Friday, February 6, 2009

Number of Days Until Spring Training: Mickey Mantle (#7)

Mickey Mantle. Just has a nice ring, doesn't it? Even if you flipped their career numbers, they weren't writing that song about Moose Skowron.

There's a reason Rodney Dangerfield changed his name from Jackie Roy, Kirk Douglas wasn't satisfied with Issur Danielovich, John Wayne didn't go by Marrion Marrison, and Cary Grant's real name Archie Leach. Of course baseball is far more of a meritocracy than Hollywood, but a player must be noticed, scouted, signed and promoted through the ranks. It's human nature that Tom Greenwade, the scout who first saw him in Baxter Springs, Kansas in 1948, was probably intrigued by "Mickey Mantle" more than his teammate Billy Johnson, the first time he saw the two names on a line-up card.

Part of the reason I don't have the burning desire to be famous is that even if I was President, people would still mispronounce my last name. In Italy it's pronounced "Gar-jou-low" but over here we generally dumb it down to "Gar-jew-low" so people at least have a chance. I used to have an oaf of a homeroom teacher named Mr. Wareing at CBA who would pronounce it "Gar-ge-you-low" no matter how many times I corrected him. The only upside to having a unique, somewhat oddly-spelled and foreign-sounding last name is that telemarketers don't have a shot.

Me: Hello
Caller: Can I speak to Mr. or Mrs. um, Gaar-
Me: (hangs up)

Anyway, Mickey Mantle was signed the day he graduated high school for $400 for the rest of the season and a $1,100 signing bonus. The scout, Greenwade said he was the best Yankee prospect he could remember, Joe DiMaggio agreed and Casey Stengel added, "He's got more natural power from both sides than anybody I ever saw".

Mantle made his Yankee debut on April 7th, 1951 as a lanky 19 year old, yet to grow into his sturdy frame. He was sent back down the the minors shortly thereafter, where he hit a blistering .361 in 40 games, and was then called back up to the Bigs. He and Willie Mays actually made their World Series debuts in the same game. Mays went 0-5 and Mantle 0-3.

It didn't take long for Mantle to live up to his star studded name.

In his first full season with the Yankees in 1952, Mantle replaced Joe D in CF, hit .331/.394/.530, made the All-Star Team and finished 3rd in the MVP voting. It was his first of 14 straight All-Star berths and he placed in the MVP voting 14 out of the next 15 years as well.

During that time, Mantle won three AL MVPs, finished second to Roger Maris in 1960 & 1961, to Brooks Robinson in 1964 and finished in the top 5 three times more. In 1957, he hit .365/.512/.665 and barely edged Ted Williams in the MVP race, who hit .388/.526/.731.

He had unprecedented power as a center fielder. Mantle was legendary for not only the number (536 career), but the length of his home runs, as the term "tape measure home run" was coined for his prodigious blasts. The famous graphic to the right triangulates a shot he drilled off the facade of the Stadium which was still 118 ft high 370 feet from home plate. He also hit a ball clear out of Tiger Stadium that was said to have traveled 463 feet. There were rumors of another at Griffith Stadium 565ft long, but this included the distance the ball traveled after it landed.

For all his swiftness and brawn, Mantle struggled mightily with injuries, missing an average of 18 games a year after his rookie season. He had both acute and chronic ailments in the bones and cartilage in both of his legs. In his World Series debut mentioned above, he and DiMaggio both sprinted towards a fly ball, but Joe called him off, causing Mickey to stop short. Mantle tore the cartilage in his right knee as his cleat got caught on a drainage cover hidden in the outfield grass. To mitigate the damage he might cause after that, he applied thick tape wraps around each knee before games.

In addition to injury, Mickey battled alcoholism. His father died when Mantle was 20 years old and he was nagged by the dread of his own mortality. As a result, he lived hard. He gave incredible effort on the field, but also partied recklessly away from the Stadium. Mick, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin frequented Toot Shur's and the Copacabana, where they would carouse with ladies despite their wives at home and get into their fair share of scuffles and scrapes.

Alcoholism followed Mickey long after his playing career, right up until he died at age 63 in 1995. He had checked into the Betty Ford Center in 1994, but by then, the damage had been done. Upon his examination, a doctor from the BFC told his that his liver was so damaged that "his next drink could be his last". Before he died, Mantle acknowledged his alcoholism and was able to reflect on the harm it had caused him and more importantly those around him.

