Mickey Mantle, long after his death in 1995, remains one of the most complex and fascinating sports figures in American history.
The main reason? He could flat out play. In almost two decades in the majors, as a center fielder and first baseman, he compiled a lifetime OPS+ of 172. That ranks him the sixth best of all time. His combination of power and discipline is a rare thing, even today.
But he also had personal demons that haunted him his entire life.
Here are some facts about Mantle. Some focus on his amazing professional statistics, but most are about his personal life.
Mickey Mantle a.k.a Commerce Comet
Although he was sometimes called the “Commerce Comet” because he grew up in Commerce, Okla., Mickey Mantle was born Oct. 20, 1931, in Spavinaw, Okla. The family later moved to Commerce.
He Suffered Abuse
In a startling book released earlier this decade called “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood,” writer Jane Leavy writes about interviews with Mantle’s wife, girlfriend and other friends in which they reveal Mantle admitted to being sexually abused by a half-sister who babysat him while his parents were at barn dances. He told another friend that a neighborhood boy also molested him more than once.
His Teacher Seduced Him
According to Leavy’s book, Mantle’s wife – Merilyn – said he was seduced by a teacher in high school. He later took her to meet his roommates while playing baseball in the minors. He also joked with Merilyn that he only got through high school by sleeping with his teachers. “That’s the only way I was able to graduate,” he said, according to Leavy.
A True Yankee
In his 18 years in the majors, from 1951 to 1968, Mantle wore one uniform, that of the New York Yankees.
Mantle won the Most Valuable Player award in three seasons: 1956, 1957 and 1962.
Mantle’s two biggest years were in 1956 and 1957. In 1956, he hit .353 with 52 home runs and 130 RBI. He followed up that amazing season by hitting .365 in 1957, with 34 home runs and 94 RBI. He also earned a league-leading 146 walks.
Speaking Of Walks…
He led the league in walks five times. In addition to the 1957 season, they were in 1955, 1958, 1961 and 1962. Now you know why he had such a high OPS (in addition to his monster hitting, of course).
He won the league home run title four times and the league slugging title four times. He hit .300 or better in 10 seasons. He hit 18 home runs in the World Series, as well as scored 43 runs, knocked in 40 runs and walked 43 times.
He Abused Alcohol For 42 Years
According to Mantle himself, he started abusing alcohol in the early 1950s. He described having what he called the “Breakfast of Champions” in the morning, essentially a shot of brandy with Kahlua and cream. He described drinking blenders full of alcohol with teammate Billy Martin in New York City during his playing days. He said the drinking eventually affected his memory so badly that he had little memory of Martin’s wedding in 1988, even though he was the best man.
He Never Divorced
He and Merilyn had four sons. Married in 1951 in Commerce, they never divorced, although Merilyn finally moved out in 1980. Mantle had carried on affairs for years, according to Leavy, and his biggest relationship was with his agent, Greer Johnson. They lived together after Merilyn left.
He Suffered Anxiety Attacks
On a plane flying back to his home in Dallas in 1987 after weeks of heavy drinking with friends in Florida and at a card show in New York, Mantle said he had an anxiety attack in which he became convinced he would die. Paramedics had to meet him at the airport. He suffered more anxiety attacks over the ensuing years.
Pat Summerall Helped Him
Then a famous sportscaster who himself had sought treatment for alcohol abuse, Summerall convinced Mantle to go to the Betty Ford Clinic in 1994 to seek help. Mantle did and remained sober for the brief time he lived afterward. Unfortunately, his damaged liver eventually failed him, and despite a transplant, he died in 1995. His wife, who hadn’t lived with him for 15 years, was by his side.