New York Yankees: 50 years ago this week, Denny McLain helped Mickey Mantle hit homer No. 535

(Original Caption) 9/19/1968-Detroit, MI: Tiger infielder Don Wert (left) watches New York Yankees Mickey Mantle round third base after hitting his 535th lifetime homer during the eighth inning of the 9/19 game. It was Mantle's 17th homer of the year, put him into sole posession of third place on the all time homer list. Only Babe Ruth and Willie Mays have hit more. Detroit won the game, 6-2, with pitcher Denny McLain getting his 31st win.
(Original Caption) 9/19/1968-Detroit, MI: Tiger infielder Don Wert (left) watches New York Yankees Mickey Mantle round third base after hitting his 535th lifetime homer during the eighth inning of the 9/19 game. It was Mantle's 17th homer of the year, put him into sole posession of third place on the all time homer list. Only Babe Ruth and Willie Mays have hit more. Detroit won the game, 6-2, with pitcher Denny McLain getting his 31st win. /
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50 years ago this week, Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain helped New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle pass Jimmie Foxx for third place on the all-time home run list.

This year, the Detroit Tigers are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their 1968 Championship team. One of the stars of that club was right-hander Denny McLain. That season, McLain went 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA. He won both the AL Cy Young and AL MVP award. McLain also remains the last pitcher to have won 30 games in a season.

For as dominate as he was in 1968, McLain also gave up 31 home runs. He is remembered for intentionally allowing one of those homers to late New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. It was the same game in which he earned his 31st victory of the season.

Mantle, who was nearing the end of the final season of his career, stepped up to the plate for what would turn out to be his final at-bat at Tiger stadium. The Tigers were enjoying a large lead late in the game, and McLain called out his catcher for a quick conversation. Mantle overheard McLain saying that they were going to try to let him hit a home run. Mantle’s next home run would give him 535 for his career, allowing him to pass Jimmie Foxx for third place on all-time list. At the time, only Willie Mays and Babe Ruth had hit more home runs.

A bit skeptical, Mantle took the first pitch and then fouled off the second. However, the third pitch, which must have been right in Mantle’s wheelhouse, ended up in the upper deck at old Tiger stadium. In the video below, “The Mick” recalls the story in his own words.

Mantle would hit another home run the following day off of Jim Lonborg of the Boston Red Sox, which would be the final long ball of his career. Mantle ended the season batting .237/.385/.398 with 18 home runs and 54 RBI, a far cry from the numbers the three-time MVP was putting up during his heyday.

Mantle’s lifetime numbers are nothing short of remarkable. Today, Mantle, who was inducted into the Cooperstown as a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1974, still ranks 18th on the all time list with his 536 home runs. He also hit more home home runs than any other switch-hitter to have played the game.

Fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Murray has hit the second-most home runs among switch-hitters with 504. Only three other switch-hitters have crossed the 400-homer threshold — Chipper Jones, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira. Jones was inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier this year.

After allowing the record-breaking homer to Mantle, McLain had just two more regular season starts, taking a loss and a no-decision. McLain later went 1-2 with a 3.24 ERA in three starts against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1968 World Series. The Tigers would eventually win the series in seven games.

McLain had another elite season in 1969, going 24-9 with a 2.80 and winning the Cy Young yet again. He would pitch just three more seasons after that, going a combined 17-34 with a 4.78 ERA with the Tigers, Washington Senators, Oakland Athletics and Atlanta Braves.

According to Bob Herzog of Newsday, McLain has previously admitted that Mantle was his idol. Per Herzog, commissioner William Eckert sent an angry letter to McLain after he allowed the homer to Mantle, accusing him of “attack[ing] the integrity of the game.” However, no disciplinary action was taken, and things seemed to cool off when Mantle hit No. 536, a “legit” homer that would have pushed him past Foxx anyway.

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September 19, 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Mantle hitting home run No. 535 for the Yankees. Almost half a century later, it truly remains a great baseball story!