Baseball great Mickey Mantle dies of cancer

Aug. 13, 1995
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DALLAS, Aug. 13 -- Former New York Yankees centerfielder Mickey Mantle, a baseball superstar who slugged a bat hard and lived his life even harder, died Sunday of cancer at Baylor University Medical Center. He was 63. Mantle, a Hall of Famer in the company of baseball slugging greats Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, died at 2:10 a.m. EST with his family at his side. A hospital statement Saturday said chemotherapy had been discontinued and at Mantle's request no additional information would be released. Mantle's death came two months after he underwent a liver transplant. Shortly thereafter it was discovered the liver cancer had spread throughout his body. Mantle, who ranks eighth on the all-time home run list with 536, was a switch-hitter who hit some of the longest homers in history even though he suffered from osteomyelitis since childhood and a variety of ailments throughout his career. His longest homer was estimated to have landed 565 feet from home plate. Despite his many problems, the Yankees won 12 pennants during his first 14 seasons and finished second and third, respectively, in the other years. Mantle, who had a .298 lifetime batting average from 1951 through 1968, won three Most Valuable Player Awards, including one in 1956 when he won a rare Triple Crown with a .353 average, 52 homers and 130 runs batted in. Mantle won Most Valuable Player Awards in 1956, 1957 and 1962, batted .300 or more in 10 seasons, led the league in RBI in 1956 and won four home run titles.

He played in 65 World Series games, hitting .257 with 18 homers and 40 RBI. Mantle suffered from health problems late in life, brought on by a decades-long battle with alcoholism. Mantle underwent a liver transplant on June 8 after contracting hepatitis and liver cancer. His liver failure came 18 months after Mantle underwent treatment at the Betty Ford Center for more than 40 years of hard drinking. In April 1994, Mantle discussed his drinking problem and his doctor's warnings that he would one day need a transplant in a first-person story published in Sports Illustrated. 'Most of the things I said and did while I was drinking, I couldn't remember the next day. The last 10 years I did stuff that really shocked me. I was so embarrassed.... The stories bugged the hell out of me. That wasn't like me. I wasn't that guy they were talking about,' he said. Born in Spavinaw, Okla., Oct. 20, 1931, the 6-foot, 200-pound Mantle combined power and speed to a remarkable degree. In addition to having enormous power, he was among the fastest runners in baseball history and was an excellent base-runner -- until his legs gave out on him. He stole only 153 bases during his career primarily because he played with hard- hitting Yankee teams which emphasized long-ball offense. Mantle was quickly dubbed a Superman in a baseball uniform when he joined the Yankees in 1951 and many experts agree that his combination of skills may have been the most impressive of anyone who ever played the game. He also was ambidextrous and during his career developed a knuckleball which probably would have made him a successful pitcher. He was hampered, however, throughout his career by ailments which included knee injuries, shoulder problems and an abscessed hip. He routinely taped himself 'like an Egyptian mummy' before games and often sat in the clubhouse 'unwinding' long after games were over. 'He led the league in a lot of things in different years,' a Yankee official named Jackie Farrell once remarked. 'But he led the league in manhood every year.' Mantle joined the Yankees the same year that Willie Mays joined the New York Giants, providing New Yorkers with the thrill of seeing two of the most gifted players in the game performing on rival teams. Mays had an even more successful career than Mantle but it is fair to both to wonder what Mantle might have accomplished had he not been hampered by so many ailments. Although a country boy who liked hillbilly music, Mantle had some Ruthian playboy in him. His favorite after-dark companion was fellow Hall of Famer Whitey Ford and such fun-lovers as Hank Bauer and Billy Martin were among his other companions. All four plus Yogi Berra and pitcher Johnny Kucks were involved in the so-called 'Battle of the Copacabana' -- an incident in a famous New York night club -- which resulted in the Yankees trading Martin. Mantle's power was so awesome that some experts, including Manager Casey Stengel and former star catcher Bill Dickey, believed he was capable of hitting a fair ball out of Yankee Stadium -- a feat no one has ever accomplished. Mantle came close a couple of times. His most famous tape-measure homer was at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., in 1953. Batting right-handed against Chuck Stobbs, Mantle cleared the outer wall of the left field bleachers plus a row of houses across the street. The drive was measured at 565 feet from home plate to the spot where a passer-by said the ball landed. Mantle hit more than 50 homers in two seasons, homered twice in a game 44 times and three times in a game once. He homered from both sides of the plate in the same game on 10 occasions. In 1961, he hit 54 homers only to be eclipsed by teammate Roger Maris, who set the all-time single-season mark of 61. Mantle was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1974 in his first year of eligibility. In his acceptance speech, Mantle revealed a touch of the sly humor that he had concealed from most people during his career. Blaming the failure of a restaurant business with which he had been affiliated on himself, Mantle told the audience, 'I came up with the slogan, 'to get a better piece of chicken, you'd have to be a rooster' and shortly thereafter the company went out of business.' Mantle was brought up to be a baseball player by his father, whose hero was former Detroit Tiger star catcher Mickey Cochrane. Mantle was named for Cochrane and his father nurtured his baseball skills as a boy. The world outside Spavinaw, Okla., became aware of Mantle when he played baseball in high school. Mantle's father took his son to St. Louis but the Browns were not interested. At this point, Tom Greenwade of the Yankees moved into the picture and signed the youth for $1,500 in 1949.

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