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Mickey Mantle: The Man Behind The Legend

His was among the most well-known names that brought a certain luminous glory to America’s favorite pastime during the 1950s and 1960s:  Mickey Mantle. Children emulated him. Young girls swooned over his handsome, good looks. Boys simply wanted to be him.

Mickey Charles Mantle, born on October 20, 1931, in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, was named by his baseball-loving father after Detroit Tigers catcher Mickey Cochrane. Mantle was trained from a young age to be a switch-hitter, and after a New York Yankees scout saw him play while he was still in high school, Mantle was signed for two years in the minors. Mantle quickly lived up to his early promise, as he joined the major league team at just 19 years of age.

Photo: WikiMedia Commons/New York Yankees

Years Of Playing

In 1951, Mantle played his first game for the Yankees, eventually replacing Joe DiMaggio in center field. He spent his entire 18-year career with the Yankees, where he hit 536 home runs and was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player three times (1956, 1957, 1962). In 1956, he won the American League Triple Crown with 52 home runs, 130 runs batted in, and a .353 batting average.

Mantle proved to be one of the greatest offensive threats of any center fielder in baseball history. He had the highest career OPS+ of any center fielder, as well as the highest stolen base percentage in history at the time of his retirement. In addition, compared to the other four center fielders on the All-Century team, he had the lowest career rate of grounding into double plays and the highest World Series on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He also had an excellent .984 fielding percentage when playing center field.

His accomplishments on the field are all the more impressive given that throughout his career, Mantle was plagued by injuries and leg pain caused by osteomyelitis, yet he managed to establish one of the greatest baseball legacies of all time.                                                                                      

Mantle decided to retire from baseball in 1969, at which time he became a restaurateur and television commentator. His legendary career became the topic of numerous documentaries and sports videos that showcased his switch-hitting capabilities and the ardor of his fans. Mantle was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.

Photo: Flickr.com/ Preston Mesarvey

Years Of Reckoning                                                                                                                   

After years of hard drinking, Mantle entered the Betty Ford Clinic in 1994, where he was diagnosed with cirrhosis, hepatitis, and cancer of the liver. In light of his diagnosis, Mantle stated that, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” He received a liver transplant in 1995 but died of a heart attack that same year, at the age of 63, in Dallas, Texas. At the time, he was survived by his wife, Merlyn (Johnson) Mantle, and his three sons: David, Danny, and Mickey Jr. A fourth son, Billy, died of Hodgkin’s disease in 1994.