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All My OctobersMy Memories of 12 World Series When the Yankees Ruled Baseball
By Mickey Mantle
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Mickey Mantle
All right reserved.
1951--Yankees 4, Giants 2
Branch Rickey once said that to play baseball it was necessary only to have a ball, a bat, a glove, and the imagination of a young boy. By the time I was five I had them all. My dad whittled his broken bats down to my size, and he pitched to me every day if there was daylight left when he got home from working in the zinc mines.
On weekends, Dad played semipro ball. He could run, pitch, field any position, hit for power, and had the best arm in Oklahoma--at least in my eyes. The scouts never saw him play.
All of my early memories about the World Series are woven around my family and glad times laced by pain and sadness. That became a kind of pattern of mine and I never questioned my luck, good or bad. I was just a mouse in a maze; I'd get the cheese and then the electric shock. Ballplayers were always saying that over the long term the breaks evened out. But not everybody hangs around for the long term.
The first World Series I can clearly remember paired the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox, in 1946; Stan Musial against Ted Williams. I was turning fifteen, a sophomore in high school, and I listened to HarryCaray's play-byplay on the radio beside my bed in the Crippled Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City. I was being treated for osteomyelitis, an infection in the bone marrow caused, in my case, by a kick in the shin during a high school football practice. My leg had started to turn purple, my ankle was so swollen it was bigger than my knee, and I was running a fever, as high as 104.
I had no way of knowing then that I would have leg problems the rest of my life, which for most of my years meant baseball.
I had been examined at the hospital closest to our home in Commerce, and the doctor warned my mother they might have to amputate the leg. She said, "Like hell you will," and yanked me out of there. We made the 175mile drive to Oklahoma City, where the hospital had a large staff and, of more importance, accepted patients who couldn't pay. I was stretched out in the back seat of our beat-up 1935 LaSalle. All the way there I worried about never playing baseball again, and I felt for my dad because I knew how much pride Elvin "Mutt" Mantle had to choke down to accept charity.
Around this time a wonder drug called penicillin had become widely available. I had an injection every three hours around the clock and began to improve almost immediately. To continue the good news, Enos Slaughter scored from first base on a hit by Harry "The Hat" Walker to win the seventh game and the World Series for St. Louis. Commerce was in northeast Oklahoma, ten miles from the Missouri state line, and we Mantles were Cardinal fans. I remember my dad taking me to a Class C baseball game, Joplin against Springfield, and pointing to a young player hitting line drives during batting practice. "See that guy?" he said. "He's going to be a major league star." He was pointing to Stan Musial.
While my mother washed and ironed the clothes, she always had a yellow writing tablet near the ironing board. She kept score off the radio. When my dad came home from the mines, close to nightfall, she could tell him everything he missed.
A scout named Tom Greenwade signed me to a Yankees' contract on the day I graduated from high school when I was seventeen. I was a shortstop then, an erratic one, and Greenwade sort of emphasized that I was a risk. He offered me $400 to play the rest of that summer at Independence, then closed the deal with a bonus of $1,100. But I learned much later that he paid me a compliment that couldn't be measured in dollars. After watching me play, he told the Yankees' brass: "Now I know how Paul Krichell must have felt the first time he saw Lou Gehrig."
Two years later--and five years after I heard Harry Caray describe Slaughter's mad dash from first--I played for the New York Yankees in the first World Series I ever saw. The year was 1951 and, to this day, the memory is still strange and mixed and unreal to me. When I was a boy there was nothing in sports, and not much anywhere else, that so demanded your interest. The Kentucky Derby did--for about two minutes. The biggest show in football was the Rose Bowl. Pro basketball hadn't yet found an audience, and most of the teams played in ratty old gyms.
But the week of the World Series, teachers would let you bring portable radios to school--they were about the size of a toaster--or even excuse classes early so you could rush home and hear the broadcasts.
At the movies in late October, the newsreels would show highlights from the Series, with the announcer describing the action over the crowd noise. In every reel, it seemed Joe DiMaggio would be getting a hit and running to first. Between features, they ran what they called "shorts."
Robert Benchley would do a bit about how hard it was to take a nap, and there was always a scene at the zoo, ending with Pete Smith saying, "Monkeys are the cwaziest people."
Baseball was a smaller and more orderly world then. There were eight teams in each major league, and there were no designated hitters, no artificial turf, no domed stadiums. But the fundamental rules never changed. If you got three strikes, not even Clarence Darrow could get you off.
Of all sports baseball has the longest season, and the reason you suffered through it (besides the money, which wasn't great in the 1950s) . . .
Excerpted from All My Octobers by Mickey Mantle Copyright © 2006 by Mickey Mantle. Excerpted by permission.
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