Mickey Mantle Was Famous, But Not Just for Baseball

Mantle moved to Commerce, Oklahoma, with his family when he was four years old. He was an outstanding athlete, excelling in baseball, basketball, and football at Commerce High School. He was offered a football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma.

Mickey Mantle Baseball Bat / Mickey Mantle / Mickey Mantle / Mickey Mantle.
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However, his college playing career didn’t last long because, during one of his practices, he was kicked in his left shin. The incident led to osteomyelitis developing in his left ankle. He was rushed to the hospital by his parents that same night. If it wasn’t for the development of penicillin at the time, his leg might have needed to be amputated.

Becoming a Baseball Player

His football career was over, but that didn’t mean he would stop playing sports. His first taste of playing professional baseball was with the Baster Springs Whiz Kids. During one of the team’s practices, a Yankee scout came to watch one of his fellow teammates play.

A portrait of Mickey Mantle.
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It just so happened to be a good day for Mantle as he hit three home runs. Greenwade, the original scout who came, was impressed and returned after Mantle graduated high school and signed him into the minor leagues. The minor league team name was the Independence Yankees (class-D) as part of the Kansas-Oklahoma-Mississippi league.

A Hard Life Leads to an Incredible Career

Mickey Mantle was known for his challenging life just as much as his outstanding baseball career. Growing up, his life was not easy, yet he still managed to become the 6th best-ranked baseball player of all time. He proved this by an OPS + of 172 and was a dominant and controlled player.

Casey Stengel proudly presents Mickey Mantle wearing a crown.
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However, his past wouldn’t have made it easy for anyone to reach the success he had. He passed away in 1995, but his name certainly goes down in history as one of the best. Here are all the things you need to know about him.

He Had a Rough Childhood

A tell-all book about his life called “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood” shares all the abuse and traumas that Mantle experienced as a child. While his parents were out at barn dances, Mantle was left with his half-sister, who babysat and sexually abused him.

A photo of Mickey Mantle throwing a ball.
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This all started when he was about four or five years old. His half-sister would inappropriately touch him while giggling with her friends. He only spoke about this experience with his wife (Merlyn) many years later. Merlyn commented that “It could have been why he turned out the way he did.”

The Abuse Didn’t End There

He also shared that a boy living in his neighborhood molested him on multiple occasions. The book speaks about how Mantle was seduced by his high school teacher, who he introduced to his friends while he played minor league baseball.

A photo of Mantle and his mom at home.
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He jokingly said that was the only way he was able to complete high school: “That’s how I got through high school; screwing the teachers.” Mantle was taken advantage of as a teenager, which reflected many of his behaviors later in life and during his career. Mantle’s autobiographer labeled these experiences as a violation of innocence and trust.

There Was No Doubt in His Athletic Abilities

Mantle moved to Commerce, Oklahoma, with his family when he was four years old. He was an outstanding athlete, excelling in baseball, basketball, and football at Commerce High School. He was offered a football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma.

A photo of a young Mantle playing baseball.
Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

However, his college playing career didn’t last long because, during one of his practices, he was kicked in his left shin. The incident led to osteomyelitis developing in his left ankle. He was rushed to the hospital by his parents that same night. If it wasn’t for the development of penicillin at the time, his leg might have needed to be amputated.

Becoming a Baseball Player

His football career was over, but that didn’t mean he would stop playing sports. His first taste of playing professional baseball was with the Baster Springs Whiz Kids. During one of the team’s practices, a Yankee scout came to watch one of his fellow teammates play.

A photo of Mantle swinging a bat.
Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

It just so happened to be a good day for Mantle as he hit three home runs. Greenwade, the original scout who came, was impressed and returned after Mantle graduated high school and signed him into the minor leagues. The minor league team name was the Independence Yankees (class-D) as part of the Kansas-Oklahoma-Mississippi league.

He Almost Gave Up on Baseball

Mantle played shortstop for the Independence Yankees. During a downturn, while playing in the minor leagues, Mantle called his dad and told him he wanted to quit playing. His dad drove all the Kansas to convince him otherwise.

A portrait of Mickey Mantle.
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Good thing he kept playing because he wouldn’t have become the star player he is. Fun Fact: the stadium where Mantle played (Shulthis Stadium) is the location of the first organized baseball game to be held at nighttime and where Mantle had his first home run as a professional player.

