Mantle was charisma defined
By Larry Schwartz
Special to

"When he couldn't play ball anymore a whole generation felt older. When he got cancer a whole generation felt the fear of death," said author Roger Kahn about Mickey Mantle on ESPN's SportsCentury show (Friday, May 7, 10:30 p.m. ET). The charismatic Mantle, who belted 536 homers in his 18-year career, was voted No. 37 among North American athletes of the 20th century by SportsCentury's distinguished 48-person panel.


April 17, 1952 -- It was the fifth inning at Griffith Stadium. At the plate was the 21-year-old Mantle, batting right-handed against left-hander Chuck Stobbs, making his first appearance for the Washington Senators.

 Mickey Mantle
Mickey Mantle's legend was greater than his statistics.

Yankees' announcer Mel Allen made the call: "Here's the pitch ... Mantle swings ... there's a tremendous drive going into deep left field! It's going, going, it's over the bleachers and over the sign atop the bleachers into the yards of houses across the street! It's got to be one of the longest home runs I've ever seen hit. How about that!"

Mantle's awesome blast, his first homer of the season, was estimated at 565 feet by Arthur Patterson of the Yankees' front-office staff. Patterson paid the 10-year-old boy who retrieved the ball $5 for it and then gave the ball to Mantle.

The drive was the first of the tape-measure homers. Many consider it the farthest that any baseball has ever traveled. One of them was Clark Griffith, the Senators' 83-year-old president.

"No doubt about it, that was the longest home run ever hit in the history of baseball," Griffith says.


Besides holding the World Series record for most homers (18), Mantle also leads in RBI (40), runs (42), total bases (123), walks (43) and strikeouts (54). His batting average in 65 games was .257.

In his two seasons in the minors, Mantle was a shortstop, making 47 and 55 errors, respectively. But he was a terror at the plate, batting .317 in 1949 and .383 with 26 homers and 136 RBI in 1950. Yankees manager Casey Stengel switched him to the outfield in spring training 1951.

Mantle's first major league homer was off Chicago's Randy Gumpert on May 1, 1951. His last homer was off Boston's Jim Lonborg on Sept. 20, 1968.

When Mantle was returned to the minors in 1951 and struggled his first week, he told his father he was thinking about quitting. Mantle expected sympathy. Instead, Mutt began packing Mick's bags. He told his son he was a quitter and that he could go work back home in the mines. Mickey changed his mind, and in his next game, broke out of his slump.

In Mantle's first full season with the Yankees (1952), he fanned a league-leading 111 times. When the hot-tempered Mantle took out his frustration on the water cooler after one strikeout, Stengel advised him, "That water cooler ain't striking you out, son."

In the 1952 World Series, with the Yankees trailing the Brooklyn Dodgers three games to two, Mantle homered in Games 6 and 7. His sixth-inning homer in the final game broke a 2-2 tie and the Yankees won 4-2.

Mantle had more than 100 strikeouts eight times, five times leading the league. He finished with 1,710 strikeouts, with a career-worst of 126 in 1959.

He had more than 100 walks 10 times, leading the league five times. He finished with 1,734 walks, with a career-high of 146 in 1957.

Mantle led the league in runs six times between 1954 and 1961, with a career-best of 132 in 1956 and 1961.

His 1,509 RBI were a record for a switch-hitter until broken by Eddie Murray in 1992.

Selected to play in 20 All-Star Games, Mantle appeared in 16 and batted .233 with two homers and four RBI.

He was clocked in 3.1 seconds from home to first base. Though one of the fastest players in the game in his prime, the Yankees preferred that he didn't run. He stole 153 bases in his career, with a high of 21 in 1959.

In his last seven seasons, Mantle never started more than 132 games because of injuries. He played first base his final two years to make it easier on his legs. Mantle began drinking after he came to New York. He said he did it out of shyness, boredom and pain.

Mantle was friends with Bobby Layne, the star quarterback for the Detroit Lions. It was from Layne that Mantle appropriated the line: "If I had known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself."