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Mickey Mantle

once the highest paid player in the Major Leagues

Mickey Mantle as a Yankee
Mickey Mantle as a Yankee

Mickey Charles Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, on October 20, 1931. He was named for Mickey Cochrane, the Hall of Fame catcher from the Detroit Tigers, by his father, who was himself an amateur player. (Of passing interest is the fact that Cochrane's first name was actually Gordon, a fact that Mantle was always glad his father was unaware of.) Mickey's father started teaching him to switch hit when he was five years old. He would pitch to young Mickey from one side, and Mickey's grandfather would lob the ball to him from the other.

When Mickey was four years old the family moved to nearby Commerce, Oklahoma, where Mickey became known as an all-around athlete in high school. During one football practice Mantle was kicked in the shin and his leg subsequently became infected with osteomyelitis. A midnight ride to Tulsa enabled him to be treated with penicilin, saving his leg from amputation. Mantle would suffer from the effects of the injury for the rest of his life, however, and it would lead to many other injuries that hampered his otherwise stellar career.

Semi-Professional Career

Mickey's first semi-professional team was the Baxter Springs (Kansas) Whiz Kids. In 1948, Yankees scout Tom Greenwade was in the stands to observe Mantle's teammate, third baseman Billy Johnson. During the game, Mantle hit two homers, one from the right side and one from the left, well out of the ballpark. Greenwade was prepared to sign Mantle on the spot but, upon finding out that he was only sixteen, told him he would come back to sign him on his graduation day in 1949. Sure enough, the night Mantle graduated from Commerce High School Greenwade was there and signed him to a Minor League contract with the Yankees Class D team in Independence, Kansas. Mickey earned $400 playing the remainder of the season, plus an $1,100 signing bonus. In his 89 games as a shortstop for Independence, Mickey batted .313, but also committed 47 errors.

From Independence Mantle moved up to the Yankees Class C team in Joplin, Missouri, where he hit a league-leading .383 with 26 homers and 136 RBI's. As he had in Independence, Mantle played shortstop for Joplin, in which position he made 55 errors.

Professional Career

Mantle moved up to the New York Yankees in 1951, as a right fielder. On Opening Day, he hit a 450-foot homer off Randy Gumpert. Unfortunately, that homer was one of the few bright spots in Mantle's first big league season. Part way through the season he was sent down to the Yankees' Minor League team in Kansas City, where he battled .361, hit 11 homers and drove in 50 runs in just 40 games. He was back in Yankee Stadium by the end of August.

early Mickey Mantle baseball card photo
early Mickey Mantle baseball card photo

In game two of the 1951 World Series, Mantle tripped over an exposed drain pipe in Yankee Stadium's right-center field, tearing cartilage in his knee. The day after Mantle's injury, his father, who had watched his son get hurt from the stands, was taken ill; by the next season he had succumbed to Hodgkin's Disease.

In 1952 Mantle replaced Joe DiMaggio in center field, in which position he played until 1967.

In the 1956 season, Mantle won the American League Triple Crown with 52 homers, 130 RBI's, and a .353 batting average.

In the 1957 World Series, Milwaukee second baseman Red Schoendienst came down on Mantle's right shoulder. The injury would dog Mantle for years.

On February 27, 1958, Mantle signed a contract worth an estimated $72,000 to $75,000. On January 16, 1961, the man who had originally been signed for a "whopping" $400 became the highest-paid baseball player of the day by signing a $75,000 contract. Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg and Ted Williams had all been paid over $100,00 in a season, and Babe Ruth had a peak salary of $80,000, but Mantle was the highest-paid ACTIVE player at the time.

In September 1961, while in pursuit of Babe Ruth's 60-home run single-season record, Mantle came down with a cold that would not go away. Yankees announcer Mel Allen recommended an East Side physician who could "fix him right up." The doctor injected Mantle with some kind of unknown substance that almost immediately put him into a dizzied, feverish state. Mantle missed several crucial games and ultimately had to have the area where he had been injected cut open and lanced. His teammate Roger Maris wound up breaking Ruth's record by a single homer.

Playing in Baltimore in June 1963, Mantle broke his ankle and was out of the lineup for two months. His first at bat after returning to active duty was a pinch-hit, game-tying homer with two out in the ninth inning.

