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Mickey Mantle

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Mickey Charles Mantle (October 20, 1931August 13, 1995) was an American baseball player who was inducted into to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974. He played his entire 18-year major-league professional career for the New York Yankees and was a sixteen-time All-Star, and named American League MVP three times. Mantle played on 12 pennant winners and seven World Championship clubs. He still holds the records for most World Series home runs (18), RBI (40), runs (42), walks (43), extra-base hits (26), and total bases (123). Mantle died in 1995 at age 63 from liver cancer after years of alcohol abuse.

YouthEdit

Mickey Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma. He was named in honor of Mickey Cochrane, the Hall of Fame catcher from the Detroit Tigers, by his father, who was an amateur player and fervent fan. Apparently his father was not aware that Cochrane's real name was Gordon. In later life, Mickey Mantle expressed great relief that his father had not known Cochrane's real first name, as he would have hated to be named Gordon. Mantle always spoke warmly of his beloved father and said he was the bravest man he ever knew. "No boy ever loved his father more," he said. Sadly, his father died of cancer at the age of 39, just as his son was starting his career. Mantle said one of the great heartaches of his life was that he never told his father he loved him.

When Mantle was four years old, the family moved to the nearby town of Commerce, Oklahoma. Mantle was an all-around athlete at Commerce High School, playing basketball and American football in addition to his first love, baseball. It was his football playing that nearly ended his athletic career, and indeed his life. Kicked in the shin during a game, Mantle's leg soon became infected with osteomyelitis, a crippling disease that would have been incurable just a few years earlier. A midnight ride to Tulsa, Oklahoma enabled Mantle to be treated with newly available penicillin, saving his leg from amputation. He would suffer from the effects of the disease for the rest of his life, and it would lead to many other injuries that hampered his accomplishments. Additionally, Mantle's osteomyelitic condition exempted him from military service, a fact which caused him to become very unpopular with fans, as his earliest days in baseball coincided with the Korean War. This unpopularity, mainly with older fans, would dramatically reverse after he finished second to Roger Maris in the pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record in 1961. He spent the last years of his career as a wildly popular icon of the entire sport.

Playing careerEdit

"Mutt" Mantle taught his son how to be a switch-hitter. Mickey had played shortstop in the minor leagues. His first semi-professional team was the Baxter Springs (KS) Whiz Kids. In 1948 Yankees' scout Tom Greenwade came to Baxter Springs to watch Mickey's teammate, third baseman Billy Johnson, in a Whiz Kids game. During the game Mickey hit two homers, one righty and one lefty, into a river well past the ballpark's fences. Greenwade wanted to sign Mickey on the spot but, upon finding out that he was only sixteen and still in high school, told him he would come back to sign him with the Yankees on his graduation day in 1949. Good to his word, Greenwade was there right on schedule, signing Mickey to a minor league contract with the Yankees Class D team in Independence, Kansas. Mickey signed for $400 to play the remainder of the season with an $1,100 signing bonus. It was one of the great steals in baseball history. Tom Greenwade was quoted in the press release announcing Mickey's signing as saying that Mickey was the best prospect he'd ever seen.

On arrival at the Yankees, he became the regular right fielder (playing only a few games at shortstop and third base in 1952 to 1955). He moved to center field in 1952, replacing Joe DiMaggio, who retired at the end of the 1951 season after one year playing alongside Mantle in the Yankees outfield. He played center field until 1967, when he was moved to first base. Among Mantle's many accomplishments are all-time World Series records for home runs (18), runs scored (42), and runs batted in (40).

Mantle also hit some of the longest home runs in Major League history. On September 10, 1960, he hit a ball that cleared the right-field roof at Tiger Stadium in Detroit and, based on where it was found, was estimated years after the fact, by historian Mark Gallagher to have traveled 643 feet. Another Mantle homer at Griffith Stadium in Washington on April 17, 1953, was measured by Yankees travelling secretary Red Patterson to have traveled 565 feet. Though it is apparent that they are actually the distances where the balls ended up after bouncing several times [1], there is no doubt that they both landed more than 500 feet from home plate.

Although he was a feared power hitter from either side of the plate, Mantle considered himself a better right-handed hitter even though he had more home runs from the left side of the plate. However, it should be noted that many of his left-handed home runs were struck at Yankee Stadium, a park that was, and is, notoriously friendly to left-handed hitters and brutal on right-handed hitters. When Mantle played for the Yankees, the distance to the right-field foul line stood at a mere 296 feet, while the left-field power alley was a distant 457 feet from the plate.

In 1956, Mantle won the Hickok Belt as top professional athlete of the year. This was his "favorite summer", a year that saw him win the Triple Crown, leading the majors with a .353 batting average, 52 HR, and 130 RBI on the way to his first of three MVP awards. Though the American League Triple Crown has been won twice since then, Mantle remains the last man to win the Major League Triple Crown. Mantle hit for the cycle in a game on July 23, 1957.

On January 16, 1961, Mantle became the highest-paid baseball player by signing a $75,000 contract. DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg and Ted Williams, who had just retired, had been paid over $100,000 in a season, and Ruth had a peak salary of $80,000. But Mantle became the highest-paid active player of his time.

RetirementEdit

Mantle announced his retirement on March 1, 1969, and in 1974, as soon as he was eligible, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; his uniform number 7 was retired by the Yankees. (He had briefly worn uniform number 6, as a continuation of Babe Ruth's 3, Lou Gehrig's 4, and Joe DiMaggio's 5, in 1951, but his poor performance led to his temporary demotion to a minor league in mid-season. When he returned, Bobby Brown, who had worn number 6 before Mantle, had reclaimed it, so Mantle was given number 7.) When he retired, the Mick was third on the all-time home run list with 536.

Despite being among the best-paid players of the pre-free agency era, Mantle was a poor businessman, having made several unlucky investments. His lifestyle would be restored to one of luxury, and his hold on his fans raised to an amazing level, by his position of leadership in the sports memorabilia craze that swept the USA beginning in the 1980s. Mantle was a prize guest at any baseball card show, commanding fees far in excess of any other player for his appearances and autographs. This popularity continues long after his death, as Mantle-related items far outsell those of any other player except possibly the unmatched Babe Ruth, whose items, due to the distance of years, now exist in far smaller quantities. 

Despite the failure of Mickey Mantle's Country Cookin' restaurants in the early 1970s, Mickey Mantle's Restaurant & Sports Bar opened in New York at 42 Central Park South (59th Street) in 1988. It became one of New York's most popular restaurants, and his original Yankee Stadium Monument Park plaque is displayed at the front entrance. Mantle let others run the business operations, but made frequent appearances. But his drinking led radio show host Don Imus to joke, "If you get to Mickey Mantle's restaurant after midnight, you win a free dinner if you can guess which table Mickey's under."

In 1983, Mantle worked at the Claridge Resort and Casino in Atlantic City as a greeter and community representative. Most of his activities were representing the Claridge in golf tournaments and other charity events. Mantle was suspended from baseball by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn on the grounds that any affiliation with gambling is grounds for being placed on the "permanently ineligible" list. Kuhn warned Mantle before he accepted the position that he would have to place him on the list if he went to work there. Willie Mays, who had also taken a similar position had already had action taken against him. Mantle accepted the position, regardless as he felt the rule was "stupid." He was reinstated on March 18, 1985 by Kuhn's successor, Peter Ueberroth.

Troubled familyEdit

On December 23, 1951, he married Merlyn Johnson in their hometown of Commerce, Oklahoma; they had four sons. In an autobiography, Mantle said he married Merlyn not because he loved her, but because his domineering father told him to. It was a disfunctional marriage from the start. While his drinking became public knowledge during his lifetime, the press kept his many marital infidelities quiet.

The couple had four children, all sons: Mickey Jr. (born in 1953), David (1955), and Billy (1957, whom Mickey named for Billy Martin, his best friend among his Yankee teammates), and Danny (1960). Like Mickey, Merlyn and the sons all became alcoholics, and Billy developed Hodgkin's disease as several previous Mantle men had. This led to him developing a dependence on prescription painkillers.

Mickey Mantle has four grandchildren. Mickey Jr. had a daughter, Mallory. David and his wife Marla have a daughter, Marilyn. Danny and his wife Kay have a son, Will, and a daughter, Chloe. Danny and Will played a father and son watching Mickey, played by Thomas Jane, hit a home run in the 2001 film 61*.

Mickey and Merlyn had been separated for 15 years when he died, but neither ever filed for divorce. Mantle lived with his agent-mistress Greer Johnson (who attended Mantle's funeral). Johnson was taken to federal court in November 1997 by the Mantle family to stop her from auctioning many of Mantle's personal items, including a lock of hair, a neck brace and expired credit cards. Wife Merlyn Mantle died on August 10, 2009.

During the final years of his life, Mantle purchased a luxury condominium on Lake Oconee near Greensboro, Georgia, near Greer Johnson's home, and frequently stayed there for months at the time. He occasionally attended the local Methodist church, and sometimes ate Sunday dinner with members of the congregation. He was well-liked by the citizens of Greensboro, and seemed to like them in return. This was probably because the town respected Mantle's privacy, refusing either to talk about their famous neighbor to outsiders or to direct fans to his home. In one interview, Mickey stated that the people of Greensboro had "gone out of their way to make me feel welcome, and I've found something there I haven't enjoyed since I was a kid."

Mantle's last daysEdit

Well before he finally sought treatment for alcoholism, Mantle admitted that his hard living had hurt his playing and his family. His rationale was that the men in his family had all died young, so he expected to as well. "I'm not gonna be cheated", he'd say. As the years passed, and he realized he had outlived the men in his family -- not realizing that working in mines and inhaling lead and zinc dust aided Hodgkin's and other cancers as much as heredity did -- he frequently used a line popularized by football legend Bobby Layne: "If I'd known I was gonna live this long, I'd have taken a lot better care of myself."

Mantle's wife and sons all completed treatment for alcoholism, and told him he needed to do the same. He checked into the Betty Ford Clinic on January 7, 1994, after being told by a doctor that his liver was so badly damaged, "Your next drink could be your last."

Shortly after completing treatment, his son Billy died on March 12, at age 36, of heart trouble, brought on by years of substance abuse. Despite the fears of those who knew him, who feared that this tragedy would send him back to drinking, he remained sober. Mickey Jr. would also die of liver cancer on December 20, 2000, at age 47. Danny would later battle prostate cancer.

Mantle spoke with great remorse of his drinking in a Sports Illustrated article, My Life In A Bottle. He said that he was telling the same old stories, and realizing how much of them involved himself and others being drunk, and he decided they weren't funny anymore. He admitted he had often been cruel and hurtful to family, friends, and fans because of his alcoholism, and sought to make amends. He became a Born-again Christian due to his former teammate Bobby Richardson, an ordained Baptist minister, sharing his faith with him. After the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, he joined with fellow Oklahoman and Yankee legend Bobby Murcer to raise money for the victims.

Mantle received a liver transplant at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, on June 8, 1995, after his liver had been damaged by years of chronic alcoholism, cirrhosis, and hepatitis C. In July, he had recovered enough to deliver a press conference at Baylor, and noted that many fans had looked to him as a role model. "This is a role model: Don't be like me", he said. He also established the Mickey Mantle Foundation to raise awareness for organ donations. Soon, he was back in the hospital, where it was found that his liver cancer spread throughout his body.

Mickey Mantle died on August 13, 1995, at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. He was 63 years old. He was interred in the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas. Mantle had asked country singer Roy Clark, his good friend, to perform his favorite song Yesterday, When I Was Young at his funeral:

I lived by night
I shunned the light of day
And only now I see how the years slipped away
I ran so fast time and youth ran out
So many songs in me won't be sung
I now must pay for yesterday when I was young.

In eulogizing Mantle, sportscaster Bob Costas described the legend as "a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic."' Costas added: "In the last year, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally came to accept and appreciate the distinction between a role model and a hero. The first, he often was not. The second, he always will be."

HonorsEdit

Baseball Hof
Mickey Mantle
is a member of
the Baseball
Hall of Fame

On Mickey Mantle Day, June 8, 1969, in addition to the retirement of his uniform number 7, Mantle was given a plaque that would hang on the center field wall at Yankee Stadium, near the monuments to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Miller Huggins. The plaque was given to him by Joe DiMaggio, and Mantle then gave DiMaggio a similar plaque, telling the crowd, "His should be just a little bit higher than mine." When Yankee Stadium was reopened in 1976 following its renovation, the plaques and monuments were moved to Monument Park, behind the left-center field fence. Shortly before his death, Mantle videotaped a message to be played on Old-Timers' Day, which he was too ill to attend. He said, "When I died, I wanted on my tombstone, 'A great teammate.' But I didn't think it would be this soon." The words were indeed carved on the plaque marking his resting place at the family mausoleum in Dallas. On August 25, 1996, about a year after his death, Mantle's Monument Park plaque was replaced with a monument, bearing the words "A great teammate" and keeping a phrase that had been included on the original plaque: "A magnificent Yankee who left a legacy of unequaled courage."

Mantle and former teammate Whitey Ford were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame together in 1974, Mantle in his first year of eligibility, Ford in his second. In 1999, The Sporting News placed Mantle at number 17 on their list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players. That same year, he was one of 100 nominees for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, and was chosen by fan balloting as one of the Team's outfielders. While most fans who remember them both tend to rate Willie Mays as a better player than Mantle, Mantle remains the most popular player of the 1950s and 1960s, even as Mays, Hank Aaron and others outlived him by many years.

In 2006, Mantle will be featured on a United States postage stamp [2]. The stamp is one of a series of four honoring Baseball Sluggers. The others will inlcude Mel Ott, Roy Campanella and Hank Greenberg.

See also Edit

External links Edit

ReferencesEdit

Preceded by:
Ted Williams
American League Triple Crown
1956
Succeeded by:
Frank Robinson
Preceded by:
Al Kaline
American League Batting Champion
1956
Succeeded by:
Ted Williams
Preceded by:
Yogi Berra
American League Most Valuable Player
1956-1957
Succeeded by:
Jackie Jensen
Preceded by:
Roger Maris
American League Most Valuable Player
1962
Succeeded by:
Elston Howard
Major League Baseball | MLB All-Century Team

Nolan Ryan | Sandy Koufax | Cy Young | Roger Clemens | Bob Gibson | Walter Johnson | Warren Spahn | Christy Mathewson | Lefty Grove
Johnny Bench | Yogi Berra | Lou Gehrig | Mark McGwire | Jackie Robinson | Rogers Hornsby | Mike Schmidt | Brooks Robinson | Cal Ripken, Jr. | Ernie Banks | Honus Wagner
Babe Ruth | Hank Aaron | Ted Williams | Willie Mays | Joe DiMaggio | Mickey Mantle | Ty Cobb | Ken Griffey, Jr. | Pete Rose | Stan Musial

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