September 25, 1961: Dr. Feelgood*
In late September 1961 Mickey Mantle was feeling poorly. Sportswriters following the team followed his condition closely, diagnosing a cold, a head cold, a heavy cold, a virus, an eye infection, and an upper respiratory infection that lingered through a long home stand against the Tigers, Senators, and Indians and then a road trip to Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore. When he was still under the weather on September 24, Mel Allen offered help: “I have a doctor. He’ll give you a shot that’ll fix you right up.”
The voice of the Yankees made an appointment for him to see Dr. Max Jacobson on Monday, September 25, an off day for the American League champs.
All summer Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris had chased each other and Babe Ruth’s unassailable home-run record across America. “Sixty, count ‘em, sixty!” The Babe had crowed that September afternoon in 1927. “I’d like to see some other sonofabitch do that!”
For much of the season, it appeared that both of them might just do that. The pursuit played out against the backdrop of new administrations in Washington and in the Bronx. Ike and the Ol’ Perfessor had ceded center stage to JFK and Ralph Houk, the new Yankee skipper. Vigor — make that viggah — was the watchword of the day. No one suspected how much Dr. Max Jacobson contributed to the vitality of the young American president. Nor did anyone suspect how much Mantle was flagging until he confided in Mel Allen on the flight back from Boston on Sunday, September 24. The day before he had hit his fifty-fourth home run, his first since September 10.
Like President Kennedy, Mantle had a secret that required discreet medical intervention. When he arrived at Jacobson’s Upper East Side Manhattan office, Dr. Max told Mantle to pull down his pants and filled a syringe with what Mantle later described as a smoky liquid. He squirted some into the air and plunged the needle deep into Mantle’s hip. Too high, Mantle said later. It hit bone and raised the question: how many demons can dance on the head of a hypodermic needle?
Dr. Max Jacobson already had a cabinet full of files on famous patients, many with secret and special needs. He had flown to Europe with Kennedy aboard Air Force One for the Vienna summit with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in June 1961. Although his name was carefully omitted from the official presidential traveling party, he accompanied Kennedy to the residence of the American ambassador, treating the president forty-five minutes before Khrushchev was scheduled to arrive. The chairman, however, was running late. So Jacobson sat on a windowsill in a vestibule outside the music room where the leaders of the world’s two superpowers met in case the president needed a pick-me-up.
In New York, Jacobson was known as Dr. Feelgood to the jet-setters, celebrities, and pols who visited his office day and night for injections of amphetamines laced with vitamins, human placenta, and eel cells. Among them: Eddie Fisher and Johnny Mathis, Cecil B. DeMille and Otto Preminger, Anthony Quinn, Emilio Pucci, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote. In time, he would treat JFK’s girlfriend Judith Exner as well as Jacqueline Kennedy, whose depression and headaches following the birth of John F. Kennedy, Jr., in November 1960 concerned the president enough to summon Dr. Max to Palm Beach in May 1961.
Mel Allen, whose livelihood depended on his baronial vocalization, trumpeted Jacobson’s virtues, raving to friends about the medications “Miracle Max” prescribed. “Man, what he can do!” Allen exclaimed. “Those pills, they work.”
On the first day of spring training — the last time the Yankees trained in St. Petersburg — Houk called Mantle into his office to give him new marching orders. He was known as “The Major” because of his valor under fire at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. He didn’t believe in team captains but he believed in Mantle. “I told him, ‘You should be the leader of our club because everybody respects you and you don’t like to lose,’” Houk said. “He didn’t think he could do it. I just remember him saying, ‘Ralph, if that’s what you want me to be, I guess I gotta be it.’”
Mantle figured Houk had made the same speech to Berra and Ford; he hadn’t. Houk understood the value of Mantle’s understated example, how his tolerance for pain lent perspective to an everyday charley horse. “I knew he was what we needed,” he said. “Mickey, if he struck out three times and the team won, he was a happy guy in the clubhouse. But he could have a great day and nobody’d know it.”
