Like Ruth’s number 3, Jordan’s 23 and Gretzky’s 99, Mickey Mantle is forever identified with wearing number 7. He put it on early in his career and kept it until his retirement in the spring of 1969. In the days before his rookie season, however, Mantle had actually been assigned number 6 and a rare early photo from his career now at auction shows him in action, wearing that unfamiliar digit on his back.
Mantle had been issued the number 6 when he was just 19. In the spring of 1951, he was showing some of the endless promise that had Yankee brass convinced he would become the franchise’s heir to Joe DiMaggio (#5).
“He has more speed than any slugger I’ve ever seen, and more slug than any other speedster – and nobody has ever had more of both of ’em together,” stated his always colorful manager, Casey Stengel. “This kid ain’t logical. He’s too good. It’s very confusing.”
The 6 x 8 ¾” black and white news photo shows Mantle sliding into third during a game that spring. The back carries a date stamp of May 25 but it’s not known when the photo was actually taken.
Mantle’s flashes of brilliance dissipated in the summer and he was briefly sent down to the Yankees’ minor league franchise in Kansas City where his slump continued. He famously called his father to tell him he was quitting. Mutt Mantle drove from the family’s Oklahoma home and after a tongue lashing, Mantle tearfully agreed to keep working. Soon he was back in New York and fulfill his promise as one of the game’s all-time greats.
The Mantle photo one of 1,300 up for bid through Saturday at RMY Auctions.