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Mantle, Mickey

Mickey Mantle

1931-1995

American baseball player

Many argue that he was the greatest baseball player ever, and were it not for the almost constant menace of alcohol and health-related maladies during his long and successful career as a New York Yankee, chances are there would be no argument. Mickey Mantle played in twenty All-Star games, and he holds the record for most career World Series home runs, runs scored and runs batted in. He subscribed to the old adage that, "It is just as important to be lucky as it is to be good." But Mantle's luck would eventually run out. His body, hindered by alcoholism and physical afflictions, would eventually give up on him. Too weak to fight any longer, he would die of cancer in 1995 at the age of 63. In spite of his personal hardships, however, Mickey Mantle remains a hero in America.

Growing Up

Mickey Charles Mantle was born October 20, 1931, in Spavinaw, Oklahoma. His father, Elvin "Mutt" Mantle, worked in the Oklahoma zinc mines, and before his son could even walk, he was steering Mickey towards baseball (he named him after his favorite player, Philadelphia Athletics and then Detroit Tigers catcher Mickey Cochrane). When Mickey was four, Mutt went where there was work, and the family moved near Commerce, Oklahoma. Mantle's childhood was one marked by poverty, and as soon as he was old enough to help, he sought various odd jobs, as well as worked with his father in the mines to help make ends meet.

Mutt taught him to become a switch-hitter, knowing this would make Mickey even more of a threat at the plate. Mantle turned out to be a gifted athlete. He also played football in high school, but during a sophomore practice, he suffered the first of many physical afflictions.

After being kicked in the shin, he developed osteomyelitisa chronic bone diseasea malady that would plague him for the rest of his life. At the time, his doctors felt it best to amputate the leg, but his father said no, and eventually, after many operations, the condition was arrested.

Semi-Pro During High School

In addition to playing football, Mantle played semi-pro baseball in high school. In a 1946 semi-pro game with his team, the Baxter Springs (Oklahoma) Whiz Kids, an umpire encouraged Mickey to try out for the pros. Mantle traveled to Joplin, Missouri, and tried out with the Yankees Farm club. A few years later, when Mickey Charles Mantle received his high school diploma, he also had a contract with the New York Yankees for $1000.

The Early Years

He began his professional baseball career in Independence, Kansas, playing on a Class D team. He was seventeen years old, shy, and insecure; in fact, Mickey was so in awe of the pros that, two years later, he found it impossible to speak to his teammate Joe DiMaggio .

When Mickey came up to the majors, Yankees Manager Casey Stengel created media interest by calling Mantle "my phenom." Stengel claimed he would be better than Babe Ruth or DiMaggio. Whether or not Stengel was right, Mantle soon became part of the Yankee legend, remaining with the team from 1951 to 1968. Number 7, the former "Commerce Comet"the kid from Oklahomawould become a baseball hero.

His first few months in the majors he struck out too mucha common problem with many power hitters. Yet it was too much for Stengel, and he sent Mantle back to the minors. A short trip, however; less than two months later he was called back up to the squad, in time to join the Yankees as they played in the world series. Yet once more injury found its way to Mickey, and his season would be cut short when, trying to avoid an out-field collision with DiMaggio, he tripped on a sprinkler and tore the ligaments in his knee. He underwent four knee operations.

Chronology

1931 Born October 20 in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, to Elvin "Mutt" and Lowell Mantle
1935 Family moves near Commerce Oklahoma
1946 Develops osteomyelitis, a chronic bone disease, after getting kicked in the shin in high school football practice
1948 Begins minor league baseball career in Independence, Kansas, with a Class D team
1951 Joins New York Yankees and becomes part of legendary team that would dominate baseball in the 1950s and 1960s
1951 Trips on sprinkler head in outfield, tearing ligaments in his knee. Undergoes first of five knee operations
1951 Marries Merlyn Louise Johnson, his high school sweetheart and a teller in an Oklahoma bank
1952 Learns that his father, Mutt, has died of Hodgkin's disease at 39. Mantle takes death hard
1953 Hits fabled 565 foot home run at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C.
1956 Wins triple crown with 52 home runs, 130 runs batted in and a .353 batting average
1963 Comes to within a few feet of hitting the ball out of Yankee Stadium
1963 Breaks his ankle while playing in Baltimore. On disabled list for two months
1969 Announces his retirement at Yankees spring training
1974 Inducted unanimously into Baseball Hall of Fame
1988 Mantle and his wife separate
1989 Mantle's old teammate and drinking buddy Billy Martin dies in drunk driving accident
1994 Confronts his alcoholism and checks himself into Betty Ford clinic
1994 Mantle's own son Billy dies of heart failure
1995 Undergoes liver transplant but would die weeks later, on August 13, at age of 63