It may have been the first time in Mantle’s adult life that he was charged with responsibility rather than absolved of it. “It changed me over in my thinking,” he told Howard Cosell in 1965. “When Ralph came here, I didn’t feel at ease playing the game. People were still booing me, and I didn’t know how to take it. Ralph come over, and he says, ‘This is our leader,’ which I really wasn’t. He kept saying all this — I was the leader and I got a lot of guts because I play on bad legs. I started thinking, ‘Maybe I am a little better than I thought I was.’ “
A baseball lifer, bullpen catcher, and perennial third-stringer — Houk had the affection of his players, many of whom he had managed in the minor leagues, and many of whom had grown tired of the Old Man’s lineup eccentricities and verbal shtick. Gone were the erratic starting assignments. Ford would pitch every fourth day and win twenty-five games. Gone was Stengel’s hated platoon system. Houk stuck with a set lineup.
But the biggest difference between the regimes was perhaps also the subtlest: Houk’s invitation for Mantle to rethink himself. “I was close to Mickey, him being an old country boy like he was and me being one, too,” Houk said. “Mickey liked me. He knew that I fought for the players even as a coach before I became manager. I knew he would do anything I asked him to do.”
Unlike Houk, Mantle was a follower, not a leader — everyone said so, including himself. In coaxing him to take on a new role, Houk appealed to the better angels of Mantle’s nature, his conscientiousness, and sense of responsibility. “He was so modest I had to let him know what he meant to the ball club and what he meant to me,” Houk said.
When the season opened, Mantle was living alone in a suite at the St. Moritz Hotel on Central Park South. Merlyn had stayed home in Dallas with their four boys. Spring rains on the East Coast had played havoc with the first week of the season, scrambling schedules and pitching rotations. More wet weather was predicted.
When the April 19 game against the Angels was postponed, Mantle invited his former teammate Eli Grba up to the suite for a party. Grba, who’d gone to the expansion franchise in the off-season draft, gladly accepted. As soon as he arrived, Grba said, “Mickey took off. So here we are. Two guys and four of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen in my life. As he’s leavin’, he says, ‘Take your pick.’ And they’re not prostitutes. Lord have mercy!
“It wasn’t like he was pimpin’. They were friends. He went someplace with Bobby Layne. Left us there. ‘Here, party!’”
Grba got home at 4 a.m. and awoke six hours later to find a cloudless sky and unwelcome news in the morning paper — Doubleheader: Yankees vs. Angels, game 1, starting pitchers, Ditmar and Grba. “Oh, shit,” he said.
When he got to the ballpark, a teammate pulled him aside and said, “What did ya do to Mickey last night? He doesn’t feel too good. Sonofabitch isn’t gonna play.”
“But, see, I know better,” Grba said. “Because when Mickey wasn’t as strong, he hit the ball further. He didn’t swing as hard. I get out there, and I’m pitching a pretty good ball game. First inning. I get a man on base. He comes up. The sonofabitch hits a home run. I hung a slider. What the hell — he’s Mickey Mantle.”
In the bottom of the fifth inning, with two on and two out, the score 2-2 and Mantle due up next, Angels manager Bill Rigney walked to the mound for a conversation. “Do you wanna pitch around him?”
Grba considered his options. His control was never that refined. He decided to waste a pitch inside anyway. But which pitch to waste? “I have a hard time hitting your fastball,” Mantle had told him the night before. “Your ball is like a metal ball.”
He’s setting me up, Grba reasoned. He’s gonna look for the fastball. And he’s gonna hit that sonofabitch nine miles.
So he threw Mantle a hard slider inside. “Well, that’s what he was lookin’ for all the time,” he said. “He hit that sonofabitch nine miles.”
As Mantle circled the bases, Grba circled the mound, calling him every name he could think of, beginning with Okie.
Mantle drove in five of the Yankees’ seven runs and was personally responsible for five of their first seven wins of the season. When he hit his fourth homer of the year the next day, The New York Times took the measure of his auspicious start: ” … he’s eight games ahead of the pace set by Babe Ruth when he hit sixty homers in 1927 …”
The drumbeat of historical imperative sounded often and early. By the end of the second week of the season, he had seven home runs; had driven in the winning runs on April 17, 21, and 26, and had saved two games with his glove. On May 2, he hit a tenth-inning grand slam to beat Camilo Pascual in Minnesota. “Never felt better in my life,” he said.
