Between the eight-bajillion-foot home runs, the otherworldly ability to perform with injuries that would lay up a mere mortal for months, and absurd winning percentage, Mickey Mantle was one mythical dude.
But regardless of his level of mythicism, the man they called the Commerce Comet was still flesh and blood, and where there’s flesh and blood, there are facts. Here’s some stuff about The Mick of which you might not be aware.
Pops to the Rescue
Baseball is a game of failure, but when the failures become more frequent, it can weigh on anyone, even a myth like Mickey. When Mantle played for the minor league Independence Yankees in 1949, he was slumping so badly that he called his dad, Elvin, and told him he was done with baseball.
When his father Elvin drove to Kansas to see his son, young Mantle assumed they’d hop in the car, head back to Oklahoma, and start all over again, with nary a bad word to be heard.
Not so much.
Rather than rescue Mick, Elvin said, “Okay, if that’s all the guts you’ve got, you might as well come home with me right now and work in the mines.”
That’s all the switch-hitting 17-year-old had to hear. That season, he posted an average of .313 with 7 homers in 89 games, and never looked back.
By the time Mantle hung up his spikes for good, he was considered not only one of the best switch hitters in MLB history, but also one of the game’s finest center fielders. But he didn’t always roam the outfield. Before Mick landed in the big leagues, he was a shortstop.
But not a good one.
As an 18-year-old with the Joplin Miners, Mantle made a whopping 55 errors in 137 games. Legendary manager Casey Stengel took the young slugger off the position, saying “I’m gonna teach him how to play center field…and I don’t want to see him at shortstop again.”
There are things that just go together. Peanut butter and jelly. The 1990s and JNCO jeans. And Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees. But what if he didn’t play for the Bronx Bombers? Ugh, that’s a terrible thought…but it could’ve been a thing.
Yankee fans can thank Mother Nature for his career in pinstripes. Before Mantle inked with the Yanks, a scout brought the young slugger (and lousy shortstop) to St. Louis for a tryout. He never took the field, though, and went back home to Oklahoma without being valuated. Why?