Moving Up the Ranks in Baseball

His skills paid off as he was promoted to the Joplin Miners as part of the Western Association (C-Class). With a .383 average, he won the Werst Association title for batting. Even though he struggled there as a shortstop, he managed to hit a total of 26 home runs.

A triptych of Mickey Mantle.
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He was finally signed to the majors after a spring training with the Yankees in 1951. He was destined for greatness when he was given the number six for his jersey number. He was about to become the next best player for the Yankees. Mantel’s Jersey number was significant. It was next in line after the greatest – Babe Ruth.

Raising a Man, Not a Boy

He experienced yet another short-lived collapse and was demoted to playing for the Kansas City Blues in July, 1951. He called his dad and told him that he didn’t feel he could play anymore.

A photo of Mantle at a baseball game.
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His dad rushed over, and as he was packing his things, he said, “I thought I raised a man. I see I raised a coward instead.” This must have really affected him as he completely turned his career around.

He Changed After Talking to His Dad

After his dad’s “words of wisdom” hit him hard, Mantle reached a record hit of .361 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs on that same team. He was eventually sent back the Yankees, this time with Jersey #7.

A portrait of Mantle during a game.
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At the 1951 World Series against the Giants, Will Mays, who was a rookie for the Giants at the time, hit a fly ball smack into right-center field. Mantle raced for the ball with his teammate Joe DiMaggio, who yelled out that he was going to get it.

An Injury that Carried Him Throughout His Career

During the game, Mantle was playing right field, and Joe DiMaggio was playing center. As they both ran for the ball, DiMaggio caught it, but it came at the expense of Mantle. He was trying to get out of his teammate’s way and tripped over a drainpipe.

A photo of Mantle getting injured during the game.
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He hurt his right knee badly. His career with the Yankees rounded up a total of 18 years, and this incident was one of the many injuries he collected throughout his career. He continued to play baseball with a torn ACL.

His Rise to Fame After Moving to Center Field

His career percentages reached an on-base percentage of over .400 and .600 in slugging. He also became a hitting star at the 1952 World Series for the Yankees. With the Yankees, he played most of his career as a centerfielder.

A newspaper clipping on Mickey Mantle.
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In 1965 he was then transitioned to left field. He raked in an incredible all-time World Series record, including runs batted in (40), runs covered (42), and home runs (18). He eventually closed off his career playing first base in his last two seasons.

Mickey Mantle Missed the War

Don’t forget this was right around the time of the Korean War, and men within the required age range were called on to be drafted. Mantle was up as well, but his osteomyelitis condition prevented him from being considered.

Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio at a Hall of Fame event.
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Fans were rather confused by the fact that he wasn’t drafted because he did exceptionally well in the sport at the time, and he was rising to stardom. He even underwent extra physical examinations that ultimately classified him as unsuitable for war.

He Drank Too Much for Most of His Life

Setting aside his record-high career, Mantle struggled with inner demons. There are a lot of famous stories surrounding his drinking problems, and they all started way back in the day. His father and grandfather passed away at an early age, which made him believe he would too.

Mickey Mantle and his wife are sitting in a car.
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As a result, he figured he would get the most out of life, and that was done through overindulging in alcohol. It certainly affected his health. In 1994, he went to the doctor who told him his liver “looked like a doorstep.”

He Went Out Drinking with Billy Martin

This is one heck of a story. One night Mantle and his teammate Martin went out drinking in Detroit. They got wasted and decided to climb out on the ledge of their hotel window. Why did they do this, you ask? Because they wanted to spy on their teammates who were staying right next door.

Martin and Mantle are discussing a ball.
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They realized there wasn’t anything interesting to see because their teammates’ lights were off. The only problem now was getting back inside, and that wasn’t possible via the ledge, so they climbed around the entire building from the 22nd floor.

He Wasn’t Sober This Time

Mantle would usually make sure to play sober; however, that wasn’t the case for one game he thought he wouldn’t play due to an injury. So, he ended up getting drunk the night before the game. Then, you guessed it; he was called up to pitch.

Martin and Mantle pose for a picture together.
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What he ended up doing was so incredible that every single person in the dugout shook his hand. Jim Boutin, his former teammate, wrote that Mantle “staggered up to the plate and hit a tremendous drive to left field for a home run.”

“Breakfast of Champions”

Mantle was accustomed to alcohol his whole life. He would sometimes start his day at restaurants with a drink or two. His “breakfast of champions” consisted of Brandy and Kalua with cream, taking a shot or two of each.

