I must be experiencing baseball withdrawal. We’re about to celebrate Independence Day, which is usually close to the mid-point of the season and the All-Star Game, yet the regular games haven’t begun. We have no rookies tearing up the competition, no teams off to a blazing start, and no manager in jeopardy of losing his job. We don’t even have box scores to peruse in the morning newspaper. What’s a fan to do?
In my case, I read the paper, and I look at “This Day in Sports.” I glance at the entries for the 1950's and 1960's to see if Mickey Mantle did anything worth noting. Mantle, the Hall-of-Fame center fielder for the New York Yankees, was my boyhood hero. I wanted to wear number seven, I wanted to bat cleanup, and I wanted to hit a game-winning home run in the World Series, just as The Mick did in game three in 1964. I couldn’t get enough information about the switch-hitting, five-tool player who helped lead the Yankees to the World Series 12 times during his first 14 seasons. And all these recollections led me to ponder one key question: If Mickey Mantle played today, would he have a Facebook page?
Of course he would. During Mantle’s heyday, baseball was the number-one sport in America, and he played on the best team in the center of the entertainment world. I can just imagine his home page. He’d have his home ballpark, Yankee Stadium, in the background with a photo of himself up front and his wife and four boys featured prominently as well. Though I know Mantle had personal issues that negatively affected his family life, I’m sure the Yankee publicist would help him present a wholesome picture to the world.
He’d probably also have plenty of pictures of his hometown and his family back in Oklahoma, especially his father and his grandfather who taught him how to switch hit. Then, he’d probably also include lots of New York City pictures with all the major landmarks: The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, and Central Park, among others.
And friends? He’d have a million friends, easily. Not only would he have his teammates, but he’d also have most of his opponents. They all loved Mickey Mantle. In fact, late in the Mick’s career, when he could hardly move and had to play first base, a rookie bunted toward Mantle because he knew the old guy couldn’t move fast enough to field it. Later, one of the rookie’s older teammates took the rookie aside and chastised him: “We don’t bunt on Mickey Mantle.”
Mickey’s friends would also have included a Who’s Who of celebrities from that time period: politicians, singers, movie stars. Mantle was the Michael Jordan of that era, endorsing everything from milk and breakfast cereal to cigarettes and beer. Everyone wanted to see or be seen with the three-time Most Valuable Player (1956, 1957, and 1962). In fact, Mantle once recorded a song, “I Like Mickey,” with pop singer Teresa Brewer, and he later starred in a 1962 move with his teammate and “M and M” brother, Roger Maris. The movie, Safe at First, wasn’t much of a serious film, but as an 11-year-old fan, I thought it was awesome.
Regarding his posts, I don’t think Mantle would have written much about himself. Despite his fame, he wasn’t a showboat or a look-at-me kind of guy. During his career, he hit 536 home runs and 18 more in the World Series, yet he never admired his blasts from home plate or tried to show up the opposing pitcher. Instead, he simply put his head down and humbly trotted around the bases. On special occasions, his teammates would have to push him to the top of the dugout’s steps, so he could wave to his many fans.
Thus, I think his posts would be more of a congratulatory nature to his teammates. He might write “Way to go, Tom Tresh, the 1962 American League Rookie of the Year.” Or he might acknowledge the longevity of another teammate: “A retirement toast to Yogi Berra, one of the finest catchers to ever play the game.”
Would Mick have spent lots of time reading the posts of others or wishing everyone a “Happy Birthday”? I doubt it. Sure, he might look at Facebook once in a while if he were waiting to board a plane, but he was much too social, and I think he’d be more inclined to talk and joke with those around him until it was time to play.
So while today’s ballplayers prepare for a campaign like no other and as they argue with the owners about the length of the season and the division of the revenue, we old-time fans are left with the memories and thoughts regarding the ballplayers of our youth: Mantle, Maris, Berra, Tresh, and others.
Oh, by the way, on July 2, 1961, Mantle batted five times against the Washington Senators, and they walked him the first four times as the Yankees won 13–4. What did Mantle do in his final at bat? He hit a long home run, of course, into the right-field stands. Way to go, Mick!