Two days later, he hit his ninth home run and embarked on a 16-game hitting streak. “Just like 1956,” he observed.
Roger Maris was batting .200.
Big Julie Isaacson, a union guy and prototypical celebrity fixer, had befriended Maris when he arrived in a trade with Kansas City in 1960. So when Big Julie got an SOS from a concerned pal who owned a bar down the street from the St. Moritz he turned to Maris for help. “Mickey was in the bar the night before,” Isaacson said. “Two girls tried to roll him. Mickey always walked around with a lot of money. My friend took the money. Got him back to the St. Moritz. Called me. Twelve or thirteen hundred bucks. Gave it to me. Gave it to Mickey. Never knew it was missing. Roger said, ‘Jules, we got to take Mickey out of the St. Moritz.’”
Isaacson had rented a two-bedroom apartment in Queens on the Van Wyck Expressway for Maris and his roommate outfielder Bob Cerv. The building was popular with stewardesses who flew in and out of nearby Idlewild Airport. “We go to the St. Moritz and talk to Mickey. Roger says, ‘Mickey, you got your own bedroom, furnished apartment.’ Mickey objected a little at first. ‘I’m not going to go out to God’s world.’ Queens is God’s world to Mickey.”
In Cerv’s recollection, it was Mantle’s idea to come to Queens, and he wasn’t sure it was a good one. “I was skeptical about it,” Cerv said. “I didn’t know if I wanted him or not, ’cause I knew what he did. Roger and I talked it over and he said, ‘Oh, hell, let him come.’
“So I said okay. But I said, ‘these are the rules. If you break them, you’re outta here — no partying, no girls.’ We talked to him pretty heavy. He said, ‘I’d like to have a summer like that.’”
Mantle and Maris appeared so opposite that people assumed they couldn’t possibly be friends. But they had much in common. Both were miner’s sons. Both were three-sport, high school athletes (both half backs recruited by the University of Oklahoma). Both married their high school sweethearts, who stayed home to raise their families in the shadow of the big time. Together they had the best summer of their baseball lives.
For fun, they Frisbee’d Big Julie’s collection of Yiddish LPs across the Van Wyck from the balcony of their apartment. Over breakfast, they read Dick Young’s account of Mantle/Maris acrimony in the Daily News and then read it aloud in the clubhouse again for everyone’s benefit. “We all laughed that summer — ‘Mantle/Maris feuding’ — and we were living together!” Cerv said.
Maris had one home run at the end of April, twelve at the end of May, and twenty-seven at the end of June. Joe Trimble of the Daily News was the first to ask Maris if he thought he could break The Babe’s record. “How should I know?” Maris replied with impolitic honesty. Between May 17 and June 22, he hit twenty-four home runs in thirty-eight games, an astonishing accomplishment that went largely unremarked in Mickey thrall. When Maris leaped ahead by six home runs on June 20, The Sporting News declared, “Time to sit up and take notice.”
At the All-Star break, Maris had thirty-three home runs; Mantle had twenty-nine; and baseball commissioner Ford Frick had a problem. Before he was named commissioner in 1951, before he became the PR man and then president of the National League, Frick was known primarily as The Babe’s Ghost. He was “quite aroused,” as Dan Daniel put it, at the assault on The Babe by a pretender feasting on diluted American League pitching.
On July 17, Frick issued his convoluted and controversial “asterisk” decision, which never actually mentioned the word. What it boiled down to was this: Mantle and Maris had to break Ruth’s record in 154 games — the number he played in 1927 — or would have some “distinctive mark in the record books” attached to the accomplishment. The Sporting News later included Frick’s edict among the thirty most shameful acts in baseball history.
As the summer progressed and the home runs mounted, and the Yankees advanced on their 154th game, the pressure doubled and redoubled. Maris lost gobs of hair; the circles under his eyes appeared etched in charcoal. Mantle basked; he became the beloved.
