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by Harold Friend
What is predicted and what occurs often are different. Nineteen fifty nine was one of Mickey Mantle's worst seasons. He hit .285 with 31 home runs, 75 RBIs, and a .390 on base average, which is pretty good for many players, but not for Mickey Mantle. How ironic that Yankees' manager Casey Stengel, baseball writers, and fans thought that a now-mature, healthy Mickey Mantle would have a 1959 season that would rival his Triple Crown year of 1956. Remember this the next time you listen to the media "experts."
A Healty, Mature Mickey
During spring training, Casey Stengel raved about Mickey, telling reporters that Mickey was healthy and had finally matured. Mickey's knees seemingly were fine and his shoulder, the one that Red Schoendienst fell on when Braves' pitcher Bob Buhl tried to pick him off second base, was not a problem, but most important of all, Mickey was no longer the shy, almost sullen player he had been. For the first time, he believed that fans really liked him. The change in temperament impressed Stengel, who said that "What has handicapped him most? It's that temper of his. He gets furious at himself. He'll come raging into the dugout after taking a third strike or failing to catch a ball he knows he should have caught and he'd tear the place apart"
1958 Was Easy
In 1958, the Yankees ran away from the other seven American League teams. On July 4, the 48-24 Yankees led second place Kansas City by 10 1/2 games. They coasted the rest of the way, finishing at 92-62, and then losing three of the first four World Series games against the Braves before coming back to win. Nineteen fifty nine was similar to the second half of 1958, but the Yankees didn't have the first half cushion and there were some major injuries. They never made a serious run at their fifth consecutive pennant.
First baseman Bill Skowron appeared in only 74 games. He missed two weeks with a bad back and when he returned, a runner broke Moose's left arm when they collided as Skowron tried to field a bad throw to first base. He was gone for the year. An aging Hank Bauer hit .238 with only 9 home runs, and Gil McDougald, who played all three infield positions, slumped to .251 with only 4 home runs. On the pitching side, 1958 Cy Young Award winner Bob Turley went from 21-7 with a 2.97 ERA to 8-11 with a 4.32 ERA due to a sore arm. While Mantle was relatively healthy most of the season, he batted below .300 for the first time since 1953. The Yankees finished third with 79-75 record, 15 games behind the White Sox.
The Experts Can Be Wrong
Today we don't have baseball writers. We have the media. Many in the media fancy themselves prognosticators, which is fine, but most of their predictions, presented as gospel, prove to be less and less accurate with the passage of the season. Then, those "experts" delight in excoriating "underachievers." In 1959, Mickey Mantle was healthy, he was mature, and he was primed to become the highest paid baseball player in history, but it didn't happen. Mickey had a consistent season, it was a good season, but it was nothing close to what the experts had predicted for him.
Drebinger, John. "$150,000 Forecast as Mantle Salary." New York Times. 1 March 1959, p.S1.
"Too Late for Yanks to Turn It Around?" New York Sun