Lisa and I were on our honeymoon in Anaheim, CA having only been married two days prior. That Sunday, I turned on the TV to ESPN’s Sportscenter when an image of Mickey Mantle dominated the screen with the caption “1931-1995” below.
It was twenty years ago today that Mickey Mantle died. “The Last Boy” was the title of Jane Leavy’s Mickey Mantle biography which was published in 2010. It is considered to be the best biography on the iconic slugger.
As Lisa and I went out that day, I could not help but notice grown men and grown women in their late 40’s and early 50’s that were sullen and/or were or had been noticeably emotional.
Their sadness was profound. Naturally, their condolences were with Mantle’s family, teammates, and friends – but they were also struggling with the fact that Mantle’s death was PERSONAL. It was personal because Mantle’s death was a measurable portion of loss from THEIR childhood innocence, one where their myopic hero worship of an immortal Yankee was a by-product of the 1950’s and early 1960’s.
Mantle’s off-field escapades and personal foibles were of little or no concern to the youngsters of the time, nor were most of them even known in common circles. To the children that saw Mickey Mantle play in his prime, he was THEIR idol whose on-field exploits and mannerisms THEY emulated. What many of them didn’t know was that “their” idol was often uncomfortable and often belligerent with this dynamic for most of his life, stating on numerous occasions “I’m just a ballplayer.”
But all of this is well-chronicled, and I am not of this generation being born in the mid 1960’s. Nonetheless, as a diehard Yankee fan and avid sports historian my loss was measurable as well. When I heard the news, I turned to my new bride, gave her a hug, and said “you’ll never see the likes of his kind ever again.”
There are too many things that I could recount on a personal level, so for the purposes of keeping this article concise – it started with my decision to enter the sports card and memorabilia market in 1985 as a 19-year-old college sophomore.
While attending my first sports card and memorabilia show, I purchased my first 1968 Topps Mickey Mantle cards. For an additional $5.00 per card, I got to handpick twenty examples from a small cache of mint-condition cards that came from a recently-purchased collection. My coin collecting skills served me well, for it allowed me to pay special attention to attributes such as centering, corner sharpness, color, and focus just to name a few.
I would quickly learn many more lessons and became a party to many more unique circumstances when ANY transaction (buying, selling, and trading) involved a Mantle card and it wasn’t just that because they were considered cardboard gold and in high demand.
The thrill of purchasing a lower-grade and slightly damaged example of his 1952 Topps card, the most iconic card of the post-World War II era was one of the greatest thrills in my time as a collectibles dealer. That’s because the man whom I had placed it with, an individual who was not exactly known as a nice guy – displayed the demeanor of a young boy in front of my eyes and thanked me for giving him first shot at purchasing the coveted item. It wasn’t necessarily a question of money, because I had 10+ buyers willing to pay the strong price that I was asking. I felt that having the card in HIS collection would mean more to him than the other prospective buyers, and I was right.
Knowing that I had this article planned, I called my former customer last week. He told me that even though he upgraded the card with a problem-free and sharper example, he still owns the original example I sold him in 1989. His first 1952 Mantle is officially an official family heirloom, which will be passed down to his oldest son. I cannot think of any better way to end this piece with that sentiment.