On the afternoon of May 23, in the first inning of a baseball game at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, a young man in the neat gray road uniform of the New York Yankees walked to the plate, smoothed out the dirt with his spikes and looked at the pitcher. He straightened his batting helmet and wiped his right hand on his hip. He leaned forward in a crouch which seemed to broaden the already incredibly broad back and swung the long, slender bat back and forth in vicious little arcs. The muscles of his forearms rippled and bunched as he tightened his grip.
The Yankees were in trouble. They had won only 12 of their first 32 games, and for the first time in 19 seasons they had tumbled in an undignified heap into the American League cellar. From the most feared team in all baseball the Yankees had become everyone's patsy, losing because they couldn't hit, losing because they couldn't field, losing because their pitching was bad, losing because the rest of the league feared them not.
Then Milt Pappas, the Baltimore pitcher, threw to the plate, Mickey Mantle swung his bat and suddenly the Yankees' troubles were no more.
Mantle doubled to drive in a run. Later that afternoon he walked. He walked again. He hit a home run and a single. He stole third base and went on in to score when the catcher's throw was wide. He scored two other runs. The Yankees won 13-5.
The next day he hit another home run. In his next game he had two hits in three at bats. In his next he had only one hit, a line drive to left which he stretched to a double with a terrific burst of speed, but he also walked three times, stole second once and another time so bothered the opposing pitcher with his dancing, threatening gestures toward second that the batter, Bill Skowron, was eventually able to pick out a fat pitch and smack it over the wall.
The next night Mantle walked twice and stole second twice. On the second steal the catcher didn't even bother to throw. The next day, May 29, Mantle had two hits, one a left-handed poke over third which he stretched into a double, and on Memorial Day he had a home run and four other hits. On the Sunday after Memorial Day his lone hit, a double, came with two out in the ninth and the score tied 0-0. It was, apparently, all the opening the Yankees needed. A walk and a game-winning home run followed.
On June 3 Mickey beat Detroit with a ninth-inning home run off Ray Narleski on a pitch that was so good Narleski couldn't believe that it had been hit and which Mantle later said, "Sure had me fooled." On June 4 he went two for five and stole another base. Against Cleveland last Friday night, June 5, he walked three times and scored two runs. On Saturday his eighth-inning single drove in what turned out to be the winning run in a 2-1 game.
In 15 games since that Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, Mantle had batted .412, scored 17 runs, driven in 13, walked 16 times, stolen six bases and hit four home runs. And the Yankees had won 11 of those 15 games to come roaring up out of the cellar. By the time they had finished with Cleveland last weekend, winning three games out of four from a team that had spent all but five days of the season in first place, the Yankees were sixth, but only 3� games behind, and the rest of the American League was running for the hills.
Of course, other people besides Mantle helped the Yankee surge. Turley, Ford, Larsen and Ditmar pitched exceptionally well. McDougald snapped out of his slump, and Hector Lopez, brought in from the Athletics in a trade, drove in runs at a terrific rate. But the Yankees themselves admitted that the spark had come from Mantle.
"There's no question about it," said McDougald. "The way he's playing has lifted the whole team."