He was born to be a ballplayer - his father named him after the Athletic and Tiger great Mickey Cochrane, and taught him how to switch hit when he was a young lad. He and Yogi Berra were the twin engines on the superb Yankee squads that won pennants every year from 1949 to 1964, except for 1954 and 1959. One of only a handful of players to win three MVP Awards (Berra, DiMag, Mike Schmidt, Barry Bonds, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial and Roy Campanella are the others), Mantle also finished second three times (two of those times in photo finishes to Roger Maris; he should probably have won both those races).
A superstar of the highest order, he was a multi-talented offensive threat. The greatest switch-hitter of all time belted 536 home runs over his career - 373 left-handed and 163 right-handed.
Although he was well-known for his tape-measure blasts, in his youth Mantle could go from home to first in 3.1 seconds - faster than anyone else in the majors - and it was exceedingly difficult to throw him out on drag bunts from the left side. He stole 153 bases in his career against just 38 CS.
An arrested case of osteomyelitis resulted in numerous injuries and frequent surgery, and took most of his speed away from him; in fact, he stole 124 bases before his thirtieth birthday and just 29 bases after. Even more tellingly, Mantle hit 49 triples in the first seven years of his career, 23 in the last 11.
Mantle won the American League home run and slugging titles four times each, collected 2,415 hits over his career, and batted .300 or more 10 times. He won three MVP awards and was named to 20 All-Star teams. He was at his best during the World Series - he holds numerous records. Mantle played on 12 pennant winners and seven World Championship clubs. He holds World Series records for home runs (18), RBI (40), runs (42), walks (43), extra-base hits (26), and total bases (123). In his final World Series in 1964 he had three homers and eight RBI and batted .333.
He arrived in New York in 1951, in a whirlwind of unbridled expectations. He made headlines with great play at an "instructional school" the Yankees conducted in 1951 and then in spring training, which included a highly publicized barnstorming tour of the West Coast. Only 19, Mantle was hot, but he fizzled in New York. The Yankees sent him to their top farm club at Kansas City, but he continued to struggle. Finally, it was a visit from his father - Mutt Mantle - that turned him around; after the brief family reunion, Mantle lifted his average to .361 and whacked 11 HR in just 166 at-bats. He returned to New York and played alongside the soon-to-retire Joe DiMaggio, and ended up with a respectable (.267,13 HR, 65 RBI) rookie season. He took over Dago's spot in center field, and in many respects surpassed the legendary Yankee outfielder.
When Maris joined the Yankees, the two were known as the M&M boys and thrilled fans with their home run chase of Babe Ruth's record in 1961. While Maris was a good home run hitter - basically a line drive hitter in a ballpark suited to his swing - Mantle was a pure slugger. He reached the gothic wrought-iron facade that hung from the old stadium's roof five times. In addition to his widely remembered shots of May 30, 1956, when only the top 18 inches of the right-field facade kept the ball in the park, and May 22, 1963, when the ball was still rising when it hit the facade a few feet from the top, Mantle struck the same right-field facade on August 7, 1955, against Detroit; on May 5, 1956, against Kansas City; and on June 23, 1957, against the White Sox.
During the first years of his career, Mantle was treated harshly by the fans and press in New York, but in 1960, thanks in part to the press, a different perception of him emerged. He was suddenly seen as someone who played through pain and played to win. Already popular with his teammates, he became enormously popular with the fans.
Mantle's drawing power was due to his hitting, but when he was healthy he was also an excellent defensive outfielder. He was lightning-fast, with a strong and accurate arm.
"If I had played my career hitting singles like Pete [Rose], I'd wear a dress."
- Mickey Mantle
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