Memories of the Mick

I recently had the pleasure – and thrill – of editing and co-writing a new title for Sports Collectors Digest’s book division. It was a pleasure because of the topic, which is obvious enough when you read the book’s title: Mickey Mantle: Memories & Memorabilia. And it was a thrill because for the duration of the project, I was immersed in all things Mantle – books, baseball cards, memorabilia, oddball collectibles, vintage magazines, old advertisements, photographs, etc.

When all was said and done, the book turned into a treasure trove of “eye candy” for Mantle fans, thanks in large part to the photo-acquisition efforts of my editor, Paul Kennedy. Those of us who love what I call “Mantle-bilia” will get a kick out of the wide variety of collectibles and artifacts.

Between you and me, I’m hoping we get a chance for a revised edition down the road. Since our deadline passed, I’ve seen a number of desirable Mantle items worthy of inclusion. For example, Heritage Auctions sold a 1951 Kansas City Blues team-signed baseball for $3,585. It includes the signatures of Mantle, as well as future Yankee teammates Joe Page, Andy Carey and Bob Cerv. Another gem: a rare 1948 panoramic team photo of Mantle and the Whiz Kids of Baxter Springs, Kan. The 6-by-19-inch image brought $1,015. Also at Heritage, a 1969 Topps Super card, graded PSA 9, sold for $1,675. On eBay, a 1963 Post Jell-O card of Mick graded PSA 8 sold for $1,500. And who knows what Mantle treasures will turn up at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Rosemont, Ill., to be held Aug. 3-7?

Working on the Mickey Mantle: Memories & Memorabilia project also had me reliving one of my true career highlights: An interview with The Mick in 1994, a little more than a year before he died. It was 17 years ago now, but it still seems like yesterday when I waited in the receiving area of Mantle’s suite in the classic Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Va. The Jefferson has had countless dignitaries as guests, including 12 presidents, from Harrison to Roosevelt to Reagan to Obama. It also has played host to legions of celebrities, including Charlie Chaplin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and . . . The Mick.

On that June morning in 1994, when Mantle emerged from his room to greet me, I admit I was awestruck. Many of our readers, I know, have seen Mantle in person or met him at a personal appearance or autograph show, so you know what I mean – he was larger than life. He had a vice-grip handshake, a solid, robust build and a quick smile. Only a few months earlier, he had completed a program at the Betty Ford Clinic and had finally beaten a dependency on alcohol. He looked healthy – and every bit the hero I idolized as a kid.

For the next 45 minutes, he was an interviewer’s dream. He rambled on about everything I asked him, spinning stories about his early days and about Casey and Yogi and Whitey. He reflected on his favorite accomplishments, like his Triple Crown season in 1956 (.353, 52 home runs and 130 RBI – with 132 runs and 10 steals to boot), and on his regrets (like the fact that his career batting average dropped below .300 in his final season, when he hit .237).

He talked about how moving it was to meet awestruck, trembling fans at autograph shows around the nation.

“I have guys come through,” he told me, “and they get tears in their eyes, and they say, ‘Mickey, I’ve waited 30 years to meet you!’ . . . And they’ll have their kids with them and they’ll say, ‘Son, this is Mickey Mantle, the greatest player.’ Hell, I get goose bumps sometimes just talking to these guys.”

That’s my favorite memory of Mantle. In the new book, you’ll read anecdotes from more than 40 fans who saw him play in person. Many of the accounts are punctuated by personal recollections – grown men and women who got emotional as they remembered the day they sat next to their dads at Yankee Stadium and watched No. 7 spring out of the dugout. Decades later, fans still have vivid memories of details like the sight of a Mantle home run in flight, and the way he knelt in the on-deck circle, and the way his No. 7 stretched across his back.

The reality of publishing (space restrictions) meant we could fit only so many fan memories, but to be honest, I would love to have included many, many more as related by people we surveyed.

So, allow me to present 11 unpublished accounts originally solicited for Mickey Mantle: Memories & Memorabilia. Consider this a “companion” to the book.

One day in Chicago
I grew up in southern Indiana but was always a Yankee fan. The first time I saw the Yankees in person was in 1957, when my father took me to Comiskey Park in Chicago for two games. We rode the bus up there, and when we arrived, we went to our seats, which were behind the White Sox dugout for the first game. I didn’t care; I rooted loudly for the Yanks, even though I got lots of hateful looks from Sox fans.

Chicago won that game, but Mickey Mantle hit two homers, including a tremendous blast to dead center in the ninth inning.

Overnight, there was a big rainstorm, so there was some question as to whether the game the next day would be rained out. The field was sloppy, but they played, although the game started late.

