Template:MLB HoF Mickey Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma. He was named in honor of Mickey Cochrane, the Hall of Fame catcher from the Detroit Tigers, by his father, who was an amateur player and fervent fan. Apparently his father was not aware that Cochrane's real name was Gordon. In later life, Mickey Mantle expressed great relief that his father had not known Cochrane's real first name, as he would have hated to be named Gordon. Mantle always spoke warmly of his beloved father and said he was the bravest man he ever knew. "No boy ever loved his father more," he said. Sadly, his father died of cancer at the age of 39, just as his son was starting his career. Mantle said one of the great heartaches of his life was that he never told his father he loved him.
Mantle was an all-around athlete in school, playing basketball and football in addition to his first love, baseball. It was his football playing that nearly ended his athletic career, and indeed his life. Kicked in the shin during a game, Mantle's leg soon became infected with osteomyelitis, a crippling disease that would have been incurable just a few years earlier. A midnight ride to Tulsa enabled Mantle to be treated with newly available penicillin, saving his leg from amputation. He would suffer from the effects of the disease for the rest of his life, and it would lead to many other injuries that hampered his accomplishments. Additionally, Mantle's osteomyelitic condition exempted him from military service, a fact which caused him to become very unpopular with fans from his earliest days in baseball. This unpopularity, mainly with older fans, would dramatically reverse after he finished second to Roger Maris in the pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record in 1961. He spent the last years of his career as a wildly popular icon of the entire sport.
"Mutt" Mantle taught his son how to be a switch-hitter. Mickey had played shortstop in the minor leagues, but on arrival at the Yankees, he became the regular right fielder (playing only a few games at shortstop and third base in 1952 to 1955). He moved to center field in 1952, replacing Joe DiMaggio, who retired at the end of the 1951 season after one year playing alongside Mantle in the Yankees outfield. He played center field until 1967, when he was moved to first base. Among Mantle's many accomplishments are all-time World Series records for home runs (18), runs scored (42), and runs batted in (40).
Mantle also hit the longest measured home run ever in a major league game. On September 10, 1960, he hit a ball that cleared the right-field roof at Tiger Stadium in Detroit and, based on where it was found, was estimated years after the fact to have traveled 643 feet. Another Mantle homer at Griffith Stadium in Washington on April 17, 1953, traveled 565 feet from home plate to the spot it was retrieved by a local boy.
In 1956, Mantle won the Hickok Belt as top professional athlete of the year. This was his "favorite summer," a year that saw him win the Triple Crown, leading the majors with a .353 batting average, 52 HR, and 130 RBI on the way to his first of three MVP awards. Though the American League Triple Crown has been won twice since then, Mantle remains the last man to win the Major League Triple Crown.
On December 23, 1951, he married Merlyn Johnson in their hometown of Commerce, Oklahoma; they had four sons. In an autobiography, Mantle said he married Merlyn not because he loved her, but because his domineering father told him to. The couple had been separated for 15 years when he died, but neither ever filed for divorce. Mantle lived with his agent, Greer Johnson. Johnson was taken to federal court in November 1997 by the Mantle family to stop her from auctioning many of Mantle's personal items, including a lock of hair, a neck brace and expired credit cards.
Mantle announced his retirement on March 1, 1969, and in 1974, as soon as he was eligible, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; his uniform number 7 was retired by the Yankees. (He had briefly worn uniform number 6, as a continuation of Babe Ruth's 3, Lou Gehrig's 4, and Joe DiMaggio's 5, in 1951, but his poor performance led to his temporary demotion to a minor league in mid-season. When he returned, Bobby Brown, who had worn number 6 before Mantle, had reclaimed it, so Mantle was given number 7.) When he retired, the Mick was third on the all-time home run list with 536. In 1983, Mantle took a job promoting an Atlantic City casino, and was suspended from baseball by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. He would be reinstated in 1985 by Kuhn's successor, Peter Ueberroth.
Mantle's amazing hold on his fans was demonstrated by his position of leadership in the memorabilia craze that swept the USA beginning in the 1980's. Mantle was a prize guest at any baseball card show, commanding fees far in excess of any other player for his appearances and autographs. This popularity continues long after his death, as Mantle-related items far outsell those of any other player except possibly the unmatched Babe Ruth, whose items exist in far smaller quantities.
Mantle's last days
Mantle received a liver transplant on June 8, 1995, after his liver had been damaged by years of chronic alcoholism, cirrhosis, and hepatitis C. He spent time at the Betty Ford Clinic to kick the bottle for good. Mantle spoke with great remorse of his drinking in a Sports Illustrated article, "My Life In A Bottle". He admitted he had often been cruel and hurtful to family, friends, and fans because of his alcoholism, and sought to make amends. He became a born-again Christian due to his former teammate Bobby Richardson sharing his faith with him.
Mickey Mantle died on August 13, 1995, at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, after his liver cancer spread throughout his body. He was interred in the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas. Mantle had asked country singer Roy Clark, his good friend, to perform his favorite song "Yesterday, When I Was Young" at his funeral:
- I lived by night
- I shunned the light of day
- And only now I see how the years slipped away
- I ran so fast time and youth ran out
- So many songs in me won't be sung
- I now must pay for yesterday when I was young.
In eulogizing Mantle, Bob Costas described the legend as "a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic."
He loved cherry pie and slept with his socks on inside out.
On Mickey Mantle Day, June 8, 1969, in addition to the retirement of his uniform number 7, Mantle was given a plaque that would hang on the center field wall at Yankee Stadium, near the monuments to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Miller Huggins. The plaque was given to him by Joe DiMaggio, and Mantle then gave DiMaggio a similar plaque, telling the crowd, "His should be just a little bit higher than mine." When Yankee Stadium was reopened in 1976 following its renovation, the plaques and monuments were moved to Monument Park, behind the left-center field fence. Shortly before his death, Mantle videotaped a message to be played on Old-Timers' Day, which he was too ill to attend. He said, "When I died, I wanted on my tombstone, 'A great teammate.' But I didn't think it would be this soon." On August 25, 1996, about a year after his death, Mantle's Monument Park plaque was replaced with a monument, bearing the words "A great teammate" and keeping a phrase that had been included on the original plaque: "A magnificent Yankee who left a legacy of unequaled courage."
- Mickey Mantle's career statistics on the Baseball Almanac site
- Mickey Mantle's bio on the Baseball Historian site
- Mickey Mantle's career statistics on the Baseball Library site
- Mickey Mantle's career statistics at Baseball-Reference.com
- Mickey Mantle's First Home Run
Castro, Tony, "Mickey Mantle: America's Prodigal Son", 2002, ISBN 1-57488-384-4