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Mantle: Rookie Sluggers Good, but Don't Have It All

June 06, 1986|JOE DONNELLY | Newsday

The limousines bringing him to ballparks try to get as close to press gate entrances as possible. Here he had a walk. That didn't bother him as much as the autograph seekers slowing him down. Their presence and his gait are the obstacles as he tries to hurry.

He walks with a touch of gimp, more noticeable when he has to climb steps. It has little to do with The Mick being 54 and more to do with the glory of his youth. A powerful man who ran on winged feet, bad knees are Mickey Mantle's constant companion in his middle years.

The youngsters who never saw him play flood after him. Fathers tell sons of the legend in pinstripes. He has girded himself for the gantlet, signing three dozen or more picture cards daily in his hotel room. He pulls them out of the breast pocket of his suit jacket and thrusts them into clutching hands.

Best Wishes Mickey Mantle is the written message. "I think the autographers are worse than ever," he said, once inside this timeAnaheim Stadium. "It's a big business now."

He has nothing against youth, but it's hard for him to relate to their activity. He is an ex-ballplayer and the youth that intrigues him most is lodged between the foul lines.

On this trip he saw 21-year-old Jose Canseco of the Oakland A's and had his second look at 23-year-old Wally Joyner of the California Angels. He has already studied Pete Incaviglia of the Rangers in Texas.

Mantle is impressed by Canseco's power but believes the outfielder could help himself by not being so nonchalant on defense. "I don't believe they have to catch the ball one-handed all the time," he said. "I'd be afraid if I snapped at it one-handed, I'd drop it. Incaviglia tries like hell in the outfield. He's just not a good outfielder yet. It looks like maybe he should be a DH. Joyner has a sweet swing and is an all-around good player I think.

"I didn't see (Danny) Tartabull yet," said Mantle of the Seattle Mariner rookie who got off to a hot start. "Of the new ones, Joyner and Canseco really look good. Canseco's got great power. You got to put (Dan) Pasqua in there. He's got as much power. Canseco walked by going up the runway when I was in Oakland. He was so big. All these guys are big. Makes me feel like a Little Leaguer."

The A's rookie didn't miss Mantle's presence either. "He still seems thick and strong with well-developed muscles," Canseco said. "Like he still lifts weights."

"I never lifted weights in my life," Mantle said. "Well maybe a glass or two."

Joyner and Canseco know of Mantle only through reputation and highlight films. "I saw Yastrzemski play," Joyner said, "but my regret is not having seen Mantle play. I was too young to know him."

Canseco said that he would like to hit home runs as far as Mantle did.

"He already has," Mantle said. "If I could give him some advice, I would tell him to cool it with the umpires. They can hold a grudge once in a while. He got on one (Dave Phillips) when the Yankees were in Oakland and then the next day he got on him in the newspaper.

"When I broke in, rookies knew to keep it down. It was written that I was aloof. Heck, I was scared. Casey didn't have to get on you. The veterans kept you in line. Bauer, Woodling, Raschi."

Mantle was 19 when he arrived on the Yankee scene. Canseco was in Class-A ball at that age. "You didn't have to throw me a strike to get me out when I was 19," Canseco said. That was two seasons ago and Canseco struck out 127 times with Modesto.

Flash back 35 years ago, and a muscular blond kid in the last of his teen-age years was struggling in New York's summer cauldron. "It had been written up that spring training I was going to be the next Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio all rolled into one," Mantle recalled.

"I think I hit 10 to 15 homers in spring training. But it's tough on a young guy getting all that hullabaloo up front. I got to New York and began striking out too much and breaking up too many water coolers. That's why the A's want Canseco not to say too much. Wait a couple of years before you mouth off."

He remembers being sent down to Kansas City of the American Association in July. "Casey waited until everybody was on the field and called me in during batting practice. I cried and Casey had tears in his eyes. Other than my Dad dying, that was about as bad a day as I had. He said I had to go down to get my confidence back.

"I got a bunt single my first time up for Kansas City. George Selkirk, who was managing, said, 'We know you can bunt. You're not here for that.' I went 0-for-20 after that. My Dad came to Kansas City and I bawled I couldn't make it in Triple A. He gave it to me good, told me he raised a man and not a coward. After he went home, I started hitting."

Mantle overcame the 1-for-21 start to hit .361 for Kansas City in 166 at-bats. He went back to New York later that season and wound up his rookie season with 13 homers, 65 RBI and a .267 batting average. He was on his way to a career that saw him play 2,401 games, the most of any Yankee in history.

He was through at age 36. "I was done," he said. "It was kind of embarrassing. I would get letters from fathers who would drive in long distances with a carload of kids to ballparks on the road and I would never get out of the dugout."

He had given at the office, played hard after hours, and between the two some days it would hurt to move around. It's different in the 1980s. "I think they take good care of themselves," he said.

Yastrzemski lingered until 1983, when he was 44, and it wasn't entirely so Joyner could see him play. "It would be pretty hard to walk away from $1 million a year, wouldn't it?" Mantle said. "One hundred thousand was hard enough."

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