A thick-bodied, pleasant-faced young man, carrying a bat, stood at home plate in Yankee Stadium, turned the blond bullet head on his bull's neck toward Pedro Ramos, a pitcher in the employ of the Washington Senators, watched intently the flight of the baseball thrown toward him, bent his knees, dropped his right shoulder slightly toward the ball, clenched his bat and raised it to a near-perfect perpendicular. Twisting his massive torso under the guidance of a magnificently tuned set of reflexes, Mickey Mantle so controlled the exorbitant strength generated by his legs, back, shoulders and arms that he brought his bat through the plane of the flight of the pitch with a precision which propelled the ball immensely high and far toward the right-field roof, so high and far that oldtimers in the crowd—thinking perhaps of Babe Ruth—watched in awe and held their breath.
For no one had ever hit a fair ball over the majestic height of the gray-green fa�ade that looms above the three tiers of grandstand seats in this, the greatest of ball parks.
Indeed, in the 33 years since the Stadium was opened not one of the great company of home run hitters who have batted there—the list includes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmy Foxx, Hank Greenberg and about everyone else you can think of—had even come close to hitting a fair ball over the giant-sized filigree hanging from the lip of the stands which in both right and left field hook far into fair territory toward the bleachers.
Mantle hit the filigree. He came so close to making history that he made it.
The ball struck high on the fa�ade, barely a foot or two below the edge of the roof. Ever since, as people come into the stadium and find their seats, almost invariably their eyes wander to The Spot. Arms point and people stare in admiration. Then they turn to the field and seek out Mantle.
On that same day that he hit the fa�ade Mantle hit a second homer. This one was his 20th of the season and it put him at that date (May 30) 12 games ahead of the pace Babe Ruth followed when he established his quasi-sacred record of 60 in 1927. Other players in other years had excitingly chased Ruth's record. But Mantle, somehow, seemed different from earlier pretenders to Ruth's crown and different, too, from slugging contemporaries like Yogi Berra, whose great skill seems almost methodical, and Dale Long, who is still, despite all, an unknown quantity.
The excitement surrounding Mantle goes beyond numbers, beyond homers hit and homers and games to go. Like Ruth, his violent strength is held in a sheath of powerful, controlled grace. Like Ruth, he makes home run hitting simple and exciting at the same time. The distance he hits his home runs (the approved clich� is "Ruthian blast") takes away the onus of cheapness, a word often applied to the common variety of home run hit today, and leaves the spectator aghast, whether he roots for Mantle or against him.
All this holds true despite the hard fact that heretofore in his five years in the major leagues the most home runs Mantle has hit in one season is 37, whereas Ruth hit 40 or more 11 different times, and two dozen others have hit 40 or more at least once.
Yet where others impress, Mantle awes, and even the knowing professional speaks reverently of him. Harvey Kuenn, the shortstop of the Detroit Tigers and a topflight hitter in his own right, listened as Sportscaster Howard Cosell, an eyewitness, described the Memorial Day home run to him.
"Did he really hit it up there?" Kuenn asked, knowing but not believing. "Really?" He shook his head. "His strength isn't human," he said. "How can a man hit a ball that hard?"