Wednesday, February 22, 2023



            Among the most popular figures in Yankee history, Phil Rizzuto was the starting shortstop on seven World Series-winning squads, including the teams that won five in a row from 1949 through 1953. Nicknamed “Scooter” for the way he ran the bases, his skills went into decline in the mid-1950s. He called it quits as a player in 1956 then spent 40 years as a radio and TV broadcaster. He became famous for his trademark expression, “Holy cow!” Rizzuto—who stood just 5-foot-6—was a hypochondriac with a number of phobias, including a fear of lightning, snakes, spiders and assorted insects. This made him a prime target for practical jokes. Good-natured almost to a fault, he never held any grudges and rarely if ever lost his temper.

             Though many players in Rizzuto’s day left their gloves on the field between innings, Rizzuto started carrying his back to the dugout and guarding it closely when teammates—particularly Johnny Lindell—began stuffing worms inside of it. Whitey Ford once hung a dead mouse over Rizzuto’s steering wheel and Mantle allegedly stuck a firecracker under the hood. Even when Charlie Keller stuffed “Scooter” in his locker one day and shut the door, the unflappable infielder was able to laugh it off. “That [was] Phil,” Mantle said. “A beautiful guy—not a bad bone in his body. Always trusting and so gullible it made him a pushover for all the pranks we used to play on him.” 

            During a 1952 road trip, Mantle sat next to Rizzuto on a train bound for Cleveland and initiated an in-depth discussion about snakes. As Rizzuto literally began to squirm in his seat, Mantle laid it on thick, knowing that his teammate had grown up in New York City and knew very little about country life. “I owned one,” he said. “...pulled out his fangs with my fingers and trained him as a house pet. Cute little bugger.”

            Rizzuto had heard enough at that point. “Please, Mickey,” he pleaded. “What are you trying to do, make me blow the pennant?” 

            Mantle continued to play jokes on “Scooter” long after his retirement. On July 11, 1992, the Yankees held their 46th annual Old Timers’ Day celebration. In addition to Mantle, the event included appearances from Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Hank Bauer, and Allie Reynolds. Rizzuto, who had retired from his broadcasting job by then, was working as a special correspondent. He was wandering the dugout talking to senior Yankee alumni when Mantle called him over. Rizzuto notified Tom Seaver in the broadcast booth that he was going to engage with his former teammate. 

            “How you doing, Mick?” Rizzuto said.

            “...That thing on?” Mantle asked, tapping Scooter’s mic.

            “Sure is,” Rizzuto confirmed.

            Mantle issued a prolific stream of profanity, leaving Rizzuto absolutely flabbergasted. 

            “Mary Mother of God!” the Hall of Fame shortstop stammered, covering the mic with his hand and beating a hasty retreat.  “Holy Cow, Mick!” 

            Players within earshot burst into fits of laughter.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, you might consider picking up a copy of The Legend of the Mick, which is set for release on March 1 through The Lyons Press.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023





            On September 10, 1953, the Yankees were closing out their season series against the White Sox in New York. With a 9-game lead in the standings and 15 games left to play, another pennant seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Lefty junk-baller Eddie Lopat was in command for the Yankees that day, allowing just 4 hits. In the late innings of the game—which was played on a Thursday afternoon in front of a relatively small crowd—Mantle began blowing bubbles from a clump of gum that was bulging from his cheek. An Associated Press photographer captured the moment on film, creating a major stir. 

            Despite his remarkable skills, Mantle had still not emerged as the eminent power threat he was made out to be. Though many of his home runs traveled considerable distances, he went deep just 21 times in 127 games while finishing second in the American League in strikeouts. A handful of sportswriters questioned his commitment to the team and accused him of not playing hard enough. The bubble gum photo, which was printed in local newspapers across the country, made Mantle appear as if he was slacking off.    

            Casey Stengel was livid. An article published in The Sporting News described the subsequent confrontation between the two men as such: “[Stengel] hauled Mantle on the carpet and asked him what he thought he was doing out there. Casey uttered about fifty dozen choice words, and Bubbles, of course, had nothing to say except, ‘It will never happen again.’” 

            After admonishing Mantle for his actions, Stengel vented his frustration to an army of reporters, using phrases such as “juvenile silliness” and “kid stuff.” Mantle pouted a bit, but kept quiet about the incident, which ended on a positive note. During the early-1950s, the Bazooka and Bowman companies supplied major league dugouts with free gum hoping to win the loyalty of players and gain exclusive rights. Frank Scott—the agent handling Mantle’s commercial affairs—called up Bowman and cut an endorsement deal. Ironically, it was Bazooka gum that Mantle had been chewing in the controversial photo.  