The Yankees had to revive the postgame suicide squad created in 1960 to protect him from a post-game pummeling, this time to safeguard him from unaccustomed adulation. Maris was presumed to be a sacrificial rabbit in the home run race, his role to encourage and then defer to The Mick. But he declined to play the part. He hit four home runs in a July 25 doubleheader, the last of which, his fortieth of the season, surpassed his career best in 1960. Mantle hit his thirty-eighth the same day and regained his rightful place as home-run leader with three on August 6. A week later, the photo-op 44 jersey prepared by the PR department was old news by the end of the doubleheader in Washington, after which they both had 45 home runs, and were both sixteen games ahead of Ruth’s pace.
Newspapers across the country began running daily tout sheets; Newsday printed “Race with Ruth” numbers below photos of the three protagonists. The pictures of Ruth and Maris looked like mug shots. Mantle looked like a choirboy.
When Maris didn’t fade, the righteous guardians of baseball history demanded to be heard. Who does he think he is? What right does he have? “It would be a shame if Ruth’s record got broken by a .270 hitter,” Rogers Hornsby declaimed.
Maris would never trail Mantle after August 15.
The Detroit Tigers arrived in New York for a decisive three-game series over Labor Day weekend. The race had been close most of the year. The Yankees led by 3½ games when the Tigers arrived on Friday, September 1. The Yankees won 1-0, with a run in the ninth. On Saturday, Maris hit his fifty-second and fifty-third home runs after scoring the tying run on Mantle’s sacrifice bunt. On Sunday, Mantle hit his forty-ninth and fiftieth home runs. On Monday, neither homered but the Yankees swept a doubleheader from the Senators. Four days later the Yankees led the Tigers by 10 games — and their lead would never be less. Their agent Frank Scott announced that the M & M boys would appear on The Perry Como Show during the World Series. Their fee was $7,000 each.
On Labor Day, Mantle heard the siren call of the Great White Way and returned to the city. All summer he had played by the house rules, except once, Cerv said, “When he brought a gal up there. We ran ‘em both out, and pretty soon, about a couple of weeks later, that’s when he left. Labor Day, he said he had enough of this life. Went back to Times Square.”
On September 9, Maris hit his fifty-sixth home run; he wouldn’t hit another for a week. The next day, Mantle hit his fifty-third home run; he wouldn’t hit another for almost two weeks. On September 15 they both went 1 for 9 in a doubleheader in Detroit. Maris sequestered himself in the trainer’s room with his brother for forty minutes, precipitating rhubarb with the gentlemen of the press who had been stood up at his locker. When he finally emerged, Mantle whispered damage control advice. Reporters who remembered him as a shy, sullen rookie were stunned by this new iteration of The Mick.
He waved the white flag before the Yankees left Detroit. “I can’t make it, not even in 162 games,” he said. He had already sent a telegram of concession to Mrs. Babe Ruth, leaving Maris to soldier on alone, stalking a record no one wanted him to break.
Hurricane Esther headed for the East Coast and the Yankees headed for Baltimore, followed by a throng of fifty reporters and unkind headlines: “Maris Begins the Big Sulk.” It was make or break in The Babe’s hometown.
Mantle wasn’t in the starting lineup on September 19 — he pinch-hit in the ninth inning of the first game of a doubleheader and struck out. He didn’t leave the bench in game two, the 153rd game of the season. Maris went 1 for 9 again. He had fifty-eight home runs and one more day to upstage The Babe.
On the morning of September 20, before the Yankees’ 154th game of the year, Maris went to Johns Hopkins University Hospital to visit the son of a former teammate who was dying of cancer, stiffing Milton Gross of the New York Post on a scheduled interview. He refused to explain his absence even to Big Julie, who had arranged the appointment. Gross ripped him in the next day’s paper. The boy died two days later.
That night, Houk was forced to realign his outfield when Mantle declared himself unfit to play. “Eye infection,” Houk explained.
Maris hit his fifty-ninth home run and barely missed a sixtieth. The Yankees clinched their eleventh pennant in thirteen years, celebrating in the usual manner by pouring bad champagne all over each other. Maris exhaled. Chest heaving with emotion and exhaustion, he told Leonard Shecter of the Post: “I tried. I really tried.”
