long beers after work, steel guitar music
    whanging in their ears, little white rent houses to return to
    where their wives complained about money and broken Kenmores
    and then said the hell with it and sang Body and Soul
    in the bathtub and later that evening with the kids asleep
    lay in bed stroking their husband's wrist tattoo and smoking
    Chesterfields from a fresh pack until everything was O.K.
    Well, you get the idea. Life goes on, the next day is Sunday,
    another ball game, and the other team shows up one man short.

    They say, we're one man short, but can we use this boy,
    he's only fifteen years old, and at least he'll make a game.
    They take a look at the kid, muscular and kind of knowing
    the way he holds his glove, with the shoulders loose,
    the thick neck, but then with that boy's face under
    a clump of angelic blonde hair, and say, oh, hell, sure,
    let's play ball. So it all begins, the men loosening up,
    joking about the fat catcher's sex life, it's so bad
    last night he had to hump his wife, that sort of thing,
    pairing off into little games of catch that heat up into
    throwing matches, the smack of the fungo bat, lazy jogging
    into right field, big smiles and arcs of tobacco juice,
    and the talk that gives a cool, easy feeling to the air,
    talk among men normally silent, normally brittle and a little
    angry with the empty promise of their lives. But they chatter
    and say rock and fire, babe, easy out, and go right ahead
    and pitch to the boy, but nothing fancy, just hard fastballs
    right around the belt, and the kid takes the first two
    but on the third pops the bat around so quick and sure
    that they pause a moment before turning around to watch
    the ball still rising and finally dropping far beyond
    the abandoned tractor that marks left field. Holy shit.

    They're pretty quiet watching him round
    but then, what the hell, the kid knows how to hit a ball,
    so what, let's play some goddamned baseball here.
    And so it goes. The next time up, the boy gets a look
    at a very nifty low curve, then a slider, and the next one
    is the curve again, and he sends it over the Allis Chalmers,
    high and big and sweet. The left fielder just stands there, frozen.
    As if this isn't enough, the next time up he bats left-handed.
    They can't believe it, and the pitcher, a tall, mean-faced
    man from Okarche who just doesn't give a shit anyway
    because his wife ran off two years ago leaving him with
    three little ones and a rusted-out Dodge with a cracked block,
    leans in hard, looking at the fat catcher like he was the son-of-a-bitch
    who ran off with his wife, leans in and throws something
    out of the dark, green hell of forbidden fastballs, something
    that comes in at the knees and then leaps viciously towards
    the kid's elbow. He swings exactly the way he did right-handed,
    and they all turn like a chorus line toward deep right field
    where the ball loses itself in sagebrush and the sad burnt
    dust of dust bowl Oklahoma. It is something to see.

  6. But why make a long story long. Runs pile up on both sides,
    the boy comes around five times, and five times the pitcher
    is cursing both God and His mother as his chew of tobacco sours
    into something resembling horse piss, and a ragged and bruised
    Spalding baseball disappears into the far horizon. Goodnight,
    Irene. They have lost the game and some painful side bets
    and they have been suckered. And it means nothing to them
    though it should to you when they are told the boy's name is
    Mickey Mantle.

    And that's the story, and those are the facts.
    But the facts are not the truth. I think, though, as I scan
    the faces of these old men now lost in the innings of their youth,
    I think I know what the truth of this story is, and I imagine
    it lying there in the weeds behind that Allis Chalmers
    just waiting for the obvious question to be asked: why, oh
    why in hell didn't they just throw around the kid, walk him,
    after he hit the third homer? Anybody would have,
    especially nine men with disappointed wives and dirty socks
    and diminishing expectations for whom winning at anything
    meant everything. Men who knew how to play the game,
    who had talent when the other team had nothing except this ringer
    who without a pitch to hit was meaningless, and they could go home
    with their little two-dollar side bets and stride into the house
    singing If You've Got the Money, Honey, I've Got the Time
    with a bottle of Haig and Haig under their arms and grab
    Dixie or May Ella up and dance across the gray linoleum
    as if it were V-Day all over again.

    But they did not
    And they did not because they were men, and this was a boy.
    And they did not because sometimes after making love,
    after smoking their Chesterfields in the cool silence and
    listening to the big bands on the radio that sounded so glamorous,
    so distant, they glanced over at their wives and noticed the lines
    growing heavier around the eyes and mouth, felt what their wives
    felt: that Les Brown and Glenn Miller and all those dancing couples
    and in fact all possibility of human gaiety and light-heartedness
    were as far away and unreachable as Times Square or the Avalon

    They did not because of the gray linoleum lying there
    in the half-dark, the free calendar from the local mortuary
    that said one day was pretty much like another, the work gloves
    looped over the doorknob like dead squirrels. And they did not
    because they had gone through a depression and a war that had left
    them with the idea that being a man in the eyes of their fathers
    and everyone else had cost them just too goddamn much to lay it
    at the feet of a fifteen year-old-boy. And so they did not walk him,
    and lost, but at least had some ragged remnant of themselves
    to take back home.

    But there is one thing more, though it is not
    a fact. When I see my friend's father staring hard into the bottomless
    well of home plate as Mantle's fifth homer heads toward Arkansas,
    I know that this man with the half-orphaned children and
    worthless Dodge has also encountered for the first and possibly
    only time the vast gap between talent and genius, has seen
    as few have in the harsh light of an Oklahoma Sunday, the blond
    and blue-eyed bringer of truth, who will not easily be forgiven.