A photo of Mantle walking off the field.
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He lived past 41, longer than any male man in his family. He regretted not taking better care of himself, though. It seemed like bartenders would spoil him whenever he came in with more vodka in his drink, considering he was a baseball hero.

Mantle Often Dealt with Anxiety

His drinking led to various health problems towards the end of his life, but throughout his legendary career, it also led to anxiety attacks that caused him much distress. He shared one incident that led him to believe he was going to die.

A photo of Mantle in the batting cage taking batting practice.
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This was after he spent time in New York at a card show and extensively drank in Florida with his friends. His anxiety attack on the plane back to New York was so bad that paramedics had to assist him when he landed at the airport.

A Little Help from a Friend

Mantle eventually checked into the Betty Ford Center to get help with alcohol abuse, thanks to a friend of his. Pat Summerall, who was then a well-recognized sportscaster and someone who experienced alcohol abuse himself, convinced him to get help.

A picture of Patt Summerall.
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The treatment did help him get sober for some time, but it looks like the damages from alcohol would still have an effect on his health. This included incidents of memory loss and a damaged liver for which he received a transplant.

He Wrote a Letter Warning His Friends and Family

Mantle opened up by he abused alcohol over the years. He admitted that Willie Mays was a better player because he simply took better care of himself. Mantle wrote a letter to his family and friends, sharing his regrets.

A head shot of Mantle during a game.
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“Please don’t do alcohol & drugs. I never did drugs, but alcohol hurt my career terribly.” He warned the younger generation to not “end up over the hill” as he did. He was a legend but felt like he could have done better if it wasn’t for his drinking.

Mantle Was a Ladies Man

Regardless of being married for decades, Mantle wasn’t the most faithful husband, according to fellow Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton’s memoir. Apparently, while on the road, Mantle and his teammates enjoyed the viewing pleasure of other women at the hotels they stayed at.

A photo of Doris Day smiling at Mickey Mantle before a game.
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Mantle and his teammates would place themselves in a good position by windows to spy on women with a telescope. This probably would not have flown over so easily these days. However, during his time, it doesn’t look like anyone would stop the beloved legend.

Did His Marriage End?

Well, not exactly. Mantle married his wife Merlyn in 1951 and together they had four sons. It turns out that they never got a divorce, despite of Mantle’s affair with another woman over the years. Merlyn recalled some of Mickey’s late-night debacles.

A portrait of Mantle and Merlyn before getting engaged.
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“At first, he used to do one-night stands…At the last, he would set them up in apartments.” Having known what was happening, she requested he wouldn’t display his affairs in their hometown. Mickey eventually left his wife in 1980, but they never got a divorce.

Mantle Regretted Leaving His Wife

Mickey recalled that his wife “was the only woman I ever loved for a lifetime.” At a certain point, it was too much for Merlyn. They ended up going to counseling that assisted people who had family members that abused alcohol.

A photo of Mantle and Merlyn standing on a balcony.
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She also entered the program to assist with her own alcohol drinking problem. It turns out they ended up being friends, which she admitted was the basis of all marriages.

He Had a Legendary Career Though It All

Following baseball sensations Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, Mantle would enter the Hall of Fame for his switch-hitter capabilities and his unbelievable records. He was the main figure that attributed to the reputation of Yankees over the years.

Mickey Mantle swings at a pitch during a game.
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Despite facing alcohol abuse, various injuries, and health issues, he managed to overcome many of these obstacles to have a memorable career in the history of baseball. I mean, he holds the record for most home runs in the World Series. Let’s take a look at some of his achievements.

1956 Was His Breakout Season

Mantle recalled this was his “favorite summer” season playing baseball, and it made sense considering it was one of his best. He was collecting numerous new records and collected the Triple Crown and his first Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player Awards.

A photo of Mickey Mantle and Don Larsen holding awards.
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Game five of that year’s World Series was a major highlight. One, because Don Larson had a perfect game, and two, because Mantle made a running catch off the bat of Gild Hodges that kept the momentum alive.

From High to Low

The 1957 season was great for Mantle. He collected his second MVP title and career-high batting average of .365. His base-to-outs ratio was 319 to 312, which was unique considering he had more reached bases than outs.

A portrait of Mantle.
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The 1958 season was a challenge for Mantle. He was fighting a shoulder injury from running into Brave’s player Red Schoendienst during that Year’s World Series. This led him to struggle with his left-sided uppercut.

