Another Mickey Mantle birthday has come and gone and with it, there are fewer baseball fans around who appreciate his value to the game.
Mickey Mantle would have celebrated his 89th birthday on October 20th. Of course, he didn’t, as we lost The Mick in 1995 at the age of 63. I’ll admit, until I saw a few tributes on Twitter, I wouldn’t have even realized it was his birthday. For a man who was the favorite ballplayer of an entire generation, seems like he is less and less known by the younger baseball fans of this day and age.
I’m guilty as well. I never saw Mantle play and I was too young to recognize his contributions to the game of baseball when he passed away. It wasn’t until a handful of years ago I even took an interest in the guy.
I am a lifelong baseball fan, though not a New York Yankees fan. In fact, I’m the opposite, a small market man who was raised to hate the Evil Empire. A few years back I read a book about Billy Martin entitled Baseball’s Flawed Genius, and was mesmerized by “The Yankee Way”, and the way the Yankees carried themselves back then.
I couldn’t read enough Yankees books. Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio, and Bobby Richardson, and Whitey Ford. And more Mantle. I was always drawn back to this guy whose father made him hit hundreds of baseballs from each side of the plate every night after school.
I understood why millions of baseball fans admired Mantle in the 50s and 60s.
Two summers ago my family drove through Commerce, Oklahoma, and visited the childhood home of Mantle. My son and I played catch in his front yard. As much as I’ve talked about the moment, I hope one day my son will recognize the significance.
You are standing where the best baseball player of all-time stood. This is where the best switch hitter in the history of the game learned to hit. To me, time didn’t move.
Sure, there was Mickey Mantle Way, and a baseball field named after him, along with the water tower painted in pinstripes. However, there were no souvenir shops, no postcards, nothing to buy with Mantle’s name on it. Almost as if a town had forgotten about him. He doesn’t offer the allure he once did.
As the game gets younger, faster, and louder, the black and white images of Mickey Mantle are pushed aside. As the generation which grew up watching Mantle play gets older, fewer stories are shared of his baseball greatness. Baseball has evolved, as most things do, and the game Mantle once thrived in is a different game than the one being played today.
Mantle was recently passed on the all-time postseason home run list by George Springer. If it wasn’t for that, or his yearly birthday, I’m not sure we’d mention his name much anymore. Mickey Mantle gave so much to the game, a game that struggles to keep him relevant with a younger fan base.