Anyone who played youth baseball or softball knows the pain of striking out; sometimes, in the head of the moment, all you could do was cry. That experience, however, transcends Little League and extends to baseball players everywhere. Even iconic New York Yankees, like Mickey Mantle, hate to strike out.
The Bronx Bombers’ legend, though, didn’t just hate getting punched out at the plate. He was even known to cry after failing to come through at the plate.
Mickey Mantle’s legendary baseball career
While Mickey Mantle would grow into one of baseball’s most famous players, his career almost ended before it began. During a high school football practice, Mantle was kicked in the shin and developed Osteomyelitis; while the disease had previously been considered incurable, a late-night trip to the hospital and treatment with penicillin saved the teenager’s leg.
In 1948, Mantle started playing semi-professional baseball; he immediately impressed a New York Yankees scout and, one year later, signed a contract with the club. While there were some bumps along the way—Mantle’s father had to talk his son out of quitting baseball—Mickey prowess at the plate became the stuff of legends.
.Mantle made his Major League Baseball debut in 1951 but initially struggled in the Bronx. After a demotion to AAA ball, however, he came back better than ever. At the end of the season, Joe DiMaggio retired; Mickey stepped into center field and never looked back.
Despite struggling with injuries, Mantle played 18 seasons with the New York Yankees. He batted .298 for his career, driving in 1509 runs, and belted 536 home runs. Mantle also won seven World Series titles, three American League MVP Awards, one Gold Glove, and one Triple Crown.
For all his success, Mickey Mantle still cried
For all of his professional success, Mickey Mantle didn’t always thrive. During the early days of his career, the outfield almost quit baseball on two separate occasions. Even when he reached the Yankees, he initially struggled.
In a 1959 Sports Illustrated article, Casey Stengel shared that his young star could occasionally be overwhelmed by emotion. “Sometimes he cried when he struck out,” the manager explained. The outfielder was also shaken when the Yankees lost the 1960 World Series on a walk-off Bill Mazeroski home run. While the entire squad “walked off the field like zombies,” Mantle “couldn’t stop crying.” Even the slugger’s wife couldn’t cheer him up; “I felt as bad as I’ve felt in my whole life,” he recalled.
According to The Last Boy, Jane Leavy’s biography of Mantle, the star also felt the pressure of playing in New York. One evening, he apparently sat in tears, saying, “I can’t perform any better than I’m performing, and it’s not good enough.”
Athletes, even New York Yankees stars, are people, too
Every time a professional athlete joins a New York team, you’ll hear the same, inevitable question: can he handle pressures of the Big Apple? While it’s easy to write players like Randy Johnson or Sonny Gray off as soft, Mickey Mantle’s struggles should ideally give fans pause.
No matter how much an athlete gets paid, he or she is still human; money can do a great deal, but it can’t take away doubt and fear. Professional baseball players don’t have to be treated with kid gloves, but there has to be a middle ground between Pollyanna hand-holding and full-blooded abuse.
If Mickey Mantle can be brought to tears by the pressures of professional sports, no one is immune.