The Next Couple of Seasons Weren’t Smooth Sailing

It was an inconsistent next couple of years for Mantle. Mantle turned things around in the second half of the 1958 season, getting back into a .330 hitting record. The 1959 season was split as he did well in the first half and poorly in the second.

A portrait of Mickey Mantle on a newspaper clipping.
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He managed to gather some records in that season, regardless of the inconsistencies. Mantle still proved his fitness when running from home plate to first base because he managed to do it in 3.1 seconds. This was impressive considering Mantle wasn’t a light player.

Proving His Abilities in 1960

Although that year’s season had a rocky start for Mantle, with his batting average dropping to .288, the Yankees still managed to enter the World Series. He also participated in two All-Star games. The 1960 season was remembered for Mantle’s longest home run hit in history.

A portrait of Mantle holding bats.
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It all happened at Briggs Stadium, where his hit went as high as 643 feet flying right over the right-center field roof. The year after, Mantle landed the highest paying baseball contract of the 1961 year, reaching $75,000 dollars (which would be worth $650,000 in 2020).

Mantle Was as Sweet as M&Ms

Mantle and teammate Roger Maris were honored with the title of the M&M boys because they were chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1961. Ultimately, he didn’t break Ruth’s record, hitting 54 home runs that season.

A photo of Mantle during practice.
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Fans of the Great Bambino were relieved he didn’t succeed. The New York media didn’t like Mantle very much either, often highlighting his shortcomings in comparison to Joe DiMaggio. However, over time, he learned how to get on the press’s good side, leading the Yankees to be labeled “Mickey Mantle’s team.”

Even with Injuries, He Was Voted MVP

It was the 11th season in a row that Mantle played in the All-Star game, but he was battling a previously existing injury that made him miss 41 games. Regardless, he still beat Bobby Richardson for the MVP title that season.

Mantle screams in pain as a foul ball off his bat strikes his foot.
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The 1963 season was also characterized by a lack of playing due to a foot injury he experienced while getting caught in a chain-link fence in center field. He was trying to prevent a hum run by Brooks Robinson. He did lose the MVP vote to Robinson in the 1964 season, however.

He Became Part of a Special Club

The 1965 season for the Yankees wasn’t too great as they finished in sixth place. Mantle was picked for the All-Star team, but he was used as a reserve player. He did hit the first home run at the Astrodome stadium in Houston while playing the Astros in an exhibition game.

Mantle and other major league baseball centerfields greet the fans.
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Joe Pepitone ended up taking his spot as an outfielder in the 1966 season, and Mantle was moved to first base; however, in 1967, he earned the sixth spot as part of the 500 home run club.

Bidding Baseball Farewell

On March 1st, 1969, Mantle announced he was retiring at the age of 37. He was honored for his incredible career on “Mickey Mantle Day” where he gave his farewell speech on June 8th of that year. He gained several titles upon retirement.

A photo of Mantle waving.
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Mantle earned 636 home runs, becoming the third all-time record holder. He played a total of 2,401 games. This record was only beat by Derek Jeter years later (2011). He certainly went down in history as one of the best to have played the game.

A Massive Threat as a Hitter

It doesn’t matter which side of the plate he was hitting; other players were scared to go up against him. Personally, he defined himself as being better as a right-handed hitter. This was evident by his at-bats hit records, .330 from the right and .281 from the left.

A photo of Mantle during a baseball game.
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His home run records, however, were mostly hit left-handed, considering most pitchers were right-handed (372 VS 164). He is also a power hitter that sits in the top 10 of bases-empty bunt singles.

His Teammates Adored Him

Mantle’s aspiration was for those to recall him as a good teammate. Joe Collins, a fellow team who played with him from 1955 to 1957, said, “Mickey was the type of guy who cared about you as a person.” He recalled that Mantle had a humble presence.

Bob Turley and Mickey Mantle celebrate a victory together.
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Collins shared that Mantle “never complained about his injuries” and sought to be a good example. He also made other players feel comfortable and never demonstrated that egotistic star-like attitude. He also loved messing around with his teammates through practical jokes.

How Much is a Mickey Mantle Signed Baseball Worth?

Mantle made a lot of money during his career, but he was no businessman. However, he didn’t lose any money due to poor investment choices. His baseball cards were highly sought after at the start of the 1980s, as well as other baseball memorabilia.

A signed baseball of Mickey Mantle.
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A signed Mickey Mantle baseball value ranges anywhere from $500 to $800. In 1988, he also opened Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, which he didn’t run himself, ; he left it to the responsibility of others. It is located at 42 Central Park South in New York, by the way.

