A 19-year-old “jewel from mine country” in Oklahoma already had arrived the previous year to elevated typewriter praise and mythical description — or in the words of his eventual biographer, Jane Leavy, “The World Opened Up” to him. Mantle, the “Commerce Comet,” had hit a 600-foot bomb in Southern California on a Yankees barnstorming trip in the spring of 1951, and he had gone on to crack the Opening Day lineup in a No. 6 jersey and then acquire No. 7 when called back up later in the season. He had helped the Yankees to the 1951 World Series title, their 14th championship.
Sky was the limit.
Now it was April 16, 1952. Joe DiMaggio was through as a Yankee legend (and perhaps we will see him later in this countdown), another passing of a torch. Opening Day at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Mantle started in right and batted third in Casey Stengel’s order. In five plate appearances, Mantle was on base four times — a single in the fourth, a single in the sixth (he scored), intentional walk in the eighth, and a two-run double off Carl Scheib in the eighth to blow the game open in an 8-1 victory on the way to a repeat title.
Here are The Mick’s Opening Day stats: 23 for 63 (.365), 17 R, 14 RBI, 4 HR. The Yankees were 12-6 in those.
1951: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1RBI 5-0 win vs BOS
1952: 3 for 4 2B, 2RBI, 2R, IBB, 8-1 win at PHI
1953: 1 for 3, lost 5-0 vs PHI
1954: 0 for 5, 5-3 loss at WAS
1955: 3 for 5, 3R, 4RBI, 3-run HR, 19-1 win vs WAS
1956: 2 for 3, 3 R, 4 RBI, 2 HRs, 10-4 win at WAS
1957: 1 for 4, 2B, 2-1 win vs WAS
1958: 0 for 2, 2 BB, 1 R, 3-0 win at BOS
1959: 0 for 4, 3-2 win vs BOS
1960: 2 for 3, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2B, 8-4 win at BOS
1961: 0 for 4, 6-1 loss vs MIN
1962: 1 for 3, HR, 1 R, 1 RBI, 7-6 win vs BAL
1963: 2 for 4, 2 R, 8-2 win at PHI
1964: 1 for 5, RBI, 4-3 loss vs BOS
1965: 1 for 3, run, BB, 5-4 loss at MIN
1966: 2 for 3, 2B, 2-1 loss vs DET
1967: 1 for 1, R, BB, 8-0 win at WAS
1968: 2 for 3, 1-0 win vs CAL
Oh, there were plenty of Opening Day highlights when Mantle played. The ’55-’56 back-to-back openers, combining for three homers and teaming up with Yogi Berra for that ’56 slaughter of the Senators — loudly launching a title season in which he would claim baseball’s Triple Crown. In ’62, the solo shot in the bottom of the eighth that tied the score, the key blow of the game. Then there was his final Opening Day appearance in ’68, a 1-0 win against the California Angels at Yankee Stadium. In that game, Mantle’s final Opening Day at-bat, he hit a leadoff single to center off George Brunet, and then was caught stealing for an inning-ending double play. Here he is watching the flight of a ball in his final season:
Of course, most of those Opening Day appearances paved the way for All-Star selections (every year in a No. 7 jersey except ’66). Twelve of his 18 overall Opening Day appearances paved the way for World Series action, where he hit more home runs than anyone then or now, and earned seven championship rings.
Mantle was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974. Here is a look back at Mickey Mantle Day in 1969:
Today we honor Mantle at No. 7, and that means we are exactly one week away from the start of Major League Baseball’s regular season, which begins with the historic Opening Series on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia. Then the 2014 Yankees open the regular season April 1 at Houston, in pursuit of their 28th world championship. The home opener is April 7 against Baltimore, with Mantle’s No. 7 looming as always out in Monument Park. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 6?