If you enjoyed this excerpt, consider picking up a copy of The Legend of the Mick, which is being released on March 1 through The Lyon Press. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2023



A Little Help from His Friends 

    Humble about his own abilities, Mantle once told a writer, “I was never known for being a smart baseball player . . . I could run and throw and hit. But I didn’t know the game.” Pitcher Bob Turley was among several teammates Mantle turned to for help over the years. A Cy Young Award winner and World Series MVP in 1958, Turley was adept at stealing signs from opposing teams. He acquired the skill while pitching for the lowly St. Louis Browns during the early 1950s. 

    “That’s always been a part of the game and it will be part of the game forever,” said Hall of Famer Whitey Ford. “[Turley] was the best at it on our team. Some guys liked to know what was coming. Mickey did, especially batting left-handed.” 

    Utilizing his sharp observational skills, Turley was able to reliably predict the arrival of curves and fastballs. Though players like Yogi Berra and Moose Skowron preferred not to know what pitches were on the way, Mantle (a dead fastball hitter) used Turley’s advance notifications to a distinct advantage. If Mantle heard Turley whistle, he knew a heater was coming. If the Yankee hurler remained quiet, it meant that a breaking pitch would follow. 

    In addition to stealing signs directly from catchers, Turley learned to interpret the idiosyncrasies of pitchers. Some were more obvious than others. For instance, Connie Johnson of the Orioles had a habit of moving his right foot to the left side of the mound when he delivered his signature screwball. Early Wynn positioned his hands at different levels depending on what he was going to throw, and Jim Bunning had slight variations in his windup. “All pitchers are trying to be perfect and if you observe them, you can pick it all up,” Turley told a writer from the New York Daily News. 

    Mantle estimated that Turley’s predictions were accurate about 70 percent of the time. He gave the hurler credit for a quarter of his home runs between 1955 and 1962. “Mickey exaggerated a little bit,” Turley joked. “It was good for my ego.”

If you enjoyed this excerpt, you might consider picking up a copy of The Legend of the Mick, which is set for release on March 1 through The Lyons Press.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

EXCERPTS FROM THE LEGEND OF THE MICK (Part II) Mantle Encounters Death Threats


As promised, here's another anecdote taken from my soon-to-be released Mickey Mantle biography.


    Anyone who has lived in the public spotlight for an extended length of time would agree that there is a dark side to being famous. For Mantle, it was darker than most. In early September of 1953, the Yankees received an anonymous threat in a letter postmarked from Boston. It stated that if Mantle played at Fenway Park over Labor Day weekend, he would be shot. 

    Taking no chances, the Yankees contacted the authorities and the FBI became involved. With agents keeping a close watch over him, Mantle appeared in both games of the scheduled holiday doubleheader against the BoSox. In the opener, he blasted a two-run homer off of Mel Parnell. He later joked that he had never rounded the bases so quickly after a home run. 

    The 1953 incident was not the only one of its kind. In July of 1960, Mantle was opening mail in the visitor’s locker room at Cleveland Stadium when he stumbled upon an envelope postmarked from Tonawanda, New York, which is located just north of Buffalo. It contained a handwritten letter that read precisely as follows: “I had a son that was drafted with a bad leg and bad eyes he got killed but a rotten draft dodger that could run like you gets turned down. I have a gun with micrscopic [sic] lenses and I’m going to get you thru both your knees and its [sic] going to happen soon.” Again, the FBI became involved and nothing came of the ominous note. 

    Mantle dealt with other unpleasantries over the course of his career. A female stalker once threatened to kidnap his wife and one of his sons if he didn’t buy her a diamond ring. And in 1958, he was attacked twice. One of his assailants was a 13-year-old girl who slapped him in the face and pulled his hair as he was exiting a cab at the players’ entrance to Yankee Stadium. Earlier that season, he was poked in the eye and punched in the jaw by an unruly group of fans, one of whom stole the cap right off his head.

If you enjoyed this brief excerpt, you should consider picking up a copy of The Legend of the Mick: Stories and Reflections on Mickey Mantle, which is due to be released on March 1st, 2023 through The Lyons Press. 

Sunday, January 22, 2023


I'm pleased to announce the impending arrival of my latest book, which is being released by The Lyons Press on March 1. It's called The Legend of the Mick: Stories and Reflections on Mickey Mantle. I designed it as a companion volume to Lore of the Bambino--the Babe Ruth biography I published last year. The main idea of both projects was to provide short, concise retellings of all the popular stories along with a bunch of lesser-known tales. The books can be read a little at a time for people who have busy schedules to keep. The brief chapters give readers closure. 