The Powerful Star is Born

In 1952 he became the Yankees starting center fielder, soon known around the league as a prodigious power hitter. In fact, the length of Mantle's home runs became the stuff of legend. In 1953 he hit a 565-foot home run at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., one of the longest home runs ever hit in the major leagues. The ball sailed over 460 feet in the air, clearing the fifty-five foot wall and sixty foot sign, then landing in someone's backyard. Yankee pitcher Bob Kuzava said of the homer, "I never saw a ball hit so far. You could have cut it up into fifteen singles." The ball and bat are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Tragic Hero?

Mantle's rise in popularity paralleled the rise in America's obsession with the television. When he started playing in 1951, baseball was at the peak of its popularity. After the war, the country flocked to ballparks and gathered around radios (and televisions, if they could find them). With Mantle's strong bat, his good looks and charm, the chance that when you tuned into a Yankee game you might see or hear Mickey hit one out of the park sparked excitement in fans of every age.

In addition to his individual appeal, Mantle played on the New York Yankees, a team that had, of course, the legend of The Babe. Yankee Stadium was "the House that Ruth built," and add to that Willie Mays concurrently playing center for the New York Giants, and Duke Snider in center for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York was a media frenzy. When the Yankees made it into their innumerable World Series games in the fifties, fans would remember Mickey Mantle as the hero of many of the games. At the conclusion of his career, Mantle had hit 536 home runs, batted in 1509 runs on 2415 hits and had ten out of eighteen seasons when he hit .300 or better. But he had also struck out a record 1710 times.

Perhaps what he's best remembered for was the 1961 season, when he and teammate Roger Maris attempted to break Babe Ruth's thirty-four year old mark of sixty home runs in a single season. Throughout the year, the two matched each other homer for homer. The contestin actuality two friends playing the best baseball they couldbecame a media circus. Babe Ruth had also been a Yankee, which only added to the hype as the season wound down.

A few weeks before the season ended, Mantle developed a bad pain in his hip after a doctor had given him an injection. The wound never healed, and as the abscess grew worse and more painful, Mickey's performance faltered. He was eventually sidelined at fifty-four home runs, while Maris went on to reach the fabled "61" first.

An interesting side note to the battle between Mantle and Maris is that Mantle had been the fan favorite. By this point in his career, Mantle could talk to the media. Maris, on the other hand, who was shy and didn't give the reporters much camera time, soon found out that beating "The Mick" for the record was more of a burden than cause to celebrate.

After the 1963 season, a year which saw him come within only a few feet of hitting a baseball out of Yankee Stadium, Mantle's career began to fade. His knees were gone (so bad that many were amazed he could play at all). While playing in Baltimore, Mantle broke his ankle and didn't see any playing time for two months.

The injuries were beginning to pile up, and he found he was always in pain, had difficulty throwing, and had trouble batting from the left side. Over the final four years of his career he would never bat above .300, he hit fewer than thirty homers a season, and never again batted in sixty runs. He announced his retirement in 1969 at spring training.

Awards and Accomplishments

1952-65, 1967-68 American League All-Star Team
1952, 1956-57 Sporting News Major League All-Star Team
1956 Sporting News Major League Player of the Year; Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year; Hickok Belt
1956-67, 1962 American League most valuable player
1956-62 Sporting News Outstanding American League Player
1961-62, 1964 Sporting News American League All-Star Team
1962 American League Gold Glove Award
1974 Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame
1999 MLB All-Century Team; Uniform number 7 retired by Yankees

Related Biography: Baseball Player Whitey Ford

Born on October 21, 1928, Eddie "Whitey" Ford earned his nickname as a towheaded boy playing baseball at the Astoria Boys Club. Yankees scout Paul Krichell saw him pitch his high school team, the Aviation Trades, to the New York Journal American Sandlot tournament championship. At the time, Ford was playing first base but had pitched in the game as a substitute.

In 1946, Ford signed a minor league Yankee contract. He would remain in the minors for several years, compiling a 51-20 record. When he finally made his way up into the majors, he was already pitching like a veteran player.

