New York 500 Club: Mickey Mantle

Updated: June 2, 2010, 5:24 PM ET

As Alex Rodriguez chases 600 home runs -- and beyond -- ESPNNewYork.com looks back at the seven sluggers in the 500 Home Run Club most associated with the Big Apple, either because they played their prime years with New York teams or hit No. 500 in a local uniform.

Overview

Mickey Mantle was a former Major League Baseball player. Mantle played for the New York Yankees for 18 seasons and is widely considered one of the greatest switch-hitters of all-time. Mantle won seven World Series championships during his time in the Bronx and was a three-time American League MVP (1956, 1957, 1962). In 1956, Mantle won the American League Triple Crown with a .353 average, 52 home runs and 130 RBI. He is one of 25 members of the 500 Home Run Club, and his 536 career home runs are the most ever by a switch hitter.

Early Years

[+] EnlargeMickey Mantle
AP PhotoMickey Mantle's home run prowess extended into the postseason, where he hit an all-time record 18 World Series dingers.

Mickey Charles Mantle was born on Oct. 20, 1931 in Spavinaw, Okla. to Elvin Charles and Lovell Mantle. His father, nicknamed "Mutt," wanted his son to play baseball and named him after Philadelphia Athletics Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane.

Mantle moved to Commerce, Okla., where his father forked in lead and zinc mines. After work, Mutt would pitch right-handed while Mantle hit left-handed. Mickey's grandfather, Charlie, would pitch left handed while Mantle hit right-handed. In the Pee Wee League, Mantle started his baseball career behind the plate at the catcher position. At Commerce High School, Mantle played basketball and football along with baseball. In 1946 during football practice, Mantle was kicked in the shin. He suffered a bone infection known as osteomyelitis. Mantle nearly loss his leg to an amputation until he received penicillin, which was new at the time.

Professional Career

Minor Leagues

Mickey Mantle got his professional baseball start with the Baxter Springs Whiz Kids in 1948, a semi-professional team in Kansas. Tom Greenwade, a New York Yankees scout, came to a game one night to check out Mantle's teammate, Billy Johnson. The switch-hitting Mantle hit three home runs in the game, including one from each side of the plate, impressing Greenwade. He returned to convince Mantle to sign after he graduated from high school in 1949. After hitting two more home runs in a game, Mantle signed with the Yankees for a $1,500 bonus and $140 a month for the summer.

Mantle joined the Yankees' minor league team in Independence, Kan. and played shortstop. During a slump in 1949, Mantle was ready to quit baseball and called his father to tell him the news. Mutt drove to Independence and convinced Mantle to keep playing baseball because it was a better option than working in the mines. Mantle took his father's advice and hit .313 for the Independence Yankees.

In 1950 Mantle was promoted to the Class C Joplin Miners. Mantle won the batting title in the Western Association with a .383 average to go with 26 home runs and 136 RBI. Defensively, Mantle struggled with the glove at the shortstop position.

Mantle was invited to the Yankees instructional camp in Phoenix, Az., before the start of the 1951 season. After an impressive spring training, Yankees manager Casey Stengel decided to promote Mantle to the majors instead of sending him to the minors.

New York Yankees

Mantle made his debut with the New York Yankees on April 7, 1951 in right field, alongside Joe DiMaggio in center. He was given jersey number 6, signifying his place as the next great Yankees star after Babe Ruth (#3), Lou Gehrig (#4) and DiMaggio (#5). The Yankees sent Mantle down to the Kansas City Blues, their Triple-A affiliate, in July 1951. After a pep talk from his father, Mantle hit .361 with 11 home runs and 50 RBI before he eventually returned to the Yankees for good, now wearing jersey number 7.

In Mantle's rookie season, the 19-year-old hit .267 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI in 96 games. He wasn't a contributing factor in the Yankees 1951 World Series victory over the New York Giants, appearing in just two games. In Game 2, Mantle injured his knee chasing a fly ball after his spikes got caught in a drainpipe. His knee would cause him pain for the rest of his career but wouldn't impact his performance on the field. During Mantle's hospital stay for his torn knee ligaments, his father was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, which eventually killed him less than a year later.

With DiMaggio retiring, Mantle moved to center field in 1952. In his first full-season in the majors, Mantle finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting after hitting .311 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI. Mantle earned his first selection in the All-Star game as the Yankees repeated as World Series champions over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mantle had 10 hits including two home runs in the seven-game series.

