10 Sordid Stories Of Baseball’s Greatest Switch-Hitter
Mickey Mantle is a legend. One of the greatest baseball players of all time, he is undoubtedly the best power-hitting switch-hitter (batting both lefty and righty) ever. Mantle played in the 1950s and ’60s when players were fast and loose both on and off the field. For as great as he was on the field, Mantle gave new meaning to the word “debauchery” off the field.
10Every Morning Started With A Drink
Mantle put up tremendous numbers throughout his career. He smacked 536 home runs, still the most in a lifetime by a switch-hitter. His power and bat speed were amazing and even more incredible when you consider that he played practically every game after a big night of drinking.
Today’s athletes are careful of what they put in their bodies. Most have specialized diets and talk at length about their specific ways to stay in shape. But not “The Mick.” Throughout his career—actually, almost his entire life—he began every morning with what he called “the breakfast of champions.” And it wasn’t Wheaties.
Mickey’s breakfast of champions was Kahlua and cream and a shot of brandy. And that was just to get him going for the rest of the day. Throughout his career, the general public was pretty much in the dark about Mantle’s heavy drinking.
9He Thought He’d Die Young
Mickey never got over the death of his father “Mutt.” Born Elvin Charles Mantle in 1912, Mutt was 19 when son Mickey was born. Mutt raised his son to be a ballplayer, even naming him after the Detroit Tigers’ Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane (even though Cochrane’s real name was Gordon).
To train Mickey, Mutt pitched right-handed to his son and forced him to bat lefty while Mickey’s grandfather, a southpaw, threw lefty to Mick to make him bat right-handed. Things went south for Mutt during his son’s first World Series. It was 1951—Mickey’s rookie season—when he hurt his knee during the World Series against the New York Giants.
Trying to help Mickey walk, Mutt collapsed under the weight of his son. Mutt had Hodgkin’s disease, a common illness in the Mantle family. Both Mickey’s grandfather and uncle had died from it at relatively young ages. Mutt died less than a year later. Mickey said that he always feared that he would die young from the disease, so he lived his life recklessly and used alcohol to “escape the pain of losing my dad.”
8He Believed He Could Fly
Mickey’s drinking buddy was Billy Martin. Best recalled as a fiery manager, most famously with the Yankees five times, he was Mantle’s teammate in the 1950s. Martin was a scrappy Italian—the opposite of The Mick—but the two had something very much in common: They loved to get to the bottom of a bottle.
One infamous episode occurred in Detroit. After far too many drinks, the two made it back to Mantle’s hotel room. Martin said to Mantle, “Let’s climb out on the ledge and see what’s going on in the other rooms.”
So out the two went, onto the 22nd-floor ledge of the hotel. They crawled drunkenly to the first window and saw nothing. It was the middle of the night, and their teammates were all fast asleep. It was too narrow to turn around, so Mantle and Martin inched the entire way around the building until they returned to their room and sheepishly crawled back inside.
7Fireworks Off The Field
Mantle’s other drinking buddy was Whitey Ford. Like Mantle, Ford is a Hall of Famer and remembered as a great clutch pitcher with 236 career wins. Mantle, Ford, and Martin were a threesome of trouble, but Mantle could easily cause a ruckus with just one of them. Just as Mantle and Martin had their infamous Detroit hotel incident, Mantle and Ford did some damage of their own, literally!
After a game in Baltimore, Mantle and Ford missed the team bus to Washington, DC. It wasn’t that far away, so the two shared a taxi to catch up and join the team at the hotel. Before they left, they grabbed a bottle of Scotch to make the trip a bit smoother.
Along the way, they spotted a fireworks stand and persuaded the taxi driver to stop. Mantle and Ford purchased Roman candles and, startling the driver, decided to light one right in the cab! They still had some left when they got to the elegant Shoreham Hotel. Opulence be damned, Mantle and Ford exploded the rest of the Roman candles in Mantle’s room, scaring their teammates and unsuspecting hotel guests.
6He Loved The Ladies
Mantle married his high school sweetheart, Merlyn Johnson, in 1951. That didn’t take him off the market, however. Later in life, Merlyn learned of The Mick’s womanizing, and the last six years of their marriage, they lived apart. They were still married when Mantle died in 1995.
If Mantle had three loves in life, they were baseball, wine, and women. His baseball skills may have slipped, but he never felt that he lost his other two passions. In a 1980 interview with New York magazine, Mickey let a female reporter know that he was still sharp in his game. While lamenting his other activities, he noted that he could still hunt and fish. “What do you hunt?” the reporter asked. Mickey replied with a grin, “Puss.”
If reporters did know of Mantle’s tomcat behavior during his playing days, they kept it to themselves. Besides a great place to set off fireworks, the Shoreham Hotel was another of Mantle’s favorite stops on the road. Mantle would go to the roof of the hotel for what he called “beaver-shooting.” A pathetic Peeping Tom, he spied on any females he could, preferably ones who were naked.