In his first season with the Yankees, Ford compiled a 9-1 record. He would leave for the next two seasons (1951 and 1952) to serve his country at Fort Monmouth.

When he returned, in 1953, Ford fell right back into the rotation. At 5'10" tall, Whitey was stocky, strong, and confident. It was his confidence that allowed him to make the high pressure pitches to get himself out of trouble.

In 1956 he led the league with a .760 winning percentage, winning nineteen games with a 2.47 ERA. In 1961, Whitey Ford won the Cy Young award with a record of 25-4.

After he retired, Ford spent two seasons coaching for the Yankees, later becoming a scout for the team. In his baseball career he amassed a won-loss record of 236-106, with a 2.75 ERA, forty-five shutouts and 1956 strikeouts.

One of Mantle's best friends during some of the most glorious years in Yankee history, Whitey Ford eventually joined Mantle in recalling the glory years in their 1978 book, Whitey and Mickey: A Joint Autobiography of the Yankee Years.

He was unanimously voted into the Hall of Fame in 1974, his first year of eligibility. The Yankees retired the famed "Number 7," the jersey of a man who played on twelve pennant-winning and seven World Series-winning teams. "Mantle" became synonymous with the New York Yankees and their mid-century dominance of baseball.

After the Game

Mantle was a heavy drinker during his baseball career. As with many celebrites, the success and glamour and the accompanying financial windfalls could become a burden, and for a star like Mantle, raised in poverty in the midwest, it was fame he had difficulty handling. During his years as a player, there was little public knowledge about his off-the-field exploits. He often teamed up with fellow Yankees Billy Martin and Whitey Ford, carrying on into the early hours of the morning. To many of his teammates and others who knew about the carousing, they often turned their heads. After all, he was still performing on the field, so wasn't this just harmless fun?

Reconciliation

Mantle later conceded that his drinking took years off his career. The bottle had deteriorated his health to the point that his body was unable to fight the diseases that afflicted him. Not sure of what to do once he retired, much of his time was spent drinking. He played in celebrity golf tournaments, took a shot at running a restaurant, and, like Willie Mays, did PR for an Atlantic City casino.

Mickey Mantle had married his wife, Merlyn, after the 1952 season, but after more than thirty years of dealing with his now infamous exploits, they separated in 1988. Merlyn, too, had problems with alcohol, but she sought help, something Mantle didn't do until it was too late.

In 1989 his old Yankee drinking buddy, Billy Martin, died in a drunk driving accident, but it would be almost five years before Mantle would seek help for his own problems. In early 1994, suffering from tremors and memory loss, he checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic. But it was too late. Mantle would soon see his son Billy die of heart failure, in March of that same year. Afflicted by Hodgkin's disease (the same disease that killed Mantle's father when he was only 39, as well as his grandfather), Mantle's son had become addicted to drugs.

Too Little, Too Late

After he was released from the clinic, Mantle seemed ready to make amends for the wrongs in his life. He appeared before the press as an optimistic man, and he told People that "all those years I lived the life of somebody I didn't know. A cartoon character. From now on Mickey Mantle is going to be a real person. I still can't remember much of the last ten years but I'm looking forward to the memories I'll have in the next ten."

Yet it was too late to make amends. On June 8, 1995, Mantle underwent a liver transplant to replace the one he had done so much damage to. Beset by cancer, hepatitis, and cirrhosis, the transplant was a success, but the cancer had spread beyond his liver to most of his internal organs. On August 13th, to the shock of much of the American public, Mantle died.

Career Statistics

Yr Team AVG GP AB R H HR RBI BB SO SB E
NYY: New York Yankees.
1951 NYY .267 96 341 61 91 13 65 43 74 8 6
1952 NYY .311 142 549 94 171 23 87 75 111 4 14
1953 NYY .295 127 461 105 136 21 92 79 90 8 6
1954 NYY .300 146 543 129 163 27 102 102 107 5 9
1955 NYY .306 147 517 121 158 37 99 113 97 8 2
1956 NYY .353 150 533 132 188 52 130 112 99 10 4
1957 NYY .365 144 474 121 173 34 94 146 75 16 7
1958 NYY .304 150 519 127 158 42 97 129 120 18 8
1959 NYY .285 144 541 104 154 31 75 93 126 21 2
1960 NYY .275 153 527 110 145 40 94 111 125 14 3
1961 NYY .317 153 514 132 163 54 128 126 112 12 6
1962 NYY .321 123 377 96 121 30 89 122 78 9 5
1963 NYY .314 65 172 40 54 15 35 40 32 2 1
1964 NYY .303 143 465 92 141 35 111 99 102 6 5
1965 NYY .255 122 361 44 92 19 46 73 76 4 6
1966 NYY .288 108 333 40 96 23 56 57 76 1 0
1967 NYY .245 144 440 63 108 22 55 107 113 1 8
1968 NYY .237 144 435 57 103 18 54 106 97 6 15
TOTAL .298 2401 8102 1677 2415 536 1509 1733 1710 153 107

