Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle

(1931-1995)

DJ Name: Tricky Mickey

A man of many names: “The Commerce Comet,” “The Mick,” “A Great Teammate” and, to us, “Tricky Mickey.” This man gave everyone 100% reason to remember his name: Mickey Mantle, a grand slam of a baseball player. 

So why have one walk up song when you can have a whole playlist:

Born in Oklahoma during the Great Depression, Mickey started tossin’ the ball around with his pops right after he slid out of the womb in 1931. His dad, Mutt, had spent time as a semi-pro baseball player, and he was a pro at convincing his wife, Lovell, that they should name their first child after the Detroit Tigers’ catcher, Mickey Cochrane. Being a baseball aficionado, he also encouraged his son to pick up the bat right off the bat. Mutt was left-handed, and he would throw the ball to Mickey for him to hit with his right hand. Then his grandpa would throw the ball with his right hand, and Mickey would hit it with his left. In #sports they call this being a switch-hitter, and we are very knowledgeable about #sports. 

So as Mickey grew up and improved his baseball skills, he took to the sandlot after school and on the weekends (with no sight of The Beast — lucky for the Beast, honestly). Kids from the neighborhood picked their teams, laced up their shoes and hey batta batta’d most afternoons. This was little league before little league officially started in 1939. Even then in addition to playing a little league shortstop, Micky found himself at the sandlot. 

Sometimes Mickey’s ragtag group of hitters would scrimmage one of the local semi-pro teams. Crowds gathered, fresh franks sizzled on grills and bets were placed. Well, that’s more of a romanticized idea. They were living during a Depression after all —  the Great Depression. So, the folks who came to watch were families from their town and towns over looking for some free entertainment during their days off from, mainly, mine work. This group included Mutt, his biggest fan, who worked a backbreaking job in the Eagle-Picher company’s lead and zinc mines. #Sports were their escape from an often brutal reality. 

In addition to baseball, Mickey had a side hustle colloquially known as football during his teen years. But, during his freshman year of high school, Mickey was kicked in the lower leg by some random. Mickey’s ankle had swollen to three times its normal size and he developed a 104 degree fever. Because of the severity of the injury, he was diagnosed with osteomyelitis which was an infection of his bone. The first doctor wanted to amputate Mickey’s foot, but his parents did not believe that was the only solution. So they went to see a second doctor who prescribed Mickey eight shots a day of a brand new drug called Penicillin. He was healed within a week, but his football career was over. As this may have been his endzone for touchdowns and interceptions, it was only his beginning for home runs and base steals. 

This shortstop was a show stopper after recovering from his injury. Mickey was ballin’ in a semi-pro league. His team was called “Magic Mickey and the Wiz Kids.” Jk. The team was actually the Baxter Spring Whiz Kids. So, close enough. This team was made up of local miners, former high school stars and even a former minor league player. His teammate, Billy Johnson, was being scouted by the New York Yankees. Tom Greenwade traveled from the Big Apple to see Billy, but it didn’t take many innings for him to notice Mickey, the 16 year old shortstop who caught balls, hit homers and slid to safety. Mickey, being the switch-hitter he was, hit two home runs that game: one with his left hand and one with his right. Tom was starry eyed watching Mickey, and approached him after the game to say: “Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin. You came to win…how would you like to go win a World Series with the New York Yankees?”

Tricky Mickey earned a Pinstripe uniform and his dad, Mutt, was right by his side as Tom extended him this offer to go pro after he graduated from high school. Hours in the backyard had paid off. After graduating, Greenwade extended Mickey a contract to play for the Yankees’ Class D minor league team in Independence, Kansas. He was making money moves with a $1,500 signing bonus and $140 a week. Mickey excelled in the minors, and during the off season he would return home to work with his dad at the zinc and lead mine. While home, he met his soon to be wife Merlyn, who wrote, “I developed an instant crush on Mickey Mantle, and by our second or third date, I was in love with him and always would be.” They married in 1951, just after his rookie year with the Yankees finished. 