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting some excerpts from The Legend of the Mick. I'd like to start with one of my favorite topics: Baseball Cards. This particular snippet is slightly different from the one that appears in the actual book.  



            The first baseball-themed picture cards appeared around the time of the American Civil War. Photos of ballplayers or teams were pasted on cardboard backing. Larger photos were known as “cabinet cards” since they were meant to be put on display while smaller pictures were referred to as “carte de visite”—a French phrase that translates roughly to “business card.” Serving purely as mementos, they were not commercially marketed.

            In the 1860s, a sporting goods company named Peck and Snyder began using baseball cards to promote their products. Pictures of teams appeared on the front side of the cards with the advertisements on the back. Known as “trade cards,” they remained a popular promotional tool for many years. 

            During the 1880s, baseball cards were mass produced and distributed nationally for the first time. The cards were inserted into packs of tobacco or cigarettes as a bonus feature (similar to the toy surprise inside a Cracker Jack box). They continued to be produced through the First World War and included some of the game’s most celebrated pioneers, such as Ty Cobb, Napoleon Lajoie, and Christy Mathewson. 

            In the 1930s, baseball cards became associated with bubble gum. Companies like Fleer, Goudey, and Bowman cornered the market until Topps arrived on the scene in 1951. The first Topps cards were actually components of a board game that never caught on. Looking to make their product more marketable, sales executive Sy Berger and graphic artist Woody Gelman came up with an attractive new design featuring brightly colored player portraits and facsimile autographs. Unfortunately, the 1952 football season was underway by the time the set was released and sales were sluggish. The unsold cards ended up in a Brooklyn warehouse, where they remained until 1960.

            Though Berger made numerous attempts to sell the surplus cards over the years, he eventually gave up. Since they were taking up a significant amount of space in the Topps warehouse, he arranged for the cards to be loaded onto a barge and dumped into the Atlantic Ocean. Roughly 500 cases of vintage memorabilia ended up in the watery depths (or so the story goes).

            Mantle’s 1952 Topps card was not the first one issued with his likeness (Bowman beat Topps to the punch in 1951), but it was destined to become one of the most valuable collectibles of the post-war era. As a massive wave of nostalgia transformed the sports card industry into a multi-million dollar enterprise, Mantle became the most sought-after personality in the business. The value of his baseball cards began to skyrocket. In 1978, his debut Topps card was valued at around $600. By 1989, it was up to $40,000 (depending on the condition).

            Mantle was baffled by his own popularity. He told his son, Danny, multiple times that he wished he had a real job and was ashamed of the fact that peddling autographs was all he knew how to do. “He hated the whole card show deal,” Mantle’s wife, Merlyn, asserted. “He felt like a whore because they hired him out.” Expressing his contempt, Mantle was known to make obscene inscriptions on baseballs from time to time. “Fuck Yogi,” “Tough Shit, Asshole,” and “Have a Ball, Cocksucker!” are just a few of the charming sentiments he left behind for posterity. On an interesting side note, the balls with vulgar messages actually carry more value than the ones bearing standard autographs.

            In keeping with the old expression, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” Mantle’s 1952 Topps card has continued to appreciate over the years. Even in poor condition, it has been known to sell in the $30,000 dollar range. In January of 2021, actor and entrepreneur Rob Gough shelled out $5.2 million for a mint copy, officially making it the most valuable card in history. At the time, only six mint copies were known to exist. But in 2022, another mint card unexpectedly surfaced, selling at auction for $12.6 million--a new industry record.       


Friday, March 18, 2022

Who Were Baseball's Home Run Hitters Before Babe Ruth?


Although home runs were far less common in the majors prior to the arrival of Babe Ruth, there were a handful of players who gained some acclaim for their slugging ability. The most prominent ones are as follows:  



An infielder who spent most of his career with the Chicago White Stockings (later known as the Cubs), Williamson might have been totally forgotten if not for his performance in 1884. In those days, the White Stockings played their home games in Lakefront Park, where the dimensions in right and left field were quite shallow (around 200 feet). During the 1883 season, balls hit over the right field fence were counted as doubles. A ground-rule change the following year prompted a dramatic power surge as Williamson clubbed 27 home runs—a new single-season record. Three other Chicago players gathered at least 21 homers that year, which was an unprecedented event. After the White Stockings moved to West Side Park in 1885, Williamson’s home run output dwindled significantly along with the rest of his teammates.  