The contribution of Mickey Mantle to the game of baseball, and the memories he gave fans of the game, are without equal. Many would argue that he was one of the greatest baseball players ever, and undoubtedly, one of the best of his generation.

SELECTED WRITINGS BY MANTLE:

(With Ben Epstein) The Mickey Mantle Story, Holt, 1953.

(With Whitey Ford) Whitey and Mickey: A Joint Autobiography of the Yankee Years, New American Library, 1978.

(With Herb Gluck) The Mick, Doubleday, 1985.

(With Phil Pepe) My Favorite Summer, 1956, Doubleday, 1991.

With Mickey Herskowitz) All My Octobers, Harper Collins, 1994.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Berger, Phil. Mickey Mantle. New York: Park Lane, 1998.

Castro, Tony. Mickey Mantle: America's Prodigal Son. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, Inc., 2002.

Creamer, Robert W, and Sports Illustrated. Mantle Remembered. Sports Illustrated Presents. New York: Warner, 1995.

Falkner, David. The Last Hero: The Life of Mickey Mantle. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Honig, Donald. Mays, Mantle, Snider. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

Mantle, Merlyn, Mickey Mantle Jr., David Mantle, and Dan Mantle. A Hero All His Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

Mantle, Mickey and Ben Epstein. The Mickey Mantle Story. New York: Holt, 1953.

Mantle, Mickey and Whitey Ford. Whitey and Mickey: A Joint Autobiography of the Yankee Years. New York: New American Library, 1978.

Mantle, Mickey and Mickey Herskowitz. All My Octobers. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Mantle, Mickey and Herb Gluck. The Mick. New York: Doubleday, 1985.

Mantle, Mickey and Phil Pepe. My Favorite Summer, 1956. New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Netley, John. Mickey Mantle: The Unauthorized Biography. Melville, NY: Personality Comics, 1992.

Shapiro, Herb. Mickey Mantle and the Yankee's Greatest Decade, 1951-1961. San Diego: Revolutionary Comics, 1992.

Schoor, Gene. The Illustrated History of Mickey Mantle. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1996.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.

Periodicals

Life (July 30, 1965): 47-53.

Look (February 23, 1965): 71-75.

Newsweek (June 25, 1956): 63-67.

Newsweek (August 14, 1961): 42-46.

New York Times (August 14, 1995): 1A.

People (August 28, 1995): 76.

Washington Post (August 14, 1995): 1A.

Other

"Mickey Mantle." http://www.baseball-reference.com/(November 10, 2002).

"Mickey Mantle." http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary/ (November 10, 2002).

FBI Documents Pertaining to Mickey Mantle. http://foia.fbi.gov/mantle/mantle.pdf/ (November 10, 2002).

Sketch by Eric Lagergren

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Lagergren, Eric. "Mantle, Mickey." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 30 Aug. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Lagergren, Eric. "Mantle, Mickey." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (August 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900358.html

Lagergren, Eric. "Mantle, Mickey." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Retrieved August 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900358.html

Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle

"The Mick," switch-hitting Mickey Mantle (1932-1995) won four home-run championships, a Triple Crown, and three most valuable player awards during his 18-year career with the New York Yankees.

Mickey Charles Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, to Elvin ("Mutt") and Lowell Mantle. A former semi-pro baseball player, Mutt Mantle was so fond of baseball he named his first child after Detroit Tigers catcher Mickey Cochrane. Mickey was barely out of diapers before he was practicing baseball with his father. Mutt believed that the only way to excel in the major leagues was as a switch-hitter, so he taught his son to swing from both sides of the plate. Mickey would use his natural right-handed swing against his left-handed father, then would turn around and bat left-handed against his right-handed grandfather.

