Yankees History: Mickey Mantle an American Icon and Hero
Mantle played with the Yanks during his entire career, 1951-1968. The 1951 World Series was the first for both the New York Giants Willie Mays and the Mick. The Yanks beat the Giants 4-2 in the World Series, however, while playing Mantle was seriously injured on a pop fly off Mays’ bat. While he was running hard to catch the ball from right field, center-fielder Joe DiMaggio called him off at the very last minute. Mantle stopped short, and his spikes got caught in a drain. The injury to his knee bothered the Mick throughout the rest of his career. DiMaggio retired from baseball following the 1951 World Series.
The following year Mantle took DiMaggio’s place and moved to center field where he stayed most of his career. Injuries plagued Mantle throughout his playing days and eventually slowed the once swift Commerce Comet. At the end of his career, he was unable to run well. He thus played a lot of first base at the end of his playing days.
The Mick was a spectacular athlete and baseball player throughout most of his career. In 1956 he had one of the most extraordinary years of any baseball player in history. He hit 52 home runs, drove in 130 runs, scored 132 runs, and had a sizzling .353 batting average in 150 games and 652 plate appearances. He also walked 112 times. He earned the Triple Crown, won the American League MVP, and was named the Major League Player of the Year. He also won the MVP two more times, once in 1957 and again in 1962. Without a doubt, this is one of the most dominant performances by a baseball player in major league history.
Mantle played in 20 All-Star games and received a Golden Glove Award in 1962 for his outstanding play in center field. He was an incredibly fast runner and crafty base stealer during the first part of his career. He very rarely grounded into a double play, and he had a record-setting base-stealing performance (80 percent). He once was clocked going from home plate to first base in 3.1 seconds batting from the left side.
The Mick hit some of the longest home runs during his playing days. One tape-measure shot hit left-handed cleared the right-field roof at Tiger Stadium in Detroit in 1960. Based on where the ball was found, it was estimated to have traveled an eye-popping 643 feet. Hitting from the right side of the plate in 1953, he launched a ball in Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. approximately 565 feet from home plate. He hit three or four other balls over 500 feet, including at least two in Yankee Stadium that hit just below the top of the stadium facade at other points in his career.
Mantle was consistently great during his career before injuries took their toll. In addition to winning three MVP awards, he managed to finish second in the voting another three times, once third, and twice fifth. When he retired in 1968 he had amassed 536 home runs, 1,509 RBIs, 153 stolen bases, a .298 batting average, and a WAR of 110.2.
An unknown and interesting fact was that Mantle was one of the best bunters for base hits of all time. He bunted 80 singles in 148 attempts during his playing days, putting him in 10th place in the number of bases-empty bunt singles. No other power hitter ranks higher than him in this category.
What truly sets stellar baseball players apart from other players is how well they perform when everything is on the line and the pressure is the greatest. This is where Mantle separates himself from the top players who ever played the game.
From my standpoint, what is most amazing about his career is his performance in the World Series. He played in 12 World Series with the Yanks, and the club won 7 out of those 12 World Series.
Certainly, the Yanks had outstanding players during that run in addition to the Mick. Did Mantle contribute anything? It is Mantle who holds all-time World Series records for home runs (18, Ruth is second with 15), runs scored (42), and RBIs (40). In my view, it will be a very, very long time, if ever, that anyone, including Mike Trout, ties or exceeds Mantle’s record of 18 home runs in World Series games.
Unfortunately, in addition to having an injury-plagued career, he consumed large quantities of alcohol and did not take care of himself during his playing days. Although he was 36 when he retired (in 1968), his career was essentially over beginning in 1965 at 33 years old. After 1965, his batting numbers plummeted precipitously.
I watched him play from the very sunny center field bleachers (I only paid .75 cents for the seat) several times in the early 1960s as a kid. It was a thrill to be sitting directly behind number 7, about 20 feet away, and watch him play.