Today, you can visit Mickey Mantle's on Central Park South. It has a replica version of Yankee Stadium and some awesome memorabilia. Despite the name and the location, beers are pretty reasonable and the wings aren't bad either.

But Stoners LOVE Frosted Flakes...

From Ad Age, via Deadspin, it appears as though Kellogg's is planning on letting Michael Phelps' contract expire at the end of this month.

"We originally built the relationship with Michael, as well as the other Olympic athletes, to support our association with the U.S. Olympic team," a Kellogg spokeswoman said in a statement. "Michael's most recent behavior is not consistent with the image of Kellogg. His contract expires at the end of February and we have made a decision not to extend his contract."
I respect that position, but why didn't they just change the box?

[Obviously, h/t News Of The World for the photo]

Thursdays Just Got A Whole Lot Less Cool

We here at Fack Youk make no secret of the fact that the name of of this rag tag outfit was inspired by Drew Magary's brilliant transcription of Bawston-speak onto the intertubes. During the NFL Season he writes the incomparable Thursday NFL Dick Joke Jambaroo, but I looked forward more to his offseason Balls Deep column, in which he seamlessly blended insights into life, sports, drinking and sex with hatred, profanity, and sarcasm. Back in June, he delivered a stirring address to the Graduating classes of '08:
You think you’re gonna make a difference? You got some nerve, asshole. You’re just part of another class going through the same routine as the class before you. You’re no different. You’re just as full of douchebags and shitheads as any other class. In fact, given the rising popularity of lacrosse, your class is probably even worse. The rest of us eventually had our dreams crushed by the cruel realities of the world. I see no reason not to burst your bubble right here and now. Heed these words, then fall in line like the rest of us.
Truly inspirational.

He also used that regular column to come up with some genuine insights into life, including when he explained why, selfishly, he was voting for Obama:

I’m voting for Barack Obama this fall. Now, I have lots of reasons to do it, all of them blatantly self-serving. Don’t like Obama? Feel like voting for McCain? Fine by me. I’m not interested in starting any sort of political flame war. But the main reason that I’m voting for Obama is because he offers something that McCain does not: an opportunity for me to “be a part” of a historic moment.

It’s an inescapable fact for both candidates that a black man winning the White House would be a far a greater milestone in American History than if another old-ass white guy were to keep the streak alive. The reason Obama can talk about change all the time without getting too specific is because he doesn’t have to get specific. He IS the change. The act of him winning, by itself, has a huge impact.

So there’s something immensely appealing to me about the prospect of living through that sort of moment. I was born in 1976. I have lived through exactly one seminal moment in American history, and that was 9/11. I would very much like something to counterbalance it. I’d like to bear witness to history and not feel ashamed for the odd kind of thrill it provides. I’m voting for the moment as much as I’m voting for the man.

Well, in yesterday's Jambaroo, the last of the NFL season, he announced that Balls Deep was no more.

Also, I regret to inform you that Balls Deep, the regular Thursday column I ran in place of the Jamboroo during the offseason, will not be returning. Much to Buzz Bissinger's relief.

Instead, I'll be continuing my editor at large duties here by popping in for random posts every so often. My hope is to litter the site with more Great Moments in Poop, polygraph tests, Nazi Shark picks, and poorly worded, profanity-filled rants. I believe I also owe the editor of this site a Cultural Oddsmaker column, so look for that, too.

Lastly, not that you needed the incentive, but I've joined Penthouse magazine as a new monthly columnist. Someone on Facebook told me they only masturbate to it for the articles. Me too!

It's a sad day to be an occasionally vulgar sports blogger. Good for Drew, Penthouse is the perfect forum for him, and I hope that what he writes over there resembles all the fantastic stuff he has done for Deadspin over the years.

The first Balls Deep column I read completely blew my mind. I didn't know you could do THAT. There wasn't (and probably still isn't) another place to get random sapient sports-related insights very specific to the college/20's demographic presented without pretense, self consciousness or an editorial filter.

I can tell you that reading his stuff not only helped encourage me to build this little thing here, but to expand my range and talk about all sorts of stuff, and not be afraid to use words that might offend some people. But like all good things, this came to an end.

We still have KSK, and like he said above, he will still make surprise appearances at The 'Spin. But on Thursdays from early February to late August, there won't be something that will make me drop whatever I'm doing at work around 4:00 and head to my Google Reader.