Signed with the Yankees while in High School

Mantle played baseball and basketball at his high school in Commerce, Oklahoma and was also a star halfback on the football team. During one game, however, he was kicked in the leg and developed osteomyelitis, a bone marrow disease that would affect his future baseball career. While playing high school baseball, Mantle impressed New York Yankee scout Tom Greenwade, who signed him to a contract of $140 a week with a $1500 bonus—a bargain even in the days of low salaries in professional sports.

Mantle reported to the Yankees' minor league team in Independence, Kansas, in 1949 as a switch-hitting shortstop. After two years in the minor leagues, the Yankees invited him to their major league spring training camp. He earned a place on the roster, and the New York media soon began comparing him to Babe Ruth and other past Yankee greats. Only 19 years old and two years out of high school, Mantle did not immediately live up to the public's high expectations. He started slowly in his new position—right field—and was sent back briefly to the minors. Mantle's first year in the majors was marred by inconsistent play and jeering from fans both in New York and around the league. His difficulties continued when, early in 1952, Mutt Mantle died of Hodgkin's disease at the age of 39. Mantle had been very close to his father, and he took the death hard.

Mantle was moved to center field when Joe DiMaggio retired from the Yankees following the 1951 season. He began to adjust to big-league play, and in 1952 batted .311 with 23 home runs and 87 runs batted in (RBIs). That season Mantle began to establish himself as one of baseball's premier power hitters. During one game against the Washington Senators, Mantle hit a ball completely out of Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. Measured at 565 feet, the home run is believed to be the longest ever hit. The New York Yankees won the American League pennant and World Series during each of Mantle's first three seasons, from 1951 to 1953. During the 1952 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Mantle batted .345 with two home runs. In the 1953 Series, again against the Dodgers, he batted only .208, but hit two more home runs.

Led the Yankees in the 50s

Mantle's talents led the Yankees as they dominated the American League throughout the late 1950s. They won the pennant each year from 1955 to 1958, taking the World Series in 1956 and 1958. Mantle became a genuine super-star in 1956 when he won baseball's Triple Crown, with a. 353 batting average, 52 home runs, and 130 RBIs. He was also selected the American League's most valuable player (MVP). In 1957 he hit .365 and was again named the league MVP.

Mantle's success at the plate continued as the Yankees remained strong well into the 1960s. After losing the pennant to the Chicago White Sox in 1959, the Yankees came back to win it the next five seasons, joined by new stars such as Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, Ryne Duren, Bill Skowron, and Roger Maris. Mantle captured the home run title again in 1960 with 40 round-trippers, and he led the competition for the title again in 1961—the most dramatic home run season in the history of the game. By early August Mantle already had hit 43 home runs and Maris 42. The record for home runs in a season was held by the legendary Baby Ruth, who had blasted 60 in 1927. Although Mantle ended the year with 54 home runs (his all-time high), Maris hit 61 homers and established the new all-time record.

Mantle continued to excel even though his legs hurt most of the time from the osteomyelitis and other injuries. In 1962 he was named American League MVP for the third time. Although the Yankees continued to win pennants, their days of glory were waning. They lost the 1963 World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers and were swept in the 1964 World Series by the St. Louis Cardinals. By 1965 the Yankees' heyday was finished. Mantle became frustrated with his pain and with his many strikeouts. During the 1965 season he said, "It isn't any fun when things are like this. I'm only 33, but I feel like 40." Mantle continued to play through the 1968 season; he announced his retirement in the spring of 1969.

Elected to Hall of Fame

Mantle left the Yankees with many great achievements. In addition to hitting 536 lifetime home runs, he led the American League in homers four times and was chosen as its most valuable player three times. He is one of only a few players to win a Triple Crown. He played on 12 pennant winning and seven World Series-winning teams. He still holds the all-time record for home runs in World Series play (18) as well as numerous other World Series records. As much as DiMaggio before him, Mantle symbolized the Yankees and their dominance of baseball. In 1974 Mantle was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, an honor bestowed on few players in the history of the sport.

After retiring from baseball, Mantle pursued a business career, opening a restaurant franchise and dabbling in public relations for an Atlantic City casino. He also made appearances to sign autographs and play in celebrity golf tournaments. His experience in television commercials and small film roles led to occasional stints providing color commentary for televised Yankees games. His career and personal life had been marred by alcoholism, however.

