OBITUARY: Mickey Mantle

For Americans of a certain age, Mickey Mantle was and ever will be, quite simply, "the Mick". The closing stages of his life were scarred with illness, pain and personal sadness. By the end he had become a role model in reverse, a scarcely living advertisement for a way of life to be avoided. But Mantle will be remembered not as an alcoholic who changed his ways too late, but as the greatest baseball player of his time, indeed one of the very greatest of all time.

From the outset he was legend writ large; the country kid from Oklahoma spotted by Yankee scouts, who came to New York and captured the big city by storm. With his broad grin and infectious laugh, Mantle was engaging enough even before he lifted a bat. When he took one in his hands, he was electrifying. The 20-year old slugger who began his career in 1951 became the incarnation of the third successive, all- conquering generations of New York Yankees, after Babe Ruth in the 1920s and early 1930s, and Joe DiMaggio in the following decade. The 17 years he played in the Bronx encompassed the post-war boom in baseball, when television brought the sport to an audience of millions. Mantle was its undisputed mega-star.

Arguably, he was the greatest switch hitter in baseball history. Whether from the left or the right side, his power was breathtaking. No one could hit a ball as hard; indeed he still holds the record for the longest ever measured home run, at 565 feet. On the all-time major league home run list he stands eighth with 536, with 18 coming in 65 World Series games. Three times he was elected Most Valuable Player, in 1956, 1957 and 1962. In the first of those years he achieved the rare feat of the Triple Crown, with a batting average of .353, 52 homers and 130 runs driven in. But no statistics can capture the strength and hand-eye co-ordination that could send a baseball skimming like a one-iron shot into the bleachers.

The power was coupled with a cheetah's speed, both along the basepaths and in the outfield. Mantle not only replaced the peerless DiMaggio in centre field: in athleticism he surpassed him. After chronic leg injuries had forced him to give up the game in 1968, over 70,000 turned out at Yankee Stadium the following year to retire his No 7, an honour reserved for only the greatest practitioners of American sport. Five years later he was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame.

But his private life was anything but exemplary. The excesses were understandable: In Mantle's immediate and recent family, no male had lived beyond 41. Enjoy it while it lasts, became his unofficial motto. "If I'd known I was going to live longer, I'd have taken better care of myself," he told an interviewer a few months before his death. When he was a player, the nights of bar crawling and carousing were overlooked, a "Boys-will-be- Boys" midnight madness that seemed just innocent fun. The "fun", however, wrecked his family and consumed his life. Finally in 1993, his sons, who were first partners and then victims of his alcoholic binges, persuaded him to enrol for treatment at the Betty Ford clinic. Thereafter he never had another drink. But his liver had been irreparably damaged. A transplant in June offered hope, only for cancer to spread to his lungs and beyond.

But the Mantle Americans will remember is not the frail, shrivelled old man of the final months, but the glistening athlete of baseball's golden age. Of him Ted Williams, that immortal hitter of an earlier era, once remarked ungenerously that "Mantle should have been the greatest player who ever played baseball." Perhaps with his God-given gifts, Mantle could have been even better had he worked at the game. But for a generation of Americans, and not only Yankee fans, he was already perfection.

Rupert Cornwell

Mickey Charles Mantle, baseball player: born Spavinaw, Oklahoma 20 October 1931; married 1951 Merlyn Johnson (three sons, and one son deceased); died Dallas, Texas 13 August 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all