5The Hungover Home Run
Mantle liked to tell people that he never hurt his team by being drunk or hungover on the field. There is, however, a famous anecdote from Jim Bouton’s revealing look at baseball from the inside. As The Mick’s teammate, Bouton naturally had stories to tell.
One of the most controversial tales from Ball Four was Mantle’s home run with a hangover. The story was that Mantle was nursing an injury and not expected to play. So the evening before, Mantle had taken a few more risks than usual and was especially hungover for the game. In a pinch, Mantle was called upon to take an at bat, and despite the fact that he could barely see, he walloped a long home run to left. Squinting at the adoring crowd, Mantle said, “Those people don’t know how tough that really was!”
Baseball being what it is, someone was determined to find out if the story was true. Of Mantle’s 536 career home runs, five were pinch-hit home runs. Only three of the five were at home. As he was hungover, it seems logical that the game was a day game. And lo and behold, only once did Mantle homer as a pinch-hitter during a day game at home. On August 4, 1963, The Mick connected off of George Brunet to tie the game at 10. It was Mantle’s first game since a foot injury in June. The story is true.
4He Made A Mockery Of A Grand Jury
May 16, 1957, was supposed to be a joyous night out for Mantle and his teammates. It was the celebration of Billy Martin’s 29th birthday, and Sammy Davis Jr. was headlining at the Copacabana nightclub in New York. A few hecklers started to racially insult Davis Jr. (who was actually half–African American and half–Puerto Rican).
All that can be said for certain is that a heckler ended up with a broken jaw. Practically every story has Hank Bauer being the first to throw a punch. For his part, Bauer, who was batting a measly .203 that season, told police, “I didn’t hit him. I ain’t hit anybody all year.”
Bauer wasn’t the only one to get off a zinger. The parties appeared before a grand jury to try and get to the bottom of the incident. Mantle’s testimony went as follows:
“Did you see a gentleman lying unconscious on the floor near the Copa entrance?” a juror asked.
“Yes, I did,” Mantle answered.
“All right, do you have an opinion as to how this could have happened?”
Mantle paused, thought hard, and replied, “I think Roy Rogers rode through the Copa, and Trigger kicked the man in the head.”
The district attorney threw out the case for insufficient evidence.
3His Favorite Yankee Stadium Memory Was Off The Field
As Yankee Stadium approached its 50th birthday in 1972, team officials requested memories from their greatest players of their favorite memories at the stadium. Mantle—a three-time MVP, Triple Crown winner (leading the league in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average in the same season), and seven-time World Series champ—surely had plenty from which to choose. He chose none.
When filling out the form from the Yankees, Mantle answered the statement, “I consider the following my outstanding experience at Yankee Stadium” like this: “I got a blow job under the right field bleachers by the Yankee bull pen.”
The Yankee form followed up with: “This event occurred on or about (give as much detail as you can).”
Classy as ever, Mantle answered, “It was about the third or fourth inning. I had a pulled groin and couldn’t
And he signed it, “Mickey Mantle, The All-American Boy.”
2The Liver Controversy
When Mickey Mantle became sick in 1995, it wasn’t a total shock that alcoholism was the cause. What was surprising is that Mantle was on the transplant list to receive a new liver for only two days before securing a match. Just the idea of a drunk who ruined his or her own liver getting a new one was (and is) controversial enough, but now you have a famous drunk—and a hero to many baseball fans—seemingly moved to the front of the line.
A review showed that Mantle received no special treatment; he just got lucky. Having quit drinking in 1994, Mantle had been sober for a year. It seemed like a donor match might be the thing that finally set The Mick on the straight and narrow. But doctors hadn’t realized that cancer had already spread from Mantle’s diseased liver to the surrounding bile ducts. It was terminal, new liver be damned.
In a statement reflecting on his lifestyle, Mantle said, “I’d like to say to kids out there, if you’re looking for a role model . . . don’t be like me.” On August 13, 1995, two months after the liver transplant, Mickey Mantle was dead.
1His Alcoholism Ruined His Family
Mantle believed that alcoholism ran on his mother’s side of the family. He undoubtedly spread it to his own children. Mickey admitted that he was more “The Mick” to his kids than “Dad.” His four sons were his drinking buddies.
Late in life, he lamented his relationship with his kids, wondering if he had squandered his own kids’ athletic abilities because he was too often at a bar instead of in the backyard throwing batting practice. Mickey Mantle Jr. had a brief and unremarkable professional career in the low minor leagues. Mantle’s wife tried to keep up with her husband’s drinking and, like Mantle, ended up at the Betty Ford Center.
Youngest son Billy, named for friend Billy Martin, died at age 36. Like his grandfather, Billy had suffered from Hodgkin’s disease, but it was a heart attack—weakened from substance abuse—that ended his young life at 36. Mickey’s namesake, Mickey Jr., died from cancer in 2000. Like his parents, he also spent time at the Betty Ford Center. All four of Mickey Mantle’s sons did time in rehab. None made the major leagues like their father, but all inherited his lust for liquor.