Remembering the Great Mickey Mantle

ALSO: SHOELESS JOE BATTED LEFT-HANDED IN REAL LIFE

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

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Joel Sherman of The New York Post writes that Yankee shortstop Gleyber Torres “defensively leads the majors in nonchalance.”

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Yankees newcomer Jameson Taillon, second pick in the 2010 amateur draft, has been hampered by two Tommy John surgeries and testicular cancer but is still in there pitching . . .

Leading Off

A Mickey Mantle Fan’s Tribute

By Kevin Braun

Ever since my childhood, Mickey Mantle has been my guy. I grew up in New Jersey in the 1960s so it was only natural that I became a New York Yankee (and Mantle) fan. The first family pet I remember was a dog named Mickey (before we had a cat named Roger).
My parents took my older brother, Bob, and me to Sunday doubleheaders at Yankee Stadium at least once a year. I still have a ticket stub from an August 1961 doubleheader against Minnesota in which Mantle homered three times. It was years later before I appreciated how fortunate I was to bear witness to the tail end of that Yankee dynasty.
      I got my love of baseball from my brother, Bob, who was almost seven years older. He taught me to switch-hit because Mantle did it. I may have been the first boy to switch-hit during tryouts for the Linwood (N.J.) Little League.
      When Bob passed away in 2016, I was thankful we had traveled to the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., for Induction Weekend two years earlier. His son-in-law, my nephew, took a photo of us in front of Mantle’s locker.
      I have a collection of Mantle memorabilia, including an autographed baseball, lunchbox, baseball cards, a Triple Crown bobblehead and more. When I joined my wife on a business trip to Dallas, my first stop (well, after In-N-Out Burger) was  Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery, where Mantle (who died in 1995) and several family members are entombed.
      I’ve read many of the books written by and about Mantle, including “The Last Boy,” by Jane Leavy, but the great Yankee’s idol status has never waned, in my eyes.
      As I reach retirement age, I’ve been trying to check items off my bucket list. A trip to Commerce, Oklahoma—a small town near the Missouri border—has been on there for a while. It’s where Mantle spent his childhood and learned the game.
      In July, I flew into Oklahoma City, about three hours from Commerce, and drove across the state one afternoon. After an overnight stay in a nearby town, I drove to Commerce early one Friday morning and was directed by Waze to a small, white house at 319 S. Quincy St., on the corner with C Street.
      The weathered house was unoccupied, so I peered in the windows and saw what I had read about—furnishings dating to the 1930s, when Mantle was a child. Across the well-kept yard is a metal barn still bearing the dents from baseballs hitting it when Mantle’s father and grandfather pitched batting practice to him. A chipped plaque by the front door explains the home’s historical significance.
      I walked around the home and took lots of pictures, all the while knowing I was standing on hallowed ground. I had other stops to make in Commerce, so I then drove to Main Street and parked. There were a few shops and flea markets but the town’s better days appear to be in the rear-view mirror.
      I went in the post office and, while buying some of the new Yogi Berra postage stamps, asked the clerk if he knew of any stores around town that sold Mickey Mantle memorabilia. He referred me to City Hall, but the clerk there said I was out of luck.
 

Before leaving Commerce, I drove to Mickey Mantle Boulevard, turned left and headed toward the high school. Outside the center field fence of Mickey Mantle Field sits the statue of No. 7 (swinging right-handed). My selfie-taking skills are terrible, but I managed to come up with an almost-serviceable one in front of the statue.
        Commerce sits on fabled Route 66, also known as “The Mother Road,” and I took that more scenic route part of the way back to Oklahoma City. About an hour west of Commerce lies the town of Claremore, where I toured the spacious Will Rogers Museum and Memorial. Rogers, a humorist, actor, newspaper columnist and cowboy, is revered in Oklahoma. He died in a 1931 plane crash and is buried on the grounds.
      The contrast between Claremore’s treatment of Rogers and Commerce’s treatment of Mantle is jarring. I know there are Mantle tributes elsewhere, but it would seem fitting that the town where he developed the skills to become one of the greatest ballplayers ever would do more to honor him. If it’s a matter of money, maybe the Yankees could foot the bill.
      I knew going in what I would find in Commerce, so from that respect I was not disappointed. And it gave me another opportunity to thank a guy who had a large role in my childhood.
Kevin Braun is a career journalist and lifelong baseball fan. He is retiring from his magazine job this month and looking forward to having more time to write about baseball. He lives in Stone Mountain, Ga.

Cleaning Up

‘Field of Dreams,’ Like Many Baseball Films, Had Major Flaw

By Dan Schlossberg

Field of Dreams isn’t the best baseball movie of all time — at least in the eyes of baseball purists — because it had a major mistake.

It depicted Shoeless Joe Jackson as a right-handed batter !!

Not only did Shoeless Joe bat left-handed but Babe Ruth copied his swing.

Yeah, yeah, yeah: it’s all about the Iowa cornfield, the ghost team, and the ballpark in the middle of nowhere.

But it sets a bad example for future fans who will learn the wrong history lesson.

Surely Kevin Costner, who carved his own backyard ballpark, knew enough to tell his director.

There is such a thing as “literary license,” especially when it comes to baseball movies, but there shouldn’t be.

In 42, for example, the Brooklyn Dodgers trained in Havana, not Panama, in 1947. Leo Durocher said “Nice guys finish eighth,” not “Nice guys finish last,” and he said it in 1948, not 1946.

Probably the most accurate baseball movie was Eight Men Out, based upon the book of the same name. Like Field of Dreams, it centered around the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.

At least Eight Men Out underlined the severity of the game-fixing scandal rather than glorifying it, as in Field of Dreams.

Sure, the 1989 Costner movie romanticized baseball as a relaxing game perfect for an idyllic summer night in the country. And FOX did a fine job of recapturing that feeling in its coverage of the Yankees-White Sox game in the temporary farm-field ballpark.

I loved the hand-operated scoreboard, shaped to resemble a barn, and the green-and-brown colors used to show player and team stats as the game progressed.

The highlight, of course, was the opening, with players clad in 1919-style uniforms strode through the corn on their eye to handshakes with Costner and cheers from the 8,000 patrons who paid ridiculously-high prices for tickets.

At least all the players batted and pitched as advertised and a good time was had by all.

Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ says his favorite baseball movies, in addition to Eight Men Out, are Fever Pitch and A League Of Their Own. Dan’s e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Managers with the most wins since the Braves came to Atlanta in 1966: Bobby Cox, Fredi Gonzalez, Luman Harris, and Brian Snitker . . .

When Mike Cameron hit four home runs in a 2012 game, he had a total of four runs batted in . . .

The tallest pitcher in baseball history was Jon Rauch, who stood 6'11" . . .

Hall of Famer Al Simmons homered on his birthday a record five times . . .

Rachel Prehodka Spindel of Hartford, CT once had a parakeet named Chirper Jones.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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