by Rich Klein
When I was writing a recent Rich’s Ramblings, I noted the “corked” Mantle bat that, as we’ve been reading on Sports Collectors Daily, has drawn the ire of the Mantle family. Where the bat really came from and when it was corked, we don’t really know. The Mick is not here to defend himself, and if he were, he’d probably come up with a brilliant, folksy way of explaining the whole situation.
In many ways, Mickey Mantle was just a good ole country boy who was fortunate enough to have extraordinary skills on a ball field. I can say I saw Mickey play as my dad took me to a Saturday afternoon game versus the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium in 1968.We went to a few other games but that game I remember with more detail as we saw one of Denny McLain’s six defeats during his 31-6 season.
Looking all these later at the Retrosheet box score, several things fascinate me about that day including the fact that winning pitcher Mel Stottlemyre threw a complete game and did not strike out a batter. In addition, late in the game Mickey Stanley moved to second base (Dick McAuliffe was spending a five-game suspension for his role in a fight which ended Tommy John’s season). That move would prove to be a precursor of the famed move of Stanley to shortstop for the 1968 so the very light hitting (.135 for the season) Ray Oyler would not have to bat. And of course, Mantle was 0 for 4 in that game. No, I cannot say I saw Mantle hit a homer but I can say I saw him play.
The next year I remember watching at home when Mantle was honored at this second (and final) ‘Day’ at Yankee Stadium. He was honored with a celebration in 1965 when he played in his 2,000th game and part of that ceremony has Joe DiMaggio introducing him. The complete 1969 ceremony is available, too, in color. Pat Summerall had to take over in the booth that day because all three members of the 1969 Yankees announcing crew were on the field for the ceremony. When Summerall recently passed, that video was posted by a couple of web sites in tribute to show how Summerall could handle just about any situation flawlessly. By the way, a couple of ways of telling the differences between the 1965 and 1969 Mantle ‘Days’ are that he is in uniform for the 1969 tribute and Senator Robert Kennedy is in the background in the 1965 photos (he was gunned down by an assassin in ’68).
We’ve talked about the birth of autograph shows, but about a decade after that game, Mickey Mantle made his first card show appearance. Under the guidance of Tom Catal, who is still active in the autograph hobby, Mantle started signing at shows. We have discussed that when Mantle first signed at shows, promoters usually charged what was then an unheard of $3 with a free Mantle autograph. .That probably turned out to a better investment than 90 percent of the cards anyone bought that day. By 1979, he was getting $1,000 per hour.
Mantle continued to sign at card shows during the 1980’s and with his success, other luminaries such as Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams realized they could make more money signing at shows than they did during their playing career. Mantle seemingly could sign anywhere, draw a crowd and was usually a great guest.
One of my favorite hobby stories revolves around a show Mantle was signing at in the Albany, New York area. I was setting up a table primarily to get votes and mailing list names for the Baseball Hobby News fishbowl. I was going to bring a few items which I thought would be easily sellable to people waiting on line for an autograph.
A couple of notes to understood: in those days I was doing so many shows in the Albany area that I was basically a regular and I had a good relationship with Ed Keetz, the promoter. I asked Ed to put me as close to the autograph line as possible because with what I was doing, I realized that the best way to sell to people at an autograph show is to talk to them while they waited their turn in the autograph line. You never know if you can make a sale, and in addition, you have a captive audience.
About two hours into the show and early into Mantle’s appearance all of sudden things were flying at my table. I was selling the 1987 Sportflics factory sets I had brought with me and gathering tons of names. Plus I was having a treat time talking to the collectors waiting in line. About that time, Mr. Keetz came over and explained I would have to move because the dealers were complaining about how their tables were being blocked by the autograph lines. The dealers said they needed sales from the customers walking in the door who did not want an autograph. Well that took all the wind out of my sails for the rest of the show. I remember going over to the dealer who’d complained the loudest and explained that he had probably actually ruined any sales for the rest of us. That became a good lesson, though, in trying to take advantage of those situations rather than just complaining.
Of course, the next day I was working on my cards at home and heard on the radio that Mantle had fallen ill on a plane and had to be taken to a hospital.
A few years later I did move to Dallas to work for Beckett and one night Theo Chen, who I was working with there, went out to dinner and we actually ran into Mantle. Sadly, he was already under the influence but he was still savvy enough to explain what he would sign and what he would not sign. Unfortunately, the person to whom I entrusted my autograph and a nice 8×10 photo I had to go with it, decided to keep my money and my items rather than frame them as he was paid to do.
That event occurred a year after what I consider the most famous typo in Beckett history. The first few years I was at Beckett we would have price guide meetings with Dr. Beckett in case there were last minute decisions to make before sending the magazine to the printer. It is hard to comprehend but when Beckett magazine pricing hit the newsstands, the prices listed were less than a week old. In today’s Internet world that seems like a lifetime but in those days, a week turnaround was really, really quick.
So one day we had our meeting with Dr. Beckett and we agreed to raise the price of the famed 1952 Topps Mantle to $32,000. The price change was made and when the magazine came for proofing, I somehow missed that an extra zero had been inadvertently added to the price and the 1952 Topps Mantle was now valued at $320,000. Talk about the phones coming off the hook for the next month! Although most people with a brain should have realized it was a mistake, we still got tons of calls that month. I even had fun with that as I also got tons of letters and gave myself the punishment for missing that in a future Reader’s Write column (a/ka letters to the editor).
So these are just some of my Mickey Mantle hobby stories. How about yours?
Rich Klein cab be reached at [email protected]