The next morning, Mantle stayed in bed. His “recovery from the sniffles” had been “complicated by a penicillin rash,” the Herald Tribune reported. “Nothing bad,” Houk assured the reportorial scrum.
Mantle accompanied the team to Boston but was said to be “peaked” and unlikely to play. In the first inning Saturday afternoon, he hit his fifty-fourth home run, the most he would ever hit in a season. He was replaced by Tom Tresh after singling in the seventh inning. On Sunday, he went 0 for 3 and left the game in the bottom of the sixth. On the plane back from Boston, Mel Allen mentioned he knew a doctor named Max Jacobson.
Most patients left Jacobson’s New York office feeling energized. Billy Crystal’s grandmother would come home after her “vitamin” treatments and “make nine pot roasts in an hour,” her grandson said. No wonder. Jacobson was injecting patients with up to 30 to 50 milligrams of amphetamines — speed — a highly addictive stimulant that made them feel as if they could run forever, sing forever, or cook forever. But Mantle left the doctor’s office in excruciating pain. The needle felt like a red-hot poker, he wrote in The Mick. Jacobson advised him to play hurt. Walk it off. “Don’t take a cab. You’ll be fine.”
He wasn’t fine. An elderly Good Samaritan offered to call a doctor when she saw him staggering down the street. “No, just a cab,” he replied.
The next morning he was burning up with fever. His wife, Merlyn, was due to arrive that afternoon. The hotel sent someone to meet her train. He awoke to find her at the foot of his bed, asking, “What happened to you?”
“I just got sucked dry by a vampire.”
“Mick told me, ‘I think the guy wanted to hurt me,’” Merlyn said. “He said the place was filthy and he had blood on his coat.”
Jacobson’s son, Thomas, a cardiologist in Arizona, said they spoke about Mantle only once, a brief conversation in which Dr. Max acknowledged treating him but offered no details about his care. “He’d taken care of so many well-known people that it was just matter-of-fact,” Thomas Jacobson said. “I don’t think he had any of these special amphetamines or anything that I know of.”
The New York Times exposed Jacobson’s practices in a series of investigative reports in 1972. His medical license was revoked three years later.
Mantle said he never knew what was in Jacobson’s syringe, and he never paid the bill, either. Mark Shaw, the Kennedy family photographer, paid with his life, dying of amphetamine poisoning in 1969. Tennessee Williams’s brother told the Times that the playwright had spent three months in a mental hospital that year as a result of taking drugs prescribed by Jacobson. When Mel Allen was fired by the Yankees after the 1964 season, the infamous medical referral was widely cited as cause.
Mantle played only two complete games after September 17 and started only two after seeing Jacobson on September 25. The morning after, New York papers were filled with medical bulletins: Cerv was in Lenox Hill Hospital having surgery on his right knee; Mantle showed up at the Stadium looking as if he hadn’t seen daylight in a year.
On Tuesday evening, September 26, Merlyn kept Pat Maris company in a box beside the Yankee dugout. Mantle left the game after walking in the first inning. He watched Maris hit his sixtieth home run on the clubhouse TV. Mrs. Babe Ruth cried.
When Mantle did not report to the Stadium the next day, the Yankees sent a doctor to examine him. He was admitted to Lenox Hill Hospital with a 101-degree fever. Team physician Sidney Gaynor operated that night, incising and packing an abscess in the area of the right hip. It was “like a boil,” Gaynor explained, only under the surface of the muscle. In the Post, Shecter offered an explanation befitting a fretful grandma: Mantle had contracted the infection “possibly as a result of playing on a wet field.”
Sunday, October 1, was a beautiful day to make history. Maris did not feel up to it. The 35-inch, 33-ounce bat with which he had hit number sixty felt empty. The crowd was as sparse as his hair — paid attendance 23,154 — despite the $5,000 reward a California restaurateur had offered for the sixty-first home-run ball. The right field stands, however, were packed. “He did not want to play the last game of the season,” said Whitey Herzog, who became close to Maris during their tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals. “His teammates talked him into it. He really didn’t want to break that record.”
