Mickey Mantle’s legendary power as a Yankee has been replaced by the continuing draw of his name, which lives on decades after the end of his career and life.
What many may not know about the American icon is that Danny and David Mantle, his surviving sons, have always considered him a Hall of Fame dad, too.
On June 24, the Yankees will commemorate the 60th anniversary of Mantle’s 1956 Triple Crown season by giving away 18,000 bobbleheads depicting The Mick wearing a crown and holding three bats, one each for home runs (52), runs batted in (130) and batting average (.353). The bobblehead presale already is close to $100 on eBay.
In a ceremony before the game against the Twins, Danny and David Mantle will be introduced to the fans and perhaps they may get a taste of the ovation their father used to receive during his career and beyond at Old-Timers’ Day.
Mantle’s uniform number, 7, is still is coveted by kids and pros at all levels of the game. “My son never could get it” in Little League, Danny said. “It was always taken. We always asked, even the year before, and they said ‘well, we’ll do what we can do.’ “
Danny, who speaks for the family, is honored that the Nationals’ Bryce Harper, a Mantle devotee, always wanted to wear No. 7 despite not being born until nearly 25 years after Mantle retired during 1969 spring training. During his youth, Harper wore No. 7 until he went to another team and it wasn’t available. He chose No. 34 — 3 plus 4 equals 7 — the number the 2015 National League MVP wears to this day.
As a teenager, Mantle was working in lead mines with his father, Mutt. “He always said his power was from busting the rocks and things from age 15,” Danny said. “I think swinging a sledgehammer every day for eight hours a day, Dad’s forearms looked like Popeye. A lot of your power, that’s where it comes from on a swing.”
“Everybody I talk to in their 60s, they always say every time he came to the plate they can’t remember any other player people would stand up for,” Danny said this week from Plano, Texas. “I guess everybody just assumed he was going to hit one out of the ballpark. He had the power, you just never knew what he was going to do.”
Danny’s childhood memories include visits to spring training, then in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he and his brothers became friends with the other players’ children, especially those of Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. The Mantle children missed their dad on holidays, such as Father’s Day, but no more so than the ballplayer himself.
The death of Elvin “Mutt” Mantle after a struggle with Hodkin’s Disease in March of 1952 at age 40 had a profound effect on Mickey, as did the death of son Billy.
“Dad spent so much time with his own father that he felt like he didn’t spend time with us,” said Danny, 56. “He always made sure the family was taken care of. He loved his kids, he blamed himself when Billy got Hodgkin’s disease. People don’t know that.”
Danny acknowledged his dad’s well-documented nightlife, saying, “Yeah, he did stuff that I know he wished he hadn’t, but he did it. But it didn’t sway him from being a true family person.”
Billy, died of a heart attack at 36 in 1994 and Mickey Jr. was 47 when he died of cancer in 2000.
“Dad was always the one saying ‘I’m a terrible dad,’ ” said Danny. “I’m like ‘man, you’re the only one that thinks that.’ Tony Kubek used to get ticked off and say, ‘Mickey, we’re all on the road. None of us are home.”
Mickey Mantle, who often said he expected to die young, like his father, died of liver cancer on Aug. 13, 1995. He was 63.
Mantle’s sons administer 13 licensed entities attached to their father. The cottage industry ranges from jerseys and figurines to steakhouses in Mantle’s native Oklahoma.
Danny wouldn’t divulge the annual earnings of the enterprise. “Let’s just say it does well,” he said. The Mantle family retains what Danny said were his dad’s most treasured possessions from his career, his Hall of Fame and World Series rings.
On the memorabilia market, ESPN reported that a pristine Topps 1952 Mantle rookie card was sold at auction in Dallas last December for $525,800. An autographed baseball from his Triple Crown season went for close to $5,000. Even the contract on the sale of Mantle’s former home in Dallas went to auction at $2,000 and was sold for more than $7,000.
Broadcaster Bob Costas has carried a 1958 Topps Mantle All-Star card for years. The original is tattered, he said recently, but fans have sent him replacements over the years.
Costas became close to Mantle during the player’s years in retirement. Mantle was seen as “star-crossed,” Costas said. “Yes, he was great, but there was always a what might have been quality about him,” referring to his numerous injuries and failure to take better care of himself. “He was simultaneously one of the greatest players of all time and yet you could always wonder how great he might have been. I think I said in the eulogy there was something poignant about him before we knew what poignant meant.”
At the family home in Dallas during the offseason, Danny remembered backyard baseball and football games with his father. As he did throughout his career, he also played hurt at home. “His knees were a wake-up call in the morning, I could hear him coming down the hall,” Danny said. “It just sounded like it hurt. And during family time he wasn’t Mickey Mantle, he was our dad.”
Autograph seekers often appeared at the front door of Mantle’s house, Danny said. If it was an imposition at that time, the ballplayer learned later on that it was his calling after retirement. “He didn’t like being compared over his teammates,” Danny said. “He didn’t want to look like he was better than anyone else (but) when he was doing the card shows and things he actually got what he meant to people. That’s when it started hitting him. People coming through the line crying, that really touched him. He wrote that meeting people at card shows meant the world to him and he really meant it.”
“He exceeded his qualifications,” Don Larsen said of Mantle’s Triple Crown season. Mantle had a lifetime batting average of .298 — he always regretted not finishing at .300 — but it was off the charts in ‘56 and again in ‘57, when he hit a career high .365 and won his second straight MVP award.
To win the Triple Crown, Mantle beat out Boston’s Ted Williams (.345) for batting average and Detroit’s Al Kaline (128) for RBIs.
“I know it was an uphill battle. I gave it my best effort and came up a couple RBI short,” Kaline said recently from Detroit. Kaline was chasing a player he already greatly admired. “I can’t tell you how great I thought Mickey was,” he said. “I really enjoyed playing against him and being able to be somewhat of a friend of his, someone who had a chance to be around him.”
Mantle, the game’s greatest switch hitter, rarely discussed his exploits. “We (in the Yankees organization) just thought he was supposed to win the Triple Crown,” said former second baseman Bobby Richardson. “We didn’t really think much about it. He’s supposed to do it.”
Shortly after Mantle retired, he attended a youth camp run by Richardson, then the college baseball coach for South Carolina. Richardson remembered talking to a 48-year-old who attended his camp at age 8. “We … asked what it was like having the icon of baseball giving you instruction. He said, ‘well, the one thing I remember he took one swing batting right-handed and he hit the ball out of the park over the football field into the parking lot.’ I also remembered saying ‘wait, stop. He can’t do that. My car’s parked over there.’ “
Former Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry, who grew up near Mantle’s neighborhood in Commerce, Okla., recalled a 1956 evening in Chicago when Mantle was in the mood to openly display his power. “He said, ‘I’ll bet anybody 20 bucks that I can take five swings and put three balls on the roof at Comiskey Park.’ A bunch of guys took him up on it, I didn’t. Sure enough, he took five swings and put three balls on the roof and collected a fistful of 20s. I thought in ‘56 that he was the greatest player that ever lived. I couldn’t think of anybody being better.”
Too bad Terry wasn’t around the year before when Mantle, batting right-handed, hit a Billy Pierce fastball that traveled 550 feet and either cleared the Comiskey Park roof or bounced off it. A parking lot attendant recovered the ball.
Ford, 87, the Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher, agreed with Terry about Mantle’s power. “He hit the ball further than anybody I ever saw,” he said by phone from his home in Great Neck, N.Y. “He wasn’t that big a guy. He had a nice build and all, but I’m sure he hit them longer than anyone. Very strong. He really was great, a great player and fun to play with. I know he hit a lot of home runs for me.”
Danny Mantle said the only thing his dad did better than playing baseball was being a father. ‘To me,” Danny Mantle said, “There was no one bigger than my dad.”