 Unlike Williamson, Connor actually had some legitimate power. A big man for the era at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Connor was the first man to hit a ball completely out of the Polo Grounds in New York. When he retired after the 1897 season, he had amassed 138 lifetime homers—a major league record. Unfortunately, statistics were not diligently kept in those days and Connor’s notable achievement was not recognized until long after the fact. It’s important to note that major league rules were a lot different in Connor’s day. During a portion of his career, one side of the bat could be flat, batters could call for low or high pitches, and foul tips were not counted as strikes. The pitcher’s mound was only 50 feet from home plate. 



Schulte spent a majority of his playing days with the Cubs. A daring base runner, he stole home 22 times during his career. In 1911, he proved he had some pop in his bat as well, cracking 21 homers—a short-lived 20th century record. Schulte, who was incredibly superstitious, would sometimes wander the streets looking for hair pins, which he believed brought him good luck at the plate. He used extremely heavy bats with thin handles, breaking up to 50 of them per season—very unusual for the time.  



Baker led the American League in home runs every year from 1911-1914 and probably would have won the 1916 home run crown had he not missed more than 50 games. The two homers he hit in the 1911 World Series earned him his famous nickname. He played in six Fall Classics altogether—four with the A’s and two with the Yankees. A clutch performer, he retired with a .363 postseason batting average. In later years, he claimed that the deep dimensions of Shibe Park in Philadelphia robbed him of dozens of home runs. By his own report, he hit the right field wall 38 times in 1913 (likely an exaggeration).



Cravath was the first true slugger of the modern era. “Some players steal bases with hook slides and speed. I steal bases with my bat,” he once said. From 1912-1919, he finished among the top three in homers every year, leading the NL six times. His 24 blasts for the Phillies in 1915 were the most by a 20th century player until Babe Ruth hit 29 four seasons later. Cravath played a majority of his games in Philadelphia’s oddly-proportioned Baker Bowl, which had a 280-foot foul line in right field. A 40-foot wall and 20-foot screen made things a bit more challenging, but the park remained a hitter’s paradise until it closed for good in 1938.    

Explore this topic further along with many others in my latest book, Lore of the Bambino: 100 Great Babe Ruth Stories, available this April through The Lyons Press.     

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Worst Baseball Movie of All Time


    The film based on Ruth’s 1948 autobiography, The Babe Ruth Story, was an unmitigated disaster. To begin with, William Bendix was miscast as the Babe. In order to make him look like the former Yankee hero, makeup artists dyed his hair and gave him a prosthetic nose. Attempts to coach him on the finer points of Ruth’s swing were fruitless. John McCarten of New Yorker magazine wrote, “[Bendix] handles a bat as if it were as hard to manipulate as a barrel stave. Even with a putty nose, Mr. Bendix resembles Mr. Ruth not at all and he certainly does the hitter an injustice by representing him as a kind of Neanderthal fellow.” Physical disparities between the actor and baseball icon were the least of director Roy Del Ruth’s problems. The script was an absolute mess. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times observed, “[the film] has much more the tone of low-grade fiction than it has of a biography.” He was spot-on with that remark. Historical inaccuracies are rampant throughout the film—some more preposterous than others.

            --In one scene, the Babe’s second wife, Claire, warns him that he is tipping his pitches by sticking out his tongue. While it’s true that Ruth arrived in the majors with the bad habit of curling his tongue when he delivered curve balls, he had not yet met Claire during his time with the Red Sox. Another major oversight—Ruth’s first wife, Helen, is never mentioned in the film.

            --During the “called shot” sequence, Claire shouts at the Babe, “Don’t forget Johnny!” in reference to Johnny Sylvester—the boy Ruth famously promised a home run to. But the homer Ruth is said to have hit for Sylvester happened during the 1926 World Series against the Cardinals, not the ’32 Fall Classic vs. the Cubs.

            --In two of the film’s most ludicrous scenes, Ruth orders a glass of milk in a bar and heals a crippled boy by waving at him. In another laughable clip, the Babe hits a dog with a foul ball, severely wounding it. When he sees a little boy crying next to the fallen animal, he scoops it up and hurries out of the stadium in search of medical attention. Accompanied by the crying boy, he ends up at a local hospital, where a physician performs a successful operation, saving the dog’s life.

            Bendix himself once referred to the movie as the worst he ever made and said that he was embarrassed by the audience’s reaction at the premiere in Los Angeles. In particular, he alluded to a scene early in the film when the Babe is discovered by a scout while playing at St. Mary’s. The kids in the scene are all actual teenagers, but Bendix (at thirty-eight years of age) was forced by the director to appear wearing makeup. The final cut is unintentionally funny and, according to Bendix, L.A. moviegoers laughed when they saw it.

This topic is covered in depth along with many others in Lore of the Bambino: 100 Great Babe Ruth Stories, available in April through the Lyons Press.