Baseball player Mickey Mantle’s legendary career (and profitable sidelines)

Baseball player Mickey Mantle

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Baseball player Mickey Mantle: The Mantle of the Babe (1956)

Excerpted from an article by Robert Creamer, Sports Illustrated – June 18, 1956

A thick-bodied, pleasant-faced young man, carrying a bat, stood at home plate in Yankee Stadium, turned the blond bullet head on his bull’s neck toward Pedro Ramos, a pitcher in the employ of the Washington Senators, watched intently the flight of the baseball thrown toward him, bent his knees, dropped his right shoulder slightly toward the ball, clenched his bat and raised it to a near-perfect perpendicular.

Mickey Mantle on the cover of Sports Illustrated - June 18 1956
Mickey Mantle on the cover of Sports Illustrated (1956)

Twisting his massive torso under the guidance of a magnificently tuned set of reflexes, Mickey Mantle so controlled the exorbitant strength generated by his legs, back, shoulders and arms that he brought his bat through the plane of the flight of the pitch with a precision which propelled the ball immensely high and far toward the right-field roof, so high and far that oldtimers in the crowd — thinking perhaps of Babe Ruth — watched in awe and held their breath. For no one had ever hit a fair ball over the majestic height of the gray-green facade that looms above the three tiers of grandstand seats in this, the greatest of ball parks.

Indeed, in the 33 years since the Stadium was opened not one of the great company of home run hitters who have batted there—the list includes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmy Foxx, Hank Greenberg and about everyone else you can think of — had even come close to hitting a fair ball over the giant-sized filigree hanging from the lip of the stands which in both right and left field hook far into fair territory toward the bleachers.

MORE: Joe DiMaggio’s baseball record: A 56-game hit streak

Mickey Mantle playing baseball in 1956 (1)

Mantle hit the filigree. He came so close to making history that he made it. The ball struck high on the facade, barely a foot or two below the edge of the roof. Ever since, as people come into the stadium and find their seats, almost invariably their eyes wander to The Spot. Arms point and people stare in admiration. Then they turn to the field and seek out Mantle.

On that same day that he hit the facade, Mantle hit a second homer. This one was his 20th of the season and it put him at that date (May 30) 12 games ahead of the pace Babe Ruth followed when he established his quasi-sacred record of 60 in 1927. Other players in other years had excitingly chased Ruth’s record.

But Mantle, somehow, seemed different from earlier pretend-ers to Ruth’s crown and different, too, from slugging contemporaries like Yogi Berra, whose great skill seems almost methodical, and Dale Long, who is still, despite all, an unknown quantity. The excitement surrounding Mantle goes beyond numbers, beyond homers hit and homers and games to go.

Like Ruth, his violent strength is held in a sheath of powerful, controlled grace. Like Ruth, he makes home run hitting simple and exciting at the same time. The distance he hits his home runs (the approved cliché is “Ruthian blast”) takes away the onus of cheapness, a word often applied to the common variety of home run hit today, and leaves the spectator aghast, whether he roots for Mantle or against him.

Mickey Mantle playing baseball in 1956 (2)

All this holds true despite the hard fact that heretofore in his five years in the major leagues the most home runs Mantle has hit in one season is 37, whereas Ruth hit 40 or more 11 different times, and two dozen others have hit 40 or more at least once.

Yet where others impress, Mantle awes, and even the knowing professional speaks reverently of him. Harvey Kuenn, the shortstop of the Detroit Tigers and a topflight hitter in his own right, listened as Sportscaster Howard Cosell, an eyewitness, described the Memorial Day home run to him.

“Did he really hit it up there?” Kuenn asked, knowing but not believing. “Really?” He shook his head. “His strength isn’t human,” he said. “How can a man hit a ball that hard?”

Marty Marion, the unexcitable manager of the Chicago White Sox, described a homer Mantle had hit against the Sox with two out in the ninth to tie a game the Yankees eventually won.

“It went way up there,” Marty said, with a wry little grin, pointing to the far reaches of the upper stands in deep right-center field. “Way up there. He swung just as easy and whup! It was gone. Way up there. I never saw anything like it.”

As for the nonprofessional, there is no question that Mantle is the new excitement, the new Ruth. Like Ruth, he is known to those who don’t know baseball, magically, the way Ruth was. 

MORE: Why baseball has survived & thrived for more than 100 years

Mickey Mantle on the cover of Sports Illustrated – March 4, 1957

Mickey Mantle on the cover of Sports Illustrated - March 4 1957

Baseball legend Mickey Mantle in 1957

Baseball legend Mickey Mantle in 1957 (1)

Baseball legend Mickey Mantle in 1957 (2)

Mickey Mantle’s batting secrets book – How I Hit (1956)

Big illustrated booklet — just for trying Mickey’s favorite soap — Lifebuoy!

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Mickey Mantle's batting secrets book - How I Hit (1956)

Mickey Mantle on the cover of Sports Illustrated – July 2, 1962

Mickey Mantle on the cover of Sports Illustrated - July 2 1962

Mickey Mantle has awards, but the Hall of Fame pleases him most (1976)

Excerpted from the San Bernardino County Sun (California) August 22, 1976

He flew into Rochester, New York, wearing a cowboy hat, boots and a mod leisure suit. The attire wasn’t unusual for today’s styles. But the ring on his finger was.

“That,” Mickey Mantle said, pointing to the Hall of Fame ring on his left hand, “is what I’m most proud of. Not many make the Hall on their first try. ”

Mickey Charles Mantle did, only the seventh player in baseball history to be elected to the Hall of Fame the first time he was eligible.

The hair is greying and the years are adding up for the former New York Yankees’ great. He’s 44, retired from the game for eight years now. The Yankees took Mantle out of the countryside Spavinaw. Oklahoma, but nothing has taken the country out of Mantle. The face is still refreshingly boyish, belying his age, and the homespun Midwest drawl remains distinctly Mantlese.

Mantle spent 18 years in New York. He played in 12 World Series, 16 All-Star games, hit 536 home runs, and left the game with a .298 career batting average.

Today he spends most of his time in Dallas, Tex., working four months a year for Reserve Life, Inc., a life insurance company, and playing golf, despite a disabled right knee that shortened his career. During spring training he serves as the Yankees’ batting instructor.

And occasionally, he makes public appearances, like the one in Rochester, at Silver Stadium where he signed autographs and took on Rochester Red Wings’ manager Joe Altobelli in a home run hitting contest.

“I can’t hit home film anymore,” said Mantle. But he admitted to Rochester Democrat and Chronicle sports writer Greg Roeck that, had he enjoyed an injury-free career, he would have surpassed Babe Ruth’s 714 career home run total before Hank Aaron did.

Mickey Mantle baseball special: Free glove with purchase of cigars (1964)

“Great glove, Son!” “You said it, Dad!” – FREE with Phillies Baseball Glove Special — autographed color picture of Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle father and son baseball glove offer from 1964 (1)

Rawlings “finest in the field”

Full-leather lined — deep well pocket — leather web $6.95 retail value, only $3.99 with 20 Phillies cigar bands! Now… for less than half price… get your favorite baseball fan this beautiful glove… while you enjoy the good taste of Phillies Cigars in 12 great shapes.

Mickey Mantle father and son baseball glove offer from 1964 (2)

Mickey Mantle for Kretschmer Wheat Germ (1971)

Mickey Mantle for Kretschmer Wheat Germ (1971)

ALSO SEE: Baseball legend Sandy Koufax told his story back in 1963: “I’m only human”

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