Mickey got the call to the majors in September 1950 at the age of 18. He rode the bench most of the time, but traveled and trained with the team. From the bench, surrounded by greats like Joe DiMaggio, he also witnessed greats like Yogi Berra (not bear) from a front row view. In the spring of 1951, DiMaggio retired and Mickey was asked to step up to the plate — literally — and he played his first major league game on April 17, 1951 at Yankee Stadium against none other than the Boston Red Sox. Mickey performed well in the majors for the first bit of the spring, but then hit a slump which prompted management to send him back to the minors to strengthen his skills.

However, while in the minors, Mickey was striking out. He called his dad, distraught at how badly he was playing, and wanted to quit. Mutt hung up on him and hopped in his car, drove to Kansas City and spoke with Mickey in person. The conversation went a little like your classic dad and son disagreement: 

Mutt: How could you throw away your dream?

Mickey: No, Dad. I’m throwing away yours.

(Okay, we were being dramatic there). 

Basically Mutt told him to shut up because he didn’t raise a coward who quit. Mutt recognized that Mickey was extremely talented, and he wasn’t going to let his son, who dedicated so much time, energy and heart to this game, quit because he hit a rough patch he hadn’t before faced. Mickey decided to give the game another go. And thank goodness he did because by late August of 1951, Mickey had a .351 batting average and hit 11 home runs. Now, in #sports (specifically baseball) that means he is a good batter — well, an excellent batter. Over 300 is considered excellent according to our reliable #sports source* (*Wikipedia).  

He returned to the Yankees, and started wearing the #7 on his jersey but was #1 in our hearts. He was moved to the position of center field and began to establish himself as a hall of fame contender. The New York Yankees won the World Series during his first three seasons with the team from 1951 – 1953. The Yankees were dethroned of their World Series title in 1954 by the New York Giants, but won again in 1956 and 1958. Mickey Mantle won baseball’s Triple Crown in 1956. The Triple Crown title means he led the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in (which means he hit the ball and because of that, a teammate scored. Teamwork makes the dreamwork). He had hit 52 home runs, 130 runs batted in and had a batting average of .353. And just think, he almost quit because he fell into a funk during his first few months in the big leagues. Thank goodness Mutt talked some sense into him, proving the age old adage, a Mutt’s bark is bigger than his bite.

Mutt didn’t live to see Mickey win the Triple Crown, but he did see the Yankees win their first World Series in 1951. However, in 1952, Mutt fell ill with Hodgkin’s disease. He passed away at the age of 39. The man who taught Mickey the game was gone, but he didn’t stop playing. If anything, he grew bigger and better. Throughout the ‘50s and into the ‘60s, the Yankees, with leadership from The Mick, stayed at the top of the ranks. Mantle was named MVP in 1956, 1957 and for a third time in 1962. There were so many achievements to celebrate often. Pennant wins, “it’s out of here!” home runs, World Series championships and MVP awards. Mickey often celebrated a little too much by overindulging in alcohol on “Any Ol’ Barstool” and with women while his wife, Merlyn, was at home with their four kids. The drinking didn’t just correlate with celebration, though. Mickey oftentimes abused alcohol, and continued to do so for the rest of his life

By the mid-1960s, Mickey’s legs grew achy because of the lasting effects of his childhood diagnosis of osteomyelitis and his alcohol abuse continued. Mickey retired from the game in 1969. He hit 536 home runs — with his left and right hands — throughout his career. Mickey ‘The Mick’ Mantle was ultimately inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974. The #7 was retired by the Yankees. 

Near the end of his life, Mickey was diagnosed with hepatitis and liver cancer. He received a liver transplant in 1995, but sadly passed away on August 13 that same year — 25 years to this day — at the age of 63. The #7 hangs proudly retired in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park, memorializing the man who ambidextrously knocked ‘em out of the park. 

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