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A whole mob used to drive out, mostly mining people and their families.”3 Mickey also loved to play football, but an injury early in his freshman year of high school prematurely ended his budding pigskin career – and almost his life.
During a football practice he was kicked in the lower leg by a teammate.
Even before he was born into this world, Mickey Mantle was being prepared for life as a future big-league baseball player.
His father, Elvin “Mutt” Mantle, a former semipro player and a lifelong baseball fanatic, proclaimed that if his first child turned out to be a boy, he would name him Mickey, in honor Mickey Cochrane, who was the best catcher in baseball at the time.
But his father pressed him, and Mickey relented, though it took a while for him to embrace the practice fully: “Dad would pitch to me right-handed and I would hit lefty; Grandpa would pitch to me lefty and I’d bat righty.
That’s how they taught me to switch hit.”2 Like so many of the great players who grew up before the era of T-ball and Little League baseball, Mickey honed his skills playing sandlot baseball with his friends from the town.
Although he rode the bench for the remaining few days of the season, the 18-year-old nevertheless traveled and took batting practice with the team.
He observed the likes of Joe Di Maggio, Yogi Berra, and Phil Rizzuto as they were locked in a pennant race with the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox.
Among the many lessons Mutt taught Mickey was the need to develop as a switch-hitter.
One weekend he met a high-school senior named Merlyn Johnson, and the two began dating regularly.
Mantle got his first taste of major-league life when the Yankees called him up on September 17, 1950.
Mutt had been lucky enough to land a job working in the Eagle-Picher company’s lead and zinc mines. Those who worked for many years at the plant were at risk for lung disease, heart ailments, and cancer.
In fact, cancer had been the grim reaper of the Mantle family, claiming among others, Mickey’s uncle, his grandfather, and a couple of other relatives, all in their 40s or younger.