College football’s bowl season is upon us, but it’s time to talk a little Hot Stove League baseball.
The year was 1957. I was 12 years old and a huge Mickey Mantle fan. We didn’t have Major League Baseball in Southern California in those days.
The Dodgers were a year away from moving west from Brooklyn, and the modern-day Angels wouldn’t be established for another four years.
We made do with triple-A, minor league baseball: the Hollywood Stars and the Los Angeles Angels (the original Angels) of the Pacific Coast League.
I loved the ’57 Stars, led by Bill Causion, Carlos Bernier and Paul Pettit. The “Twinks” went 94-74 that year and finished third in the final PCL standings.
I hated the Angels, powered by big Steve Bilko, who clubbed 56 home runs and had 140 RBIs. The Halos were 83-85 and finished sixth.
I listened to “re-creations” of the Stars’ away games on the radio. A re-creation meant that the broadcaster took a “real-time,” pitch-by-pitch summary off a Teletype machine and produced a “live” studio re-creation.
A crowd-noise soundtrack played in the background, and the broadcaster knocked a wooden peg against a hollow gourd (or some such utensil) to simulate the crack of a bat.
I was aware of the fact that it was an absolute contrivance, but I also knew it represented reality, so I listened to Stars’ games throughout the season.
Weekend Stars and Angels home games were broadcast on local TV, and I watched whenever my mom allowed. I also watched Major League Baseball’s Game of the Week on Saturday mornings on CBS and NBC.
Because Mantle’s New York Yankees were the scourge of the American League in 1957, I frequently got to see the Bronx Bombers and their chiseled young slugger on the Game of the Week. I fell in love with Mantle. The American League’s MVP hit .365 that year and slugged 34 home runs.
Today, 54 years later, my 12-year-old grandson has a framed Mickey Mantle picture on his bedroom wall. Baseball is timeless.
I was prompted to write this column while recently reading Jane Leavy’s fascinating book, “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood.”
I’ve long known, at least since my 39th birthday, that the guy I idolized — and watched slug a towering drive over Yankee Stadium’s right field wall against the Angels on May 24, 1964 — had feet of clay.
But so did many of my heroes, like John F. Kennedy, Gen. George Patton, Ernest Hemingway and Halley’s Comet, circa 1986. No one’s perfect.
Still, Mantle was as close to perfection in 1957 as one could be.
He was noted for tremendous foot speed and gargantuan blasts. Mantle hit a mammoth drive in Yankee Stadium in ’56 that hit the upper façade of the third deck. The following season, he launched a ball completely out of Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C.
I remember running to my dad in 1956 or ’57.
“Hey, Dad!” I yelled with bated breath as he read the newspaper in his favorite chair. “Guess what the sports announcer said on the radio?”
“What’s that?” came his measured response.
“He said Mickey Mantle just hit a ball 9 miles.”
“No way,” he gently chided. “Mantle can’t hit a ball that far. Nobody can. That’s a figure of speech.”
“No, dad, really! He hit it 9 miles!”
My father looked over the top of his paper.
“Jimmy, that defies the laws of physics. That would be like hitting a baseball from our front yard, over the Back Bay, over Corona del Mar, over Big Corona and landing three miles at sea.”
I felt deflated. Dad had delivered a sobering introduction to trajectory science.
“Oh,” I mumbled.
Now, older and to some extent wiser, I know 9 miles equates to 600 feet, just as “I’ve missed you all these years” means “what was your name again?”
Still, no one could lay the lumber to a ball like The Mick.
JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.