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Article:Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Rules

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By Harold Friend

In 1958, Whitey Ford led the American League with a 2.01 ERA, winning 14, losing 7, and pitching 219 1/3 innings. Teammate Mickey Mantle batted .304 with an American League leading 42 home runs. Why then were both star players told that their salaries would be cut for the 1959 season? Yankees' general manager George Weiss wanted to cut Ford by $8,000 and Mantle by $5,000.

Whitey Ford Had to be a "Good Boy."

When the players reported for spring training, the Yankees offered to eliminate Whitey's pay cut and give him the same $35,000 salary that he had received in 1957, but with a catch. The contract imposed certain conditions. Ford had to promise the Yankees that he would be a "good boy." obey all of the club's rules, not miss any trains or planes, and, as Casey Stengel phrased it, be able to tell midnight from noon.

Whitey Ford's Healthy Diet

Ford's immediate reaction was to refuse to sign the contract, but since he had only two choices --play for the Yankees or don't play --he decided to sign and go along with the conditions. To sweeten the pot, his salary was increased to $37,000 and the Yankees explained that the conditions the club wanted to impose did not involve his being a "good boy," but rather required that he observe specific dietary restrictions in order to control his high uric acid condition. Ford would not be able to have fried foods, beef, pork, and above all, alcohol.

Ford's Behavior Was Not the Issue

Yankees' general manager George Weiss made certain to emphasize that Ford's behavior was not the issue. It was the fact that Whitey had missed too many starts the last two seasons due to arm problems that were traced to his uric acid levels, which is a form of gout. In 1958, Ford had started 29 games, completed 15, and worked almost 220 innings.

Mickey Thought 1958 Was a Bad Year

Mickey Mantle, whose 1957 salary was $75,000, was offered a similar deal. He would make the same salary as last year but he too had to be a "good boy." On February 28, it was announced that Mickey signed a contract with no behavior conditions for $78,000. In 1956, Mickey had won baseball's Triple Crown, leading the majors in batting average, home runs, and RBIs. In 1957, an injury plagued season, Mickey batted .365, hit 34 home runs, and had 94 RBIs. Mickey's 1958 was not as good.

Mantle's 1959 Goals

Mantle said that he had four goals for 1959. He wanted to play the full schedule of 154 games without an injury, hit about 50 home runs, drive in 100 runs, and bat about .330. Mantle said that "I realize that I had a poor season last year (1958), but I attribute that to the trouble I had in my right shoulder throughout the first half." ( Red Schoendienst fell on Mickey's right shoulder in the World Series). That is unbelievable. Mantle hit 42 home runs, had 97 RBIs, and hit .304 with a .443 on base average and a .592 slugging average -- and he thought it was a bad year.

Today's Sluggers

Mickey Mantle had an outstanding season in 1958. The fact that it wasn't as great as his previous two seasons only emphazes how exceptional those seasons were. If one measured Mickey's 1958 to players today, 1958 has become a "bad" season. Since the turn of the century, a player has hit 73 home runs in a season, Ryan Howard hit 58 home runs, breaking Hack Wilson's old National League record of 56 that had stood McGwire came along, and Alex Rodriguez continues to hit at least 40 home runs almost every season. It makes one's mind boggle to think of what Mantle would have done under today's playing conditons.

References:

Likely Page Break Drebinger, John. "Ford of Yankees Invokes the Fifth; Despite Rise, Hurler Bars Pact in Fear of Recrimination." New York Times. 20 February 1959, p.32.

Drebinger, John. "Ford Signs Yankees' Contract Containing Health Provisions; Pitcher Must Watch Diet During Season. New York Times. 23 February 1959, p.30.


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