Ralph Houk’s Advice Helped Lead to Mickey Mantle’s Greatest Regret

The month was January, the year was 1966, and the decision was that Mickey Mantle was going to retire.

“When I came to New York a few days ago, I was seriously thinking of quitting. My shoulder hurts so much that I couldn’t even throw a ball, my legs will never be any better, and I was pretty discouraged. But Ralph Houk talked things over with me and told me what the people and the team expects, and now I feel better about it and I’m willing to try.”

Mickey Mantle was coming off the worst season of his career. He batted .255 with only 19 home runs and 46 RBIs in 122 games. A revealing statistic is that while Mickey appeared in 122 games, he completed only 36 of them.

At the age of 34, repeated injuries had finally destroyed the player who had been a faster runner than even Pedro Ramos and who had more power than Ted Williams.

“It got so that the last month of the season I couldn’t even throw the ball in from left field or bat left-handed. I hurt my shoulder playing football in the backyard with my sons and my brother Ray, who Ray blindsided me – just hit me from the blind side. The shoulder still bothers me.”

Mickey was referring to his right shoulder, which is the power shoulder for a left-handed batter.

In the 1957 World Series, Mickey was on second when Braves’ right hander Bob Buhl tried to pick him off, but Buhl’s throw sailed over Red Schoendienst’s head as the Braves’ second baseman leaped high into the air in a futile attempt to stop the ball.

As he came down, Schoendienst landed on Mickey’s right shoulder, causing one of the most significant of all the Mantle injuries.

Mickey could no longer handle the high fast ball when batting from the left side as he did before the shoulder injury and he no longer had a powerful throwing arm.

New York Yankees general manager Ralph Houk responded to the situation.

“…no one would want him to go out that way, but that he didn’t realize what he meant to the public, the Yankees, and his fellow players. Just having Mickey Mantle on the team has been a great influence on all of us. And I told him he didn’t realize how good he was.”

Houk told Mickey that he didn’t have to play every day. Manager Johnny Keane would pick his spots, not playing Mickey in second games of double headers and resting him when there was a day game after a night game. Mickey bought it

Mickey once told his friend Tom Molito, who has written a book about their friendship that many consider superior to Jane Leavy’s The Last Boy, that his greatest baseball regret was not finishing with a .300 career average.

After the 1965 season, Mickey’s lifetime batting average was .306, on base average was .426, and his slugging average was .576. He had hit 473 home runs and had 145 stolen bases in 179 attempts for a remarkable .810 average.

Mickey Mantle’s ranking among the all-time greats has increased slowly but steadily over the last few years. Where would he rank if he hadn’t listened to Ralph Houk and retired after the 1965 season?

References:

Durso, Joseph.”Mantle Is Beset by Doubt; Mantle Is Beset by Doubts About His Baseball Future.” New York Times. 16 January 1966, p. S1.

Koppett, Leonard. “Mays vs. Mantle: A Comparison; Injuries to Yankee Over Years Give Edge to Giant.” New York Times. 12 December 1965, p. S2.


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