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MLB Legends: Mickey Mantle

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When it comes to the town of Spavinaw, Oklahoma you don’t think of it being the birthplace of an MLB icon and one that helped define baseball from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. In a town that has less than 500 people as of the 2010 Census, it has one big thing that they are known for. It is the birthplace of New York Yankees icon Mickey Mantle who went from a very small town to become one of the greatest baseball players and a great Yankees player as well.

He was born on October 20, 1931. By the time Mickey was four years old, his family would move to Commerce, Oklahoma. This was where his father who was a miner would end up working in lead and zinc mines. Since Mick was a Midwest boy, he would end up rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals. When he was in high school, he would be a three-sport student as he would play baseball, football, and basketball. Ir should be noted though that his football activity almost ended his athletic career.

During a practice for his football team, Mickey Mantle was kicked in his left shin, and he would end up developing osteomyelitis in his left ankle. Osteomyelitis is an infection and inflammation of the bone and bone marrow. When Mantle suffered this disease, doctors were able to fix the problems as there was no known cure a few years before hand. Mantle’s parents would end up driving to Tulsa, Oklahoma so that Mantle could get treated with the newly available penicillin. This would end up reducing the infection and thus saving his leg from being amputated.

In 1948, he would begin his baseball career for a semi-professional team in Kansas. In the 1948 season, the Yankees sent scout Tom Greenwade to scout Mickey’s teammate, third baseman Billy Johnson. While he was there scouting Johnson, Mickey Mantle would hit three home runs in that game and caught his attention. After Mickey Mantle would graduate high school in 1949, Greenwade would return to Kansas and sign Mickey to a minor league deal. He would end up making $140 a month with a signing bonus of $1,500.

He was assigned to the Yankees independent affiliate in the Kansas area. He would begin his Yankees run as the shortstop. When Mantle had a terrible slump, he went ahead and called his father and told him he wanted to quit baseball. However, Mantle’s father would drive to where his son was playing and convinced him to keep playing. He would end up playing in the independent league that was affiliated with the Yankees until 1951 when he would finally get his shot with the Yankees.

He would end up getting invited to spring training and impressed Yankees manager Casey Stangel enough that he decided to promote him right to the majors as a right fielder. Mantle would end up making $7,500 in his rookie season. It should be noted that when Mantle came up in 1951, there were legends who were already in establishing themselves like Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox and Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Right out of the gate, Mickey Mantle was assigned the number #6; this was done with the expectation that he would become the latest Yankee star and would follow the footsteps of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio. However, he started the 1951 season in a slump and thus was sent back to Kansas City. Nothing was going right for Mantle when he was sent back down to the minors that he once again called his dad and told him he wanted to quit baseball again.

He told his father, “I don’t think I can play baseball anymore.” Mantle’s dad had the same reaction to his son like the first time he said this that he drove to Kansas City and convinced his son to continue playing. However, he took a different approach to it. Unlike last time when he just talked to his son, this time, he told his son something that struck a nerve with Mickey.

When Mantle’s dad showed up, he started packing his sons clothing and told him, “ I thought I raised a man. I see I raised a coward instead.” He told Mantle that if he came back with him to Oklahoma that he would end up working the mines with him. Something in what his dad said must have been a spark for Mantle as he would immediately break out of his slump, by hitting .361 with 11 homers and 50 runs batted in during his stay in Kansas City.

He would end up rejoining the Yankees in 1951, this time wearing the infamous number #7 jersey. He would end up playing in his first world series in 1951 against the cross-town New York Giants. In the 2nd game of the series, New York Giants and future baseball legend, Willie Mays hit a fly ball to right- center field. Mickey was playing right, and Joe DiMaggio was playing center, while Mickey was running for the ball he would end up tripping on an exposed drain pipe and severely injuring his right knee. This would end up being the first of many injuries that would plague his run with the Yankees. He would end up playing the rest of his career with a torn ACL.

It should be noted that Mantle made a name for himself during the 1950’s. In the 1956 season, he broke out and had a remarkable season. He would end up having a major league-leading .353 batting average, 52 home runs, and drove in 130 runs batted in. These numbers would win both the American League triple crown and his first of three MVP awards. Back in the 1950’s, you were not able to have a mediocre career and expect to be rewarded. When Mickey Mantle was playing, you also had the likes of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Al Kaline, Yogi Berra, Brooks Robinson, and other greats.

You had to play great in the 1950’s and 1960’s to get rewarded. He would also have another remarkable season during the 1961 season. This was the season where Mickey Mantle and his fellow Yankee Roger Maris would end up having a home run battle to see who could eclipse the record for most homers in a season which was held by former Yankee legend Babe Ruth’s home run mark he set in 1927.

Roger Maris would end up winning the home run battle by hitting 61 home runs that season. Mantle would end up having 54 homers that season. Roger Maris record would end up lasting until Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa had a similar home run battle in the 1998 season. Mark McGuire would end up hitting 62 homers. Now the person who has the most homers in a season is Barry Bonds who hit 71 homers in the 2001 season.

Going back to the Mickey Mantle / Roger Maris home run battle, it would go and inspire a movie called 61 that came out on April 28, 2001. It was directed by Billy Crystal and starred Thomas Jane and Barry Pepper. Mickey Mantle would end up retiring on March 1, 1969. He would give his “farewell” speech on Mickey Mantle Day which was on June 8, 1969 Here is a clip of his farewell speech:

He would end up getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 along with fellow Yankees legend Whitey Ford. He would end up passing away on August 13, 1995 at the age of 63. During his 18 year career, he would end up having 537 homers, which is 17th all time and 2nd in Yankees history. He would also drive in 1,509 runs batted in which was 53rd all time and 4th in Yankees history. Also, he would end up being a 16 time All-Star, 1956 AL Batting title winner, 3x American League MVP, 1956 AL Triple Crown winner, and other awards.

He was a great example of somebody who went from having nothing to becoming an absolute icon. He should be an example to people that even though you may not have anything, you should not give up because you never know what will come your way.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]