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.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home