Mickey Mantle (Mickey Charles Mantle) was born on October 20, 1931 in Spavinaw, Oklahoma. He made his Major League debut on April 17, 1951 for the New York Yankees. In 1951, his rookie year, he hit .267 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI. Mantle played for the New York Yankees for his entire 18 year career.
Most people believe that Mickey Mantle's best season was 1956, when he slugged 52 home runs, hit for a .353 average and knocked in 130 runs.
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.
When Mantle was four years old, the family moved to the nearby town of Commerce, Oklahoma. Mantle was an all-around athlete at Commerce High 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, as his earliest days in baseball coincided with the Korean War. 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.
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"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 some of the longest home runs in Major League history. 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 more than 600 feet, though it probably was closer to 500 feet. Another Mantle homer at Griffith Stadium in Washington on April 17, 1953, was said to have traveled 565 feet. Years later William J. Jenkinson, who specializes on information of long distance homeruns, said that the actual distance was probably 510 feet.
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 January 16, 1961, Mantle became the highest-paid baseball player by signing a $75,000 contract. DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg and Ted Williams, who had just retired, had been paid over $100,000 in a season, and Ruth had a peak salary of $80,000. But Mantle became the highest-paid active player of his time.
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. Nowadays, certain future number-retiree manager Joe Torre wears 6, and the 8 belonging to catchers Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra has already been retired - Derek Jeter's 2 may very well also join the list of consecutive retired numbers.) When he retired, the Mick was third on the all-time home run list with 536.
Despite being among the best-paid players of the pre-free agency era, Mantle was a poor businessman, having made several unlucky investments. His lifestyle would be restored to one of luxury, and his hold on his fans raised to an amazing level, by his position of leadership in the sports memorabilia craze that swept the USA beginning in the 1980s. 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, due to the distance of years, now exist in far smaller quantities.
Despite the failure of Mickey Mantle's Country Cookin' restaurants in the early 1970s, Mickey Mantle's Restaurant & Sports Bar opened in New York at 42 Central Park South (59th Street) in 1988. It became one of New York's most popular restaurants, and his original Yankee Stadium Monument Park plaque is displayed at the front entrance. Mantle let others run the business operations, but made frequent appearances. But his drinking led radio show host Don Imus to joke, "If you get to Mickey Mantle's restaurant after midnight, you win a free dinner if you can guess which table Mickey's under."
In 1983, Mantle and Willie Mays took jobs promoting Atlantic City casinos, and were suspended from baseball by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. They were reinstated in 1985 by Kuhn's successor, Peter Ueberroth.
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. While his drinking became public knowledge during his lifetime, the press kept his many marital infidelities quiet.
The couple had four children, all sons: Mickey Jr. (born in 1953), David (1955), and Billy (1957, whom Mickey named for Billy Martin, his best friend among his Yankee teammates), and Danny (1960). Like Mickey, Merlyn and the sons all became alcoholics, and Billy developed Hodgkin's disease as several previous Mantle men had. This led to him developing a dependence on prescription painkillers.
Mickey Mantle has four grandchildren. Mickey Jr. had a daughter, Mallory. David and his wife Marla have a daughter, Marilyn. Danny and his wife Kay have a son, Will, and a daughter, Chloe. Danny and Will played a father and son watching Mickey, played by Thomas Jane, hit a home run in the 2001 film 61*.
Mickey and Merlyn 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.
He loved cherry pie and slept with his socks on inside out. During the final years of his life, Mantle purchased a luxury condominium on Lake Oconee near Greensboro, Georgia, near Greer Johnson's home, and freqently stayed there for months at the time. He occasionally attended the local Methodist church, and sometimes ate Sunday dinner with members of the congregation. He was well-liked by the citizens of Greensboro, and seemed to like them in return. This was probably because the town respected Mantle's privacy, refusing either to talk about their famous neighbor to outsiders or to direct fans to his home. In one interview, Mickey stated that the people of Greensboro had "gone out of their way to make me feel welcome, and I've found something there I haven't enjoyed since I was a kid."
Mantle's last days
Well before he finally sought treatment for alcoholism, Mantle admitted that his hard living had hurt his playing and his family. His rationale was that the men in his family had all died young, so he expected to as well. "I'm not gonna be cheated," he'd say. As the years passed, and he realized he had outlived the men in his family—not realizing that working in mines and inhaling lead and zinc dust aided Hodgkin's and other cancers as much as heredity did—he frequently used a line popularized by elderly comedian George Burns: "If I'd known I was gonna live this long, I'd have taken a lot better care of myself."
Mantle's wife and sons all completed treatment for alcoholism, and told him he needed to do the same. He checked into the Betty Ford Clinic on January 7, 1994, after being told by a doctor that his liver was so badly damaged, "Your next drink could be your last."
Shortly after completing treatment, his son Billy died on March 12, at age 36, of heart trouble, brought on by years of substance abuse. Despite the fears of those who knew him, who feared that this tragedy would send him back to drinking, he remained sober. Mickey Jr. would also die of liver cancer on December 20, 2000, at age 47. Danny would later battle prostate cancer.
Mantle spoke with great remorse of his drinking in a Sports Illustrated article, "My Life In A Bottle." He said that he was telling the same old stories, and realizing how much of them involved himself and others being drunk, and he decided they weren't funny anymore. 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, an ordained Baptist minister, sharing his faith with him. After the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, he joined with fellow Oklahoman and Yankee legend Bobby Murcer to raise money for the victims.
Mantle received a liver transplant at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, on June 8, 1995, after his liver had been damaged by years of chronic alcoholism, cirrhosis, and hepatitis C. In July, he had recovered enough to deliver a press conference at Baylor, and noted that many fans had looked to him as a role model. "This is a role model: Don't be like me," he said. He also established the Mickey Mantle Foundation to raise awareness for organ donations. Soon, he was back in the hospital, where it was found that his liver cancer spread throughout his body.
Mickey Mantle died on August 13, 1995, at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. He was 63 years old. 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. In the last years of his life, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally began to appreciate the difference between a role model and a hero. The first, he often was not. The last, he forever will be. And, in the end, people got it kid."
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." The words were indeed carved on the plaque marking his resting place at the family mausoleum in Dallas. 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."
Mantle and former teammate Whitey Ford were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame together in 1974, Mantle in his first year of eligibility, Ford in his second. In 1999, The Sporting News placed Mantle at number 17 on their list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players. That same year, he was one of 100 nominees for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, and was chosen by fan balloting as one of the Team's outfielders. While most fans who remember them both tend to rate Willie Mays as a better player than Mantle, Mantle remains the most popular player of the 1950s and 1960s, even as Mays, Hank Aaron and others outlived him by many years.
- Signed as an amateur free agent by New York Yankees (1949).
- Castro, Tony, "Mickey Mantle: America's Prodigal Son", 2002, ISBN 1-57488-384-4
- Mickey Mantle: His Final Inning by American Tract Society, 1998, ISBN 1-55837-138-9
- 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