“There’s one thing he can’t do very well. He can’t throw left-handed. When he goes in for that we’ll have the perfect ballplayer.” — Marty Marion
The death of Mickey Mantle’s father when the young man was in his second season with the Yankees weighed heavily on the young superstar. Mickey was sure he would die young too, and he decided to live his life recklessly.
Mantle may have caused more “oohs” and “ahhs” on a baseball diamond than any other player. He was lightning quick, had Oklahoma country boy power, and he could throw and hit a baseball like no one else in the sport. His arrival, just in time to succeed Joe DiMaggio as Yankee luminary, breathed fresh air into a dynasty that won twelve pennants in the first fourteen Mantle years.
One of Mickey’s greatest assets was his ability to crush baseballs batting either left or right-handed. He was baseball’s first switch-hitting home run icon. But his switch-hitting style was the result of an argument between Mick’s father and grandad, one the elder Mantle won.
Mantle grew up in Commerce, a tiny town in eastern Oklahoma that previously had been famous (or infamous) for being the location of the demise of bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde. Commerce is situated on famous Route 66, but it was off-the-beaten-path when Mickey was a toe-haired runt.
Mantle’s father was nicknamed Mutt, and he worked in the mines that lived under the soil of Commerce and the surrounding region. His father had done the same. By the time Mickey was old enough to pick up a toy baseball bat, he knew he didn’t want to do that dirty job. Mutt dreamed of his son playing for the great New York Yankees, and granddad Mantle discouraged the pie in the sky fantasy. At least it seemed like a fantasy.
But Mutt Mantle would not relent, and he helped Mickey grow into a good young ballplayer, teaching him to throw, hit, and play shortstop. Mutt thought his boy might wear pinstripes one day and be the star of the great Bronx Bombers. His father wasn’t so sure, but he finally made a decision.
“If you’re going to make that boy a ballplayer,” the senior Mantle said, “you better teach him to hit all type of pitching.”
Soon, Grampa Mantle was in the yard outside the small Mantle home, tossing pitches to Mickey. It worked out perfectly, because Grampa was a right-handed pitcher, while Mutt was left-handed. So, the two took turns firing pitches at the younger Mantle. Eventually, Mickey was smacking the ball far from both sides of the dish.
The natural right-hander Mantle grew to hit the ball equally as well from the left side.
“The only thing I do left-handed,” Mickey said, “is hit a baseball.”
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