I remember that there was a huge fight that went on and on. It seemed that every time it was dying down, Billy Martin would restart it. Mickey was in his usual position in center field and Yogi Berra was playing left field that day. The two of them never came in during the fight; they remained standing together in the outfield just watching and talking. I wondered for 50 years why that happened. I found out a few years ago, through Yogi’s museum, that the Yankees ownership had been critical because some players were getting bad press for off-the-field activities. Therefore, the two biggest stars decided not to go in and get involved in this fight. Soon thereafter, Martin was traded, so I guess management was serious.

The Yankees did win the second game, so I was happy. Most of all, it was a real delight to watch Mickey Mantle play baseball.

– David Giles, Indianapolis

The indescribable Mantle
When I was a youngster, the mere sight of Mickey Mantle emerging from the dugout to take his position in center field or to take his place in the batter’s box – his uniform stretched across his broad back and shoulders – was indescribably exciting. It didn’t matter whether it was in person at the original Yankee Stadium, with its vast expanse of brilliant green grass, or at home staring at a small, sometimes fuzzy, black-and-white television screen.

Although I have myriad in-person memories of The Mick’s exploits, two take center stage in my mind’s eye.

The first occurred in the summer of 1958, when I was 8 years old and attending my first-ever baseball game at Yankee Stadium. My father and I were sitting in the mezzanine between home plate and first base when, in his first at-bat of the day, Mickey hit a home run off future Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn of the White Sox. I can still see my father pointing to the ball as it took off like a heat-seeking missile, eventually landing in the Yankees’ bullpen in right-centerfield.

The second occurred in the third game of the 1964 World Series between the Yankees and Cardinals. Again sitting in the mezzanine, although further down the right-field line, I was privileged to witness The Mick hit the first pitch thrown by reliever Barney Schultz in the bottom of the ninth inning into the upper deck, giving the Yanks an exciting 2-1 victory.

Through the years I’ve often thought how unlucky were those kids my age who never got to experience such thrills!

– Bill Mathews, Springfield, N.J.

Mantle/Maris magic
I was born in Washington, D.C., but I always loved the Yankees because of Mickey Mantle. I vividly remember the home run race between he and Roger Maris in 1961. Updates were announced at my neighborhood pool in Maryland.

I also remember watching a game on TV between that Yankees and the Orioles, when Mantle entered the lineup the first time after recovering from a broken ankle. What happened? He hit a home run, first time at bat. That was magic!

– Linda Elbaz, Bethesda, Md.

The hero of my youth
I remember how reliable Mickey Mantle was for the clutch homer, and the days toward the end when he heavily wrapped his legs so he could keep playing. I also remember the time when an abscess in his right thigh opened up and the leg of his uniform turned crimson while he ran to first base. Mickey played hard and played well. He was the hero of my youth.

– P.M. Warren, Los Angeles

On deck
I saw The Mick play at Yankee Stadium many times and watched the majestic arc of the ball when he hit those long home runs. The most exciting time by far, though, was a moment in a game that he didn’t start.

In the second game of a doubleheader on Aug. 7, 1968, the Yankees were tied with the A’s in the eighth inning. Andy Kosco singled and Charlie Smith was at the plate when Mick slowly walked from the dugout to the on-deck box and knelt down on one knee, leaning on a bat. The crowd went nuts! No one seemed to care what Smith was doing; it was all about the anticipation of what Mickey Mantle was going to do when he got to the plate. 

In fact, Smith struck out but the crowd was buzzing anyway as Mick made his way to the plate. I’ll never forget that moment of promise.

Mickey doubled, putting runners on second and third with one out. Of course, the Yankees didn’t score (this was the 1968 team, after all), and the A’s went on to win 4-3 in the 10th inning. But it didn’t matter. The Yanks won the first game and The Mick came through big in the second. All was still right with the world.

– Joe Viola, North Attleboro, Mass.

Chills and thrills
Mickey Mantle was my all-time favorite Yankee. I totally idolized The Mick, and had more No. 7 shirts than you could ever imagine. I even learned how to switch-hit when I was very young, and I switch-hit all through my high school baseball career.

One of my prized possessions is a great snapshot of Mickey in the on-deck circle in 1964 at the old Yankee Stadium. It’s a black-and-white photo of Mickey kneeling on one knee, with that No. 7 stretched across his back. I remember it vividly. I had gone to the game that day – the Yankees were playing the Washington Senators – with my uncle and my cousin, and we were all crazy about Mickey. Just seeing him kneeling in the on-deck circle was a thrill, and remains a great memory to this day. No player has ever given me the chills and thrills that Mickey did.

