Next New York Yankees fans were led to believe that Mickey Mantle would become almost as great or even greater, if that were possible, than Babe Ruth.
Someday there may be be a player as good as or better than Ruth, but it is silly to believe that Mantle, Willie Mays or even Hank Aaron approached Ruth.
Mickey Mantle became a legend before he became a legend. Today, he is a mythic figure who was flawed by injuries, alcohol and a family history of early death.
The media are fickle and when the inexperienced, unsophisticated Mantle stopped talking to many members of the press, he was severely criticized. Mantle explained.
”I got into trouble with the press early, because I was scared,” says Mantle. ”I was young when I came to New York, and I got misquoted, well, maybe not so much misquoted as it came out not sounding like me talking.
“I was scared and I didn’t really know how to handle it, so if you misquoted me, I just wouldn’t talk to you anymore, and if you came up in a group around my locker, I wouldn’t talk to anybody, which made the whole joint mad.”
Yankees’ fans, actually most baseball fans, started booing Mantle when he failed to live up to the hyperbole. Forget that he had some fine seasons. He wasn’t Babe Ruth. He wasn’t Joe DiMaggio
Mantle led the league with 37 home runs in 1955, but it wasn’t enough to meet the expectations. It took a Triple Crown in 1956 to turn the boos to cheers, but they started again in 1957 despite a solid season that is now viewed by some sabermetricians as better than 1956.
By 1960, the hope that Mantle would approach the greatness of Babe Ruth, the greatest player in history, was gone.
The 1959 New York Yankees had finished a dismal (for them) third, 15 games behind the pennant-winning Chicago White Sox. The Yankees reacted by going to their Kansas City cousins to steal Roger Maris, who proceeded to become the American League’s MVP in 1960.
Mantle led the league in 1960 with 40 home runs, but neither another home run championship nor the addition of Maris quelled the boos. A fan even jumped onto the field that season in an attempt to punch him. Most individuals have forgotten that Maris was cheered his first season as a Yankee.
Then Maris hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. Booing Mantle stopped for two reasons.
Even the Yankees’ fans couldn’t justify booing Mantle when he was having a season that might result in a new home run record, but of greater significance was that Yankees’ fans embraced Mantle, an “original” Yankee and booed Roger Maris because they didn’t want Maris to break the record.
The media influenced fans. Maris was not “Ruthian.” They wrote that it would be a shame if he and not Mantle set a new record. Others thought that he was “unworthy” of the record.
When Maris, not Mantle, broke the record, the Mantle cheers never stopped and the Maris boos never ended.
”That’s when people started liking me,” Mantle said. “After Roger beat me in the home-run race in 1961, I couldn’t do no wrong. Everywhere I went I got standing ovations. All I had to do was walk out on the field. Hey, what the hell? It’s a lot better than having them boo you. I became the underdog, they hated him and liked me.”
Mantle believed that Maris breaking Ruth’s record was amazing.
”He was just pitched into the middle of all this publicity. We used to have more sportswriters following us that year than we had baseball players. All of a sudden it was on top of him, it was tough. That’s why I think it was such a great thing he did, breaking Babe Ruth’s record.”
Lipsyte, Robert. “GRAPPLING WITH THE GLORY.” The New York Times Magazine 31 Mar. 1985. General OneFile. Web. 5 Nov. 2011.