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On This Date in Sports August 13, 1995: The Death of the Mick

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Mickey Mantle dies in a Dallas hospital at the age of 63. The Hall of Famer had been battling cancer and had undergone a liver transplant a few months earlier. Mantle had been severely damaged due to years of heavy drinking. He had complete rehab at the Betty Ford clinic in 1994 and been sober for a year when he got the cancer diagnosis. In one of his final appearances, Mickey Mantle told fans via video, “Don’t Be Like Me.”

Mickey Charles Mantle was born on October 20, 1931, in Spavinaw, Oklahoma. His father a baseball fan named him after legendary catcher Mickey Cochrane. Mantle grew up in nearby Commerce, where his father worked the local Zinc and Lead Mines. Mantle was taught by his father to be a switch hitter, as he also starred at basketball and football in High School. Soon after his graduation, Mantle was signed by the New York Yankees.

Mickey Mantle made his debut in 1951 as the heir apparent to Joe DiMaggio in centerfield. Wearing #6 he struggled and found himself back in the minors with Kansas City, where he considered quitting. However, eventually, he broke out of his slump and returned to New York where he now donned the familiar #7.

 In the World Series of 1951, Mantle suffered a devastating knee injury when he caught a cleat in a drain while playing right field. DiMaggio retired following the 1951 season, as Mantle recovered and had a breakout season in 1952, playing in the first of 20 All-Star Games. Over the next few seasons, Mickey Mantle became the face of baseball as the Yankees played in the World Series 12 times in his first 14 seasons. During this time Mickey Mantle won three MVP awards and the 1956 Triple Crown.

 

Mickey Mantle was the right man at the right time, he was then seen as the ideal American male and millions of kids grew up wanting to be Mickey Mantle, fighting to wear #7 on their little league teams. He was the first sports star of the television era, the hero of the baby boom generation, and the first star in the collectible baseball card generation as Topps arrived at the same time in `1951, changing the hobby forever.

 Mickey Mantle’s career ended in 1968, struggles in his final years dropped his batting average below .300 as he finished with a .298 average with 536 home runs and 1,509 RBI. Throughout his career he dealt with pain and injuries as the knee injury suffered in his rookie season would nag him his entire career. Off the field he would burn the candle at both ends, spending all hours of the night drinking and partying but being able to get to the park and go 2-for-4 with a home run.

 In later years, Mickey Mantle lamented that he would have taken better care of himself if he knew he would live that long. Mantle’s family had a curse that all male members died shortly after the age of 40. It was true for his father, who died shortly after Mickey made the majors from Hodgkin’s Disease. A disease that ran through his family. After retiring Mantle, the hero of the baby boom generation became the star of the memorabilia market, helping a boom in the 1980s.

 In 1994, Mickey Mantle checked in the Betty Ford Clinic, admitting to years of drinking and alcoholism. He had witnessed friends like Billy Martin consumed by alcohol and now looked upon his grown sons, who were battling their own demons. Billy Mantle was unable to beat the family curse dying of Hodgkin’s Disease at the age of 36.

In his final year, Mickey Mantle talked frankly about his overindulgence speaking out about how bad of role model he had been. Mantle was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1995. He underwent a transplant in June, but the doctors were unable to stop the disease from spreading through his body.  He made an appearance via video at Old Timer’s Day and the All-Star Game in Dallas, warning of the excess of his life.

After Mickey Mantle’s death, it was as if the childhood of America died as grown men cried and dominated the airwaves of talk radio for weeks. Mickey Mantle’s funeral was broadcast live nationally with Bob Costas, who carried a baseball card on Mantle in his wallet delivering the eulogy.