On Deck for the Triple Crown
NEW YORK – It was in the beginning of 1956 that Mickey Mantle started to fulfill his promise of super-stardom. Coming off of the re-injury of a hamstring that hampered the last few weeks of the ’55 season, Mantle caught fire early. On opening day in Washington’s Griffith Stadium, he clobbered two home runs off of Camilo Pascual that were measured as traveling over 450 feet each. The first Yankee home stand of the season provided similar results, with Mantle hitting homers against Ike Delock on successive days. By the end of May alone, the kid from Oklahoma had hit 20 home runs, and certainly, talk of him surpassing Babe Ruth’s single season home run mark of 60 became rampant throughout New York.
The Yankees surged in the early months as well, with Yogi Berra supplying twelve homers for the team, many of which coming against pitchers who feared to put him on base with Mantle on deck. Consequently, the duo had started being touted as the most explosive batting duo since the Babe and Lou Gehrig. By mid season, the Yanks were the class of the league, though, sportswriters and fans were focusing on Mantle’s individual feats more than those of the club. It was a moon shot during a double-header against the Senators on Memorial Day that catapulted him to national fame, prompting cover stories on him in numerous major magazines, including Time and Newsweek.
Hitting left-handed in Yankee Stadium, the home run, which came off of Pedro Ramos, struck the right field grandstand’s filigreed facade, only eighteen inches from the top of the Stadium roof. Had it not been stopped, the ball would have traveled more than 600 feet, and, Mantle would have been the first player to hit a fair ball out of the hallowed park. His home run won the game for the Bombers, and, to add insult to injury, Mickey would hit a 450 foot blast into the right-field bleachers during the second game, also providing the difference in the Yankee win.
Both Mickey and the Yanks kept up their furious pace well into the summer. With the coming of September, Mantle had 47 home runs, needing 14 to break Ruth’s record. Additionally, he had a good chance at the Triple Crown, as he was leading both the American and National Leagues in batting average, RBIs, and home runs – something that nobody had done since Ted Williams in 1942.
Though a pulled groin muscle in the first week of the month would keep the center fielder from reaching the Bambino’s mark, he was able to finish strong in Boston during the last week of September. He would go on to win the Triple Crown of both leagues, hitting .353, with 52 home runs and 130 RBIs, joining Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Rogers Hornsby as the only players to ever do so. Additionally, he led both leagues in total bases with 376, runs scored with 132, and slugging with a .705 percentage.
His performance made him a unanimous selection for the leagues Most Valuable Player award, as well as the Hickok Belt, which was awarded to the Professional Athlete of the Year. More importantly, Mantle’s production drove the Yankees to another pennant, Casey Stengel’s seventh in eight years, and eventually, another World Series title.
Pictured is the young 24-year old, as he kneels in the on-deck circle in the middle of his greatest season. Little did he know that for the next 10 years, Mantle would not only be the top player in baseball, but also the best-loved and most widely idolized of all athletes during his epoch.