Baseball Wanted to Keep Him Away

After he retired from baseball, he took up selling life insurance and coaching the Yankees. However, he was eventually forced to leave his coaching gig in 1983 because he was found connected to the Atlantic City gambling casino.

A photo of Mantle’s signed baseball.
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Being affiliated with the casino would make Mantle ineligible as part of the ban from baseball. Mantle felt this rule was “stupid” and took the casino job anyway. He made the Hall of Fame list anyway, so the warning didn’t make a difference.

He Suffered Many Health Problems

When Mantle got out of rehab, his then-36-year-old son died due to substance abuse. Many thought that this tragic event would drag him back into alcohol abuse; however, he remained sober. It turned out that rehab wouldn’t save his life of drinking.

A portrait of Mickey Mantle.
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He was diagnosed with cirrhosis and hepatitis C in 1995. Additionally, he was diagnosed with liver cancer that he received a transplant for. He became well enough to give a press conference at the Baylor University Medical Center where he has treated.

People Had Something to Say

Fans of Mantle came out to watch him address the press, where he told people, “Don’t be like me.” He made an effort to bring about awareness for organ donations through the Mickey Mantle Foundation. He eventually had to go back to the hospital as the cancer had spread.

Mickey Mantle signs a magazine with his face on the cover.
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Some people weren’t happy with the fact that he got a liver transplant in one day. Many attributed this to the fact that he was a baseball celebrity and had special treatment while other patients were on the waiting list for years.

How Did Mickey Mantle Die?

Regardless of their rocky marriage, Merlyn and Mickey Mantle remained friends during his short recovery period. She stayed by his side through the last moments of his life. He passed away on August 13th, 1995 (63 years old), at the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.

A portrait of Mickey Mantle.
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Mantle had apparently once told Eddie Layton that “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was his favorite song, so he played it at his funeral. The year he died, the Yankees played wearing black mourning bands, and Mickey’s number 7 was bestowed on their jersey sleeve.

Where is Mickey Mantle Buried?

He was buried at the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas, Texas, in the Mantle Family Mausoleum. A poem written by a baseball fan called God’s Hall of Fame was recited at his funeral.

A portrait of Mickey Mantle in Las Vegas.
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One of the most recognized sports voices, Bob Costas, shared that Mantle was “a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic.” He shared how challenging it was for Mantle to understand the difference between being a hero and a role model. He recalled that he would indeed be remembered as a hero.

His Family Faced a Lawsuit

Greer Johnson was Mantle’s agent and live-in companion during the last part of his life. It seems like she wanted to auction off various personal items that belonged to Mantle, including a lock of his hair. His family objected to her wanting to auction off such items.

The sons of Mickey Mantle, David and Danny attend an event.
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They filed a lawsuit to prevent the auction from going through. Eventually, certain items were crossed off the list, including his eyeglasses and pill bottles. However, they did take a step back from selling personal items, such as hair and his passport after the settlement.

Honoring the Great Mickey Mantle

His New York Yankees Jersey (number 7) was retired in 1969. In 1964, Mantle was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. His plaque was hung close to the Babe Ruth memorial in the center-field wall.

A photo of Mickey Mantle during a game.
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His plaque was moved to a new Monument Park in 2009 as the Yankee Stadium has undergone renovation and reopened in 1976. Mantle made a video that he wanted people to remember him by, where he said, “When I die. I wanted on my tombstone, ‘A great teammate’.”

Mantle Was Destined to be a Hall of Famer

It was 1974 when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with his former teammate Whitey Ford. His baseball card number was also retired by the Topps Baseball Card company in 1997 that had made his baseball card incredibly valuable.

The retired numbers of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle at Monument Park.
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It was said that one of his 1952 baseball cards went for as much as 5.2 million dollars in January of 2021 after it was un-retired in 2006. The Sporting News added Mantle to the list of “Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players” as 17th in 1998.

He Had a School Named After Him

Mantle had stayed in the hearts and minds of many people, so much so that a school in Manhattan changed its name to Mantle on June 4th, 2002. Honoring America’s pastime through baseball, his pictures were placed on a U.S Postage Stamp in 2006.

A portrait of Mickey Mantle.
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He was added along with other famous baseball players, including Mel Ott. His hometown also honored his legacy by creating a statue for his memorial named the Mickey Mantle Plaza located at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. This is the home stadium of the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.