SI Vault
On the Trail of a Hero
Ed Graham
August 26, 1963
Anyone who spends a day on the road with Mickey Mantle makes this unhappy discovery: playing baseball for the Yankees is the easiest thing he does
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 26, 1963

On The Trail Of A Hero

Anyone who spends a day on the road with Mickey Mantle makes this unhappy discovery: playing baseball for the Yankees is the easiest thing he does

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

The crowd rushed to Gate 2. After one person showed it could be done, we all poured through the gate and onto the airfield itself. Soon a light appeared in the west. Tt drew closer. A searchlight flicked on. With a roar the "Yankee Special" touched down and taxied to within 50 feet of us. A ramp was rolled up, the door burst open and down streamed the ballplayers, Cletis Boyer first. Swiftly they moved through a gauntlet of fans which extended from the base of the plane ramp to the door of the bus. The first Yankees signed autographs as they moved rapidly along.

Then Mantle appeared at the door of the plane. His crutches were gone now. As he came down, there was only a faint trace of the limp. A cheer went up. The gauntlet dissolved to re-form in a circle at the base of the ramp. It swallowed Mantle up. He too began to sign, but the size of the crowd made it impossible for him to move as rapidly as the others. I noticed that his first autograph was for the boy with the piece of ruled paper that boasted " Jerry Lumpe," " Ed Charles," " Norm Siebern"—and almost me.

Finally Mantle made it to the bus. The mass formed up again outside his window and began thrusting things in at him. He signed them quickly and seriously. I noticed that he was very much at ease with the kids. He admonished one who thrust the same piece of paper back in for a second autograph. Once he noted that a hand reaching for a ball he had just autographed was not the same hand that had thrust it at him in the first place. Suddenly there were loud shouts of "Look out!" "Stand back now!" "This bus is leaving!" The engine was gunned. The crowd shrieked and scattered, and the world champion baseball team rolled off into the night.

I took a cab to the Muehlebach Hotel in downtown Kansas City and beat the bus there. It took Mantle 10 minutes to work his way through the packed lobby, and then 15 minutes to pick up his keys. The jostling at the big, brown desk reminded me of pictures I had seen of the crowds fighting near tellers' windows when banks went broke during the Depression.

By 1:30 a.m. it was all over. The players were on the sixth floor, Mantle and Ford in adjoining suites with an open door between. I was on the seventh floor with Manager Houk, the coaches, other members of the press and the radio and TV crew. The phone operator would not ring Mantle's room. But through Whitey Ford, who acts as his social secretary, I made a date for the next morning at 10.

I am one of the world's easiest sleepers. But this night I lay awake the way I used to as a boy on Christmas Eve, wishing for the daylight. Also my pