OK, so I am getting up there in years … proof of that is my boyhood idol was Mickey Mantle.
That probably sounds pretty outdated by now, but I don’t care because to me “The Mick” was the coolest guy around … and I never even got to see him play. Growing up in the 1970’s however, I had plenty of access to books on the Yankees legend even after his playing days wound down. Mantle too had worn down, finishing his career in being replaced by the not-so-immortal, but lovable Joe Pepitone.
Even with his troubles, and there were many with affairs and boozing incidents too numerous to mention, there was a greatness to Mantle that remains special to this day. He was, and still is, one of the most talented baseball players to ever take the field. After shaking off a slow start to his career, with Mantle nearly quitting the game in his first season, the Oklahoma product soon displayed all his skills: strong defense in the outfield, speed on the basepaths and the ability to hit for average and power.
Oh, the power Mantle displayed. That of course, like Babe Ruth before him and Reggie Jackson after, is what made “The Mick”, well, “The Mick”. Towering home runs,including some believed to have traveled over 600 feet, and the chase to eclipse Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record sit at the top of his “Mantle-piece”.
Roger Maris may have broken Ruth’s record with 61 homers, but it was Mantle who won the hearts of most Yankee fans. Mantle, seen as inferior to Joe DiMaggio when he took over for “Mr. Coffee” as centerfielder didn’t become embittered by the comparisons, unfair as they were. Mantle instead opened up to the press and became perhaps an even more beloved figure than DiMaggio, who could be aloof and more of a Hollywood-type star.
With all the success Mantle had, the 20-time All Star had 536 career homers, 1509 RBI, seven World Series titles, 3 MVP honors and even a Triple Crown award, “The Mick” still had an “aw shucks” quality to him. That’s probably what I most admire about the Yankee legend, above all else.