It was 2:42 p.m. when he came to the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning. The game was scoreless, the bases empty, the count 2-0. Tracy Stallard, the young Red Sox pitcher, threw the ball — “a strike,” he said later, “knee high on the outside corner of the plate” — and Maris hit it into the right field stands, six or seven or fifteen rows deep and just to the right of the Yankee bullpen, where it was caught on the fly by a nineteen-year-old Coney Island boy named Sal Durante. As the scoreboard flashed the official news — maris 61 homers break ruths 1927 record for a season — his teammates forced him to take a second curtain call.
In the clubhouse, a radio guy asked, “As you were running around the bases, were you thinking about Mickey Mantle?”
It would always be about The Mick.
It was close to 8 p.m. when he and Pat left the Stadium with Julie and Selma Isaacson, heading downtown for dinner at Joe Marsh’s Spindletop. There was time for a late Mass at the Catholic church across the street from the restaurant before dinner. “Two minutes later, here comes Rog and Pat,” Isaacson said. “I said, ‘That’s a quick Mass.’ He said they spotted him in the church. Priest started talking about ‘Roger Maris is here.’ So he walked out.”
They made another stop at Lenox Hill to visit Mantle and Cerv. Mantle sat up in bed when Maris came in. “Rog went over, and they hugged one another,” Isaacson said. “He said, ‘It should have been you, Mick.’
“His eyes started to tear up, Mick.”
Maris was too exhausted to eat. Big Julie had invited Milton Gross along to dinner to make up for the Baltimore snub and he re-created the scene in the Post the next day. A little girl approached their table to ask Maris for an autograph. “Would you put the date on it, too, please?” she asked.
“The date?” Maris said. “What is today’s date?”
“The date is the one you did what nobody else ever did,” Big Julie replied.
The unasked question was: why had Mantle sought treatment from someone other than the Yankees’ team physician? “It was just prior to the World Series,” said backup catcher Johnny Blanchard. “He didn’t want anybody to think that he wasn’t healthy. ‘Cause anytime you go to the team doctor, immediately it goes to the front office.”
Blanchard didn’t say what “it” was. Third baseman Clete Boyer finally copped to the obvious. “I can’t believe you goddamn media people are so dumb,” he told me. “Nobody ever figured it out. Why would he have gone to another doctor other than the Yankee doctor? How ’bout the clap? C-L-A-P.”
Boyer had a good laugh at the credulousness of sportswriters who solemnly reported the progress of a virus that had somehow “lodged in his buttock,” as Shecter wrote in the Post. “The twenty-four-hour virus, and it got infected?” Boyer said. “C’mon.”
Mantle never publicly acknowledged the indiscretions that hobbled him. “I think we just did a helluva job and he had a helluva summer until September,” Cerv said. “Then he said, ‘I’ve had enough of this. I gotta have some good times.’ In two weeks, he was so screwed up he didn’t even play in the World Series.”
His condition wasn’t news to the Cincinnati Reds’ pitching staff. Jim O’Toole heard it from Darrell Johnson, the former Yankee catcher, as they watched Maris hit his sixtieth home run. “Mantle’s got a little problem.” Jim Brosnan heard it from the author George Plimpton, who said, “Mantle was not going to be stealing any bases, because if he had to slide, he’d be bleeding all over the ballpark. I asked what the hell all that was about, and then he told me. What the hell else would you get a shot in the butt for?”
The Series was over before it began. It ended the moment Jim Turner, the longtime Yankee coach now with the Reds, decided to take a contingent of pitchers and catchers on a tour of the Cathedral of Baseball. “He took us out with all the monuments like we were supposed to worship all those guys,” said Johnny Edwards, an impressionable young catcher. “I think it got us a little uptight about where we were and who we were playing.”
Their only hope was Mantle. When he was released from the hospital on Monday morning, October 2, he went straight to the Stadium, where reporters duly noted his pallor and his weight loss. He did not work out. Gus Mauch sent the batboy Frank Prudenti on an urgent mission up the Grand Concourse to procure a magic salve said to speed the healing process. Mantle summoned Moose Skowron, who had taken biology in college, to watch Mauch change the dressing on the wound, which had been left open in order to allow it to drain. “I never forgot that,” Skowron said, “’cause the blood and the pus was coming out of it.”