On April 17, 1953, Mantle hit a home run estimated at 565 feet at Griffith Stadium. Mantle's home runs were credited for the sport coining the phrase "tape measure home runs." His 565-foot home run off Chuck Stobbs of the Washington Nationals is still the longest measured blast in baseball history.

Mantle's best season in the majors came in 1956. He won the AL Triple Crown; leading the league in batting average (.353), home runs (52) and runs batted in (130). He was just the second Yankee (Lou Gehrig in 1934) to achieve the rare accomplishment and the seventh American League player in baseball history. Mantle is also the last switch hitter to win the Triple Crown.

Mantle received all 24 first-plate AL MVP votes en route to winning the award for the first time in his career. Mantle also won the Hickok Belt, a trophy awarded to the top professional athlete of the year. In the 1956 World Series, Mantle slugged three home runs including one during Don Larsen's perfect game.

He would repeat as AL MVP in 1957 after hitting .365 and leading the league in walks (146) and runs scored (121). Mantle's on-base percentage of .512 was a career high as he reached base (319) more times than he made outs (312).

Mantle won his fifth World Series as a member of the Yankees in 1958 at the age of 26. He led the league in home runs (42), runs scored (127) and walks (129), while hitting .304. In 1960, Mantle hit .275 with 40 home runs and 94 RBI, finishing second in the AL MVP race behind teammate Roger Maris. Mantle had an outstanding postseason, hitting .400 with three home runs and 11 RBI. The Yankees, however, lost in the World Series in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Mantle hit a career-high 54 home runs in 1961 but finished second again the AL MVP race behind Marris, who hit a then-MLB record 61 home runs. It was one of the most dramatic home run races in baseball history, with two teammates battling to break Babe Ruth's mark of 60 set in 1927. During the 1961 season, Mantle became the highest-paid baseball player, signing a $75,000 contract.

After finishing runner-up in the AL MVP race in back-to-back seasons, Mantle won his third award in 1962 ahead of teammate Bobby Richardson. Mantle hit .321 with 30 home runs and 89 RBI and won a Gold Glove.

Mantle later admitted that he wished he had retired following the 1964 season. He hit .303 with 35 home runs and 111 RBI and finishing second in the AL MVP race. Mantle's career took a sharp decline from 1965-1968 despite being selected to the All-Star team in three of those four seasons. Injuries started to take their toll on Mantle as he moved from the outfield to first base his final two seasons.
In 1967, Mantle became just the 7th player to join the 500 Home Run Club, when he hit his 500th career home run on May 14, 1967 against the Baltimore Orioles.
Mantle finished his career with 536 home runs, which was then third on the all-time home run list behind Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. Ten times in his career, Mantle homered from both sides of the plate. His 18 home runs in the World Series is still a record to this day.

Retirement

Mickey Mantle announced his retirement on March 1, 1969. The New York Yankees retired his number #7 on June 8, 1969. On Mickey Mantle Day, he received a plaque that currently resides in Monument Park. Mantle was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 with teammate and best friend Whitey Ford.

Mantle made the rounds on the sports memorabilia circuit. Mantle took a job wit the Claridge Resort and Casino in Atlantic City as a community representative. Because of his association with the casino, Mantle was suspended from baseball by commissioner Bowie Kuhn and placed on the "permanently ineligible" list. Peter Ueberroth eventually reinstated Mantle on March 18, 1985. He opened Mickey Mantle's Restaurant & Sports Bar in New York City in 1988.

Alcoholism, which affected the end of Mantle's career, continued to be a demon in his life. His wife, Merlyn and their four kids were all treated for alcoholism. Mantle checked into the Betty Ford clinic on Jan. 7, 1994. He received a liver transplant on June 8, 1995 because his organ had been damaged by hepatitis and cirrhosis. Doctors discovered Mantle had inoperable liver cancer that had spread to his other vital organs.

Mantle passed away on August 13, 1995 at Baylor University Medical Center from cancer.

Personal

Mickey Mantle married Merlyn Johnson on Dec. 23, 1951 and the couple had four sons together (Mickey Jr., David, Billy and Danny). They separated in 1988 but they never divorced. Billy passed away on March 12, 1994 at the age of 36 from a heart attack. Mickey Jr. passed away on Dec. 20, 2000 from cancer.

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