Years of Heavy Drinking Took Their Toll

Mantle had married Merlyn, who was a bank employee, in the 1950s and had they four sons—David, Danny, Billy, and Mickey, Jr. Mantle was absent for much of their childhood, however, and had a reputation for his drinking and all-night carousing. He and his wife separated in 1988. Their son Billy died of heart failure in March of 1994 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, the same illness that had taken Mantle's father and grandfather at an early age and that Mantle thought would eventually afflict him as well. He would face a different fate, though. Earlier in 1994 Mantle had stayed at the Betty Ford clinic to treat his alcoholism, but it was too late—his liver was damaged from years of heavy drinking. He was diagnosed with cirrhosis, hepatitis, and cancer of the liver. Although he underwent a liver transplant in June of 1995, the cancer had spread to most of his internal organs and Mantle died on August 13, 1995.

Epitomizing home run power greater than any man's since Babe Ruth, Mantle's name was on the lips of every would-be slugger on the sandlots of America during the 1950s and 1960s. Mantle's outstanding abilities and courage in the face of pain made him a hero to a generation of youngsters and adults alike.

Further Reading

Gallagher, Mark, Explosion! Mickey Mantle's Legendary Home Runs, Arbor House, 1987.

Mantle, Mickey, Education of a Ball Player, Simon & Schuster, 1967.

Mantle, Mickey, and Herb Glick, The Mick, Doubleday, 1985.

Mantle, Mickey, and Ben Epstein, The Mickey Mantle Story, Holt, 1953.

Schaap, Dick, Mickey Mantle: The Indispensable Yankee, Bartholomew House, 1961.

Schoor, Gene, Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, Putnam, 1959.

Silverman, Al, Mickey Mantle, Mister Yankee, Putnam, 1963.

Life, July 30, 1965, pp. 47-53.

Look, February 23, 1965, pp. 71-75; March 18, 1969, pp. 29-32.

Newsweek, June 25, 1956, pp. 63-67; August 14, 1961, pp. 42-46.

New York Times, August 14, 1995, p. 1A.

People, August 28, 1995, p. 76.

Washington Post, August 14, 1995, p. 1A. □

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Mantle, Mickey

Mickey Mantle

Born: October 20, 1931
Spavinaw, Oklahoma
Died: August 13, 1995
Dallas, Texas

American baseball player

Baseball player Mickey Mantle (known as "the Mick") won four home-run championships, a Triple Crown (highest batting average, most home runs, and most RBIs [runs batted in] in one season), and three Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards during his eighteen-year career with the New York Yankees.

Early years

Mickey Charles Mantle was born on October 20, 1931, in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, to Elvin ("Mutt") and Lovell Richardson Mantle. A former semi-pro (professional but independent of Major League Baseball) baseball player, Mutt Mantle named his first child after Detroit Tigers catcher Mickey Cochrane. Mickey was barely out of diapers before he was practicing baseball with his father. Mutt taught his son to be a switch-hitter: Mickey would use his natural right-handed swing against his left-handed father and then turn around and bat left-handed against his right-handed grandfather.

Mantle played baseball, basketball, and football at his high school in Commerce, Oklahoma. During one game, however, he was kicked in the leg and developed osteomyelitis, a bone disease that would later affect his baseball career. Mantle attracted the attention of New York Yankee scout Tom Greenwade, who signed him to a contract of $140 a week with a $1,500 signing bonus.

Quick rise to the majors

Mantle reported to the Yankees' minor league team in Independence, Kansas, in 1949 as a shortstop. After two years in the minor leagues, the Yankees invited him to their major league training camp. He earned a place on the roster, and the New York media soon began comparing him to Babe Ruth (18951948) and other past Yankee greats. Only nineteen years old and two years out of high school, Mantle did not immediately live up to the hype. He started slowly in his new positionright fieldand was sent back to the minor leagues. Mantle's difficulties continued when, in 1952, his father died of Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer, at the age of thirty-nine. Mantle had been very close to his father, and he took the death hard.

Mantle was moved to center field when Joe DiMaggio (19141999) retired from the Yankees following the 1951 season. He began to adjust to big-league play, and in 1952 he batted .311 with 23 home runs and 87 RBIs. That season Mantle began to establish himself as one of baseball's best home-run hitters. During one game against the Washington Senators, Mantle hit a ball completely out of Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. Measured at 565 feet, it is believed to be the longest home run ever hit. The New York Yankees won the World Series during each of Mantle's first three seasons, from 1951 to 1953. During the 1952 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Mantle batted .345 with two home runs. In the 1953 Series, again against the Dodgers, he batted only .208 but hit two more home runs.

Continued success

Mantle's talents led the Yankees as they ruled throughout the late 1950s. They won the American League pennant each year from 1955 to 1958, taking the World Series in 1956 and 1958. Mantle became a genuine superstar in 1956 when he won baseball's Triple Crown, with a .353 batting average, 52 home runs, and 130 RBIs. He was also selected the American League's MVP. In 1957 he hit .365 and was again named the league MVP.

Mantle's success at the plate continued as the Yankees remained strong well into the 1960s. After losing the pennant to the Chicago White Sox in 1959, the team came back to win it the next five seasons, joined by new stars such as Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, Bill Skowron, and Roger Maris. Mantle captured the home run title again in 1960, and he led the competition for the title again in 1961one of the most dramatic home run seasons in the history of the game. By early August Mantle already had hit 43 home runs, while Maris, his teammate, had 42. The record for home runs in a season was held by Babe Ruth, who had blasted 60 in 1927. Although Mantle ended the year with 54 home runs (his all-time high), Maris hit 61 homers and established the new all-time record (later broken by Mark McGwire in 1998, then Barry Bonds in 2001).

Mantle continued to excel even though his legs hurt most of the time from the osteomyelitis and other injuries. In 1962 he was named American League MVP for the third time. Although the Yankees continued to win pennants, their days of glory were coming to an end. They lost the 1963 World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the 1964 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. By 1965 the Yankees's run was over. Mantle became unhappy with his pain and with his many strikeouts. During the 1965 season he said, "It isn't any fun when things are like this. I'm only thirty-three, but I feel like forty." Mantle continued to play through the 1968 season; he announced his retirement in the spring of 1969.

Later years

Mantle left the Yankees with many great achievements. In addition to hitting 536 lifetime home runs, he led the American League in homers four times and was chosen as its most valuable player three times. He is one of only a few players to win a Triple Crown. He played on twelve pennant-winning and seven World Series-winning teams. He still holds the all-time record for home runs in World Series play (18) as well as numerous other World Series records. Mantle was a symbol of the Yankees and their greatness. In 1974 he was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot (a list of players who are eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame).

After retiring from baseball, Mantle pursued a business career, opening a restaurant and working in public relations for a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He also made appearances to sign autographs and play in golf tournaments. His experience in television commercials and small film roles led to a job as a broadcaster for televised Yankees games. His career and personal life was marred by alcoholism, however.

Mantle had married Merlyn, a bank employee, in the 1950s, and they had four sons. Mantle was absent for much of their childhood, however, and he had a reputation for his all-night drinking. He and his wife separated in 1988. Their son Billy died of heart failure in March 1994 after being treated for Hodgkin's disease, the same illness that had taken Mantle's father and grandfather. Earlier in 1994 Mantle learned that his years of heavy drinking had left him with hepatitis (a swelling of the liver) and liver cancer. Although he received a liver transplant in June 1995, the cancer had spread to other organs, and Mantle died on August 13. His outstanding abilities and courage in the face of pain made him a hero to a generation of youngsters and adults alike.

For More Information

Castro, Tony. Mickey Mantle: America's Prodigal Son. Washington, DC: Brassey's, 2002.

Gallagher, Mark. Explosion! Mickey Mantle's Legendary Home Runs. New York: Arbor House, 1987.

Mantle, Mickey, and Herb Glick. The Mick. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985.

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Mantle, Mickey

Mickey Mantle (Mickey Charles Mantle), 1931–95, American baseball player, b. Spavinaw, Okla. In 1951, he joined the New York Yankees of the American League; eventually he replaced Joe DiMaggio in center field. A powerful and speedy switch-hitter, Mantle had a total of 536 regular-season home runs, and a lifetime batting average of .298. His 18 home runs in World Series play remains a record. He was voted the league's Most Valuable Player in 1956 (when he won the triple crown, leading the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in), in 1957 (when he hit a career-high .365), and in 1962. In 1961 he and teammate Roger Maris both threatened Babe Ruth's single-season record of 60 home runs; Mantle, slowed by an injury, finished with 54, while Maris hit 61. Retiring in 1968, Mantle entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974. His career was hampered by osteomyelitis of his left leg and by various injuries. Another problem, his alcoholism, contributed to his death from liver cancer. In the last months of his life he received a liver transplant, and spurred efforts to increase public awareness of transplant therapy.

See biographies by T. Castro (2002) and J. Leavy (2010); A. Barra, Mickey and Willie (2013).

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