The size of the hole was generously and variously described. “Big enough to put a baseball in,” Mantle said. And it was deeper than it was wide. “They cut a circle about the size of, oh, I’d say a small platter,” said utility infielder Joe DeMaestri. “They cut it in four sections, like an X, and pulled back the layer of skin, of the meat, and they had to then put stuff in there. They had to fold back the outer layer of his skin to drain it.
“He’d come in and he’d lay down on the table on his side and he’d move his toes and you could see the tendons move. In the sore you could actually see the cords in there. And he’d laugh. Mickey had a funny way about himself.”
The day before the Series opened, he took five batting-practice swings and told Houk he couldn’t play. The Yankees won one and lost one without him. Houk didn’t see the wound until the Yankees arrived in Cincinnati for Game 3. “My God, you’d better not play,” The Major said.
But the doctors had assured him that playing wasn’t going to hurt Mantle further. It was just going to hurt. Mauch bandaged and padded and cushioned the area as best he could. “They taped a big rubber doughnut as a protection so that if he bumped it, it would give him a cushion on the sore,” DeMaestri said. “If you just touched it, my God, such pain you couldn’t believe it.”
Mantle went hitless, striking out twice. But his wise counsel proved decisive when Blanchard consulted him before pinch-hitting against Bob Purkey in the eighth inning. “He’s going to throw you a slider first pitch for a strike,” Mantle said. “Then he’s gonna come back with knuckleballs.”
Blanchard homered on a first-pitch slider to tie the score. When he returned to the dugout, Mantle said, “Hey, Blanch, you owe me a six-pack.”
“I bought him a case,” Blanchard said. Maris won the game with a ninth-inning home run.
Game 4 was a rematch of the Series opener: Whitey Ford versus Jim O’Toole. Mantle led off in the top of the second inning with a hard ground ball to third. Halfway down the first base line, he pulled up. The effort had yanked the unstitched wound apart. Blood began to seep through the layers of protective padding. Mantle tried to disguise the spreading stain with his glove when he returned to the dugout after the bottom of the third inning. “Clete Boyer went to Ralph Houk and says, ‘Do you know Mickey’s bleeding?’” Prudenti said. “Ralph went over and says, ‘Let me see that leg. Move the glove.’
“And Mick was trying to hide it. And Ralph Houk says, ‘Come on Mickey, I’m takin’ you out.’
“He says, ‘Aw, that ain’t bad. It’s nothing.’”
“You’re bleeding like a stuck hog,” Houk said, summoning the trainer.
“Mickey didn’t believe him,” Blanchard said. “He had to drop his pants to look at the red spot, the blood. He couldn’t see down the back of his pants. He looked down and there it was. He said, ‘Okay,’ and he left. Boy, talk about a competitor.”
After the game Mantle gave a somewhat different account to Joe Reichler, the baseball writer for the Associated Press. Naked except for the bandage on his hip, he told Reichler he knew he would have to quit after the third inning. “At first I could only feel the blood running down my leg,” Mantle said. “Then I could see it through my ball suit. When I came in at the end of the inning, I told Ralph I couldn’t run and he said he wanted me to bat and if I got a hit, he would take me out for a pinch runner.”
So after Maris led off the fourth inning with a walk, Mantle walked gingerly to the plate, took two pitches for balls, and fouled off the third. He sent O’Toole’s fourth pitch on a low line drive to left center field. Any other time, it would have been a double. Mantle had to stop at first. Maris went to third; he would score the game’s first run. From the mound, O’Toole observed “the bloody mess on his leg” and saluted his courage fifty years later: “He may have caused it all himself, but God bless him.”
Mantle left the game for a pinch runner and received an ovation from his teammates when he reached the Yankee bench.
The entrance to the visitors’ clubhouse at Crosley Field was through the home dugout. Everyone in the ballpark understood the significance when Mantle made his way across the field, down the steps, and into the shadows.
To read about the author’s on the response to her book, click here.
Jane Leavy is the author of the New York Times best-sellers Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy and The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, which was released in paperback this week. She is a former staff writer for the Washington Post.