– Giro Mosca, Bayonne, N.J.

He was on our side
Three Mickey Mantle memories stand out for me. The first was during Mel Stottlemyre’s debut at Yankee Stadium (Aug. 12, 1964) after having been called up from Richmond in 1964. The Yankees were playing the White Sox at the Stadium. Mantle crushed two homers – one left-handed off of Ray Herbert and the other right-handed off of Frank Baumann. The left-handed shot was titanic; it cleared the wall in center field. The next day, the New York Daily News had a photo of Gene Stephens trotting toward the monuments with his head up following the flight of the ball in front of the 461 (feet) sign. The Daily News headline: MANTLE TAPES 500-FOOT HR. Not “hits,” but “tapes.” The man made fans and writers think differently about describing his hitting.

The second: Mickey hit his 500th home run on my 13th birthday (May 14, 1967, off Stu Miller of Baltimore).

The third: Seeing the Yankees play Baltimore in a meaningless series at the Stadium late in the 1968 season. Mantle didn’t start, but he was announced as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. I remember the Orioles’ outfielders – all three of them – turning their backs to home plate and walking at least 10-15 steps toward the wall. They respected Mick’s power right up until the end. The man could still change the outcome of a game with one swing.

Being a baseball nut and growing up in the New York City area in the 1960s was made all the more special by the fact that Mickey Mantle played for “our team.”

– Peter Tutak, Seattle

Perfect at the plate
I was fortunate to come of baseball age with Mickey Mantle. I was 7 years old when he came onto the scene, so I was able to watch his whole career. Yet my favorite memory of The Mick is from the last time I saw him play in 1968. He went 5-for-5 with a home run, all batting left-handed. I can only wonder what his numbers would have been had he been healthy or in shape.

– Stephen M. Kimball, Olympia, Wash.

(Author’s note: I looked it up, and the game that Kimball remembers was the opener of a doubleheader on May 30, 1968. The Yankees whipped the Senators, 13-4, and Mantle’s five hits came off three Washington right-handers: Joe Coleman, Bob Humphreys and Jim Hannan. Mantle also drove in five runs and scored three. He took a seat in Game 2, which the Yankees lost, 6-2.)

Your mother should know
I remember watching Mickey Mantle’s 500th home run on Mother’s Day in 1967; we took our mom from Connecticut to Yankee Stadium as a gift. I remember the ball sailing in front of and above me on its way to the right field seats, and then turning to watch Mantle lumbering around second base, head down. The game was far from sold out.
– Rich Hanley, New Haven, Conn.

(Author’s note: Hanley is right. On Sunday, May 14, 1967 – the day Mantle entered the 500 Home Run Club – attendance at Yankee Stadium was a mere 18,872; capacity was around 67,000. Can you imagine a ballpark today being so empty when a longtime slugger is sitting on 499 home runs?)

Introducing Mick
I saw Mickey Mantle play in his painful later years, when watching the Yankees also hurt. Even so, I won’t forget the great announcer Bob Sheppard saying, “Now batting, number 7 . . . Mickey Mantle, number 7.” That introduction, every at-bat, said it all.
 
View from the box

I was born in New Jersey and lived there until I was 8 or 9. Every summer, our church would take the choir to Yankee Stadium. I would pile into the station wagon with my three brothers, four cousins, parents and maybe others, and we’d make that pilgrimage up to the Bronx.

My only memory of Mickey Mantle playing ball was in 1968, after he had moved to first base (the Yankees wanted to keep his bat in the lineup). We were seated along the first-base line, a couple levels up, and I remember that big number 7 on his back, and I remember his outstretched arm, with his first-baseman’s mitt on his hand, taking throws from the infielders.

Mickey was my hero. My brothers and I would play run-down in our front yard in Asbury Park and as I ran back and forth they would cheer me on: “Run like a Yankee!” And it was always Mickey Mantle I’d imitate. 

As I wrote about those memories of The Mick, I had tears in my eyes. When he passed away in 1995, I had an emptiness that felt silly to me, but I gave myself a break and let myself go with the flow. Mickey will always hold me true to my roots.

– Robert Hearn, Savannah, Ga.

Larry Canale has been editor-in-chief of Antiques Roadshow Insider since its launch in 2001 and was editorial director of Tuff Stuff from 1993-2000. He edited and co-wrote the book "Mickey Mantle: Memories & Memorabilia" (2011, Krause) and also has collaborated on two titles with photographer Ozzie Sweet: "Mickey Mantle: The Yankee Years" (1998) and "The Boys of Spring" (2005).
He can be reached at
larrycanale@comcast.net.

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