“He’s the greatest prospect I’ve seen in my time, and I go back quite a ways. I’ll swear I expect to see that boy just take off and fly any time.”
—Bill Dickey on Mickey Mantle
He was only 19 years old, still very much a country kid from Commerce, OK when he arrived at the New York Yankees’ 1951 spring training camp. Mickey Mantle was a great name for a ballplayer but about the only thing sportswriters who wrote about the team knew was that he was a great all-around athlete who sat in the dugout over the last couple of weeks in 1950 and had won a Class C batting title in Joplin, MO by hitting .383.
It didn’t take long for Mantle to make an impression.
The RMY Auctions Photo of the Day is among the earliest taken of Mantle in a Yankees uniform. The 4 ½ x 7 ¼” image is a rare full body pose of the promising slugger, bat cocked and ready, on March 22, 1951. It’s among 400 historic photos in the company’s June auction.
Over the course of several weeks in camp, Mantle impressed manager Casey Stengel enough that he would become the team’s starting right fielder, a shocking development to say the least. Joe DiMaggio remained the team’s main drawing card and putting a teenager in the outfield with the legend caused quite a stir. It seems Mantle was anointed the team’s superstar-in-the-making in near record time.
He was assigned number 6; the number directly after Joe D’s famous #5 and the single digit indicating the club believed he would join the ranks of other Yankee icons like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
And then he almost quit.
Mantle was mired in a horrific slump and after being sent back to the minors, he famously called his dad, ready to give up baseball. Mutt Mantle drove up from Oklahoma and gave Mickey a verbal tongue-lashing while offering to help him find a job working with him in the mines. Mick buckled down instead, earning a promotion later that summer and never spent another day in the minors.
Bidding closes June 18 at RMYAuctions.com.