Mantle's career was on a rapid downhill slide by the mid-1960's. His damaged shoulder caused him great pain, and he had difficulty throwing and batting from the left side. He played first base the final two years of his career.

During Spring Training in 1969, Mantle announced "I can't play any more" and that he was retiring from baseball.

Career Records

Mantle ended his career with 536 home runs and a .298 batting average.

Mantle was well known for hitting monster home runs. In 1953, he hit a 565-footer from within Washington's Griffith Stadium. On May 13, 1955, he hit three homers into the distant Yankee Stadium bleachers, each clearing the 461-foot sign. On September 10, 1960, he hit a ball that cleared the right-field roof of Tiger Stadium in Detroit. Based on where it was found, a later historian estimated that the ball traveled 643 feet. On May 23, 1963, he struck the park's right field facade. It is estimated that, had it not hit the wall, the ball would have traveled 602 feet.

266 of Mantle's home runs were hit at Yankee Stadium.

Helped the Yankees win 12 American League penants.

Holds records for the most World Series home runs (18), RBI's (40), runs (42), walks (43), extra-base hits (26), and total bases (123).

Awards and Honors

Played in sixteen All-Star games.

Named Major League Player of the Year by The Sporting News in 1956.

Awarded the Hickok Belt as the Top Professional Athlete of the Year in 1956.

Named American League MVP three times (1956, 1957 and 1962).

Winner of the Golden Glove Award in 1962.

On Mickey Mantle Day, June 8, 1969, Mantle's uniform number 7 was retired by the Yankees.

Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974, his first year of eligibility.

Named Number 17 on The Sporting News' list of The 100 Greatest Baseball Players, in 1999.

One of 100 nominees for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999.

Featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 2006.

Post-Baseball Career

After his retirement Mantle became involved in a number of business ventures, including a popular restaurant on New York's Park Avenue South. He also announced for a while on NBC's Saturday Game of the Week.

When Mantle and Willie Mays worked as public relations representatives for Bally's Park Place Casino in Atlantic City, they were banned from baseball by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Both players were reinstated in 1985.

Mantle may have been one of the best players of his day, but he was a poor businessman. Several unlucky investments, coupled with a very lavish and decadent lifestyle, would have left him all but bankrupt save for the sports memorabilia craze that swept the United States in the 1980's. Mantle was a prize guest at any baseball card show and commanded fees far in excess of any other player for his appearances and autographs. Mantle-related items continue to far outsell those of any other player with the possible exception of Babe Ruth.

Mantle's wife and sons finally convinced him to undergo treatment for chronic alcohol abuse, and on January 7, 1994, after being told by a doctor that his liver was so badly damaged that his "next drink could be your last," he checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic.

On June 8, 1995, Mantle ignited a firestorm across the country when he underwent a liver transplant at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Many people believed that Mantle had been bumped to the top of the transplant list because of his celebrity status. According to the critics, persons whose livers are damaged due to no fault of their own should have priority over those whose lifestyles were a direct cause of their liver damage. Subsequent investigations, however, failed to uncover any evidence of preferential treatment toward Mantle and the controversy gradually subsided. Mantle himself helped cool the fire by establishing the Mickey Mantle Foundation to raise awareness for organ donations.

Mantle was back in the hospital less than a month after recovering from the transplant, and died there on August 13, 1995. He is interred at the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas.

Family Life

On December 23, 1951, Mickey Mantle married Merlyn Johnson in their hometown of Commerce, Oklahoma. The couple had four sons: Mickey Jr. (1953), David (1955), Billy (1957), and Danny (1960). All four sons became alcoholics like their father, and Billy developed Hodgkin's disease which in turn led to a dependence on prescription painkillers. Billy died of heart trouble on March 12, 1994; Mickey Jr. died of liver cancer on December 20, 2000; and, Danny battled prostate cancer in his later life.

Mickey and Merlyn had been separated for fifteen years when he died, but neither ever filed for divorce. Mickey spent many of the last years of his life living near his agent, Greer Johnson, on Lake Oconee near Greensboro, Georgia.


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This page was last updated on September 26, 2018.