Former New York Yankees Hall of Famer and your dad’s — or at this point maybe your grandpa’s — favorite player, Mickey Mantle, is speaking to children from beyond the grave. In a handwritten letter now up for auction at Leland’s, the Mick implores kids to not make the same mistakes he famously did during his career.
(Note: the best Mickey Mantle story I know is at the end of this column, but no skipping ahead!)
“Please Don’t Do Alcohol & Drugs”
In addition to being an atrocious speller, the superstar center fielder was a notorious abuser of alcohol throughout his playing career. The Mick’s exploits on the field and off are a thing of New York legend, but in his own words, Mantle clearly feels his relationship with the bottle damaged his performance on the field.
“The Best One-Legged Player I Ever Saw Play the Game” – Casey Stengel
Let’s get this straight right away, it’s insane that “I could have done a lot better” rings incredibly true here. Mickey missed a lot of time during his career due to various ailments that began with general weakness in his legs traced to a rare form of paralysis when he was a baby. Mantle suffered from Osteomyelitis or an acute extremely painful bone infection that was localized in his ankle and shin bones and, famously, blew out his right knee tripping on an open drain pipe in game two of the 1952 World Series. Mickey was playing right out of deference to aging Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio, whose pride would not let him cede center field to the young Mantle.
By all accounts, Mantle would never run the same again, yet he was successful in 75% of his attempted career stolen bases, totaling 153. Mantle would miss stretches in his career with an assortment of leg injuries, a strange issue with an abscess that famously cost him the end of his 1961 home-run race with Roger Maris, and various ailments that may or may not have been massive hangovers or ongoing benders.
If you’re not familiar, Mickey Mantle’s numbers are absurd. For his career, Mantle posted a .298/.421/.557 slash line, slugging 536 career home runs, winning three MVP awards, a Triple Crown (leading the league in average, home runs and RBI in the same season), seven World Series titles and made 20 All-Star teams. And he “could have done a lot better.”
Mickey Mantle would tragically concede that, due to his choices and maybe some bum luck, he didn’t feel he measured up to fellow all-time greats Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and DiMaggio. He did.
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“Don’t End Up Over the Hill Before You Even Start to Climb It”
Mickey Mantle sums up his feelings about his career and his alcohol abuse in the close of the letter, once again imploring “Little Leaguers” to do better than he did.
It’s a heartbreaking look at a player later in life expressing his regrets. The entire Mantle family would struggle with substance abuse and related diseases. Mickey lost his son Billy in 1994 to heart disease related to substance abuse, and his son Mickey Jr. succumbed to liver cancer in 2000. Mantle himself would pass away in 1995 following a heroic battle with liver disease that included a liver transplant.
Ultimately this is an interesting but really tragic piece of memorabilia. I can see someone wanting to own this as an artifact, but I can’t see taking a tour of someone’s collection and landing on this. Who would hang this letter on a wall? “Here’s my game-worn Willie Mays jersey, here’s my Hank Aaron bat, and here’s the heartbreaking letter where Mickey Mantle comes to terms with his demons and admits his failings …” Well, maybe a Red Sox fan would …
“For Reasons That No Dry Recitation of Statistics Could Possibly Capture …”
It’s difficult to express exactly what Mickey Mantle meant to my Dad’s generation, people who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s watching him majestically handle center field through their childhood. Bob Costas famously did his able best in delivering Mantle’s eulogy. This is worth a watch if you don’t mind your heartstrings being tugged at and maybe a little reminder of what baseball can do.
If You’ve Read This Far, You Deserve the Best Mickey Mantle Story I Know
In December of 1972, the Yankees were preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Yankee Stadium the following summer. As part of the marketing campaign, the team sent a two-question fill-in survey to former Yankees greats, including Mickey Mantle. The team very innocently asks “I consider the following my outstanding experience at Yankee Stadium:”
Out of all the many moments in an outrageously good career, the Mick answered the survey as only the Mick could. Or would.
“The All-American Boy” wasn’t shy when question two hilariously asked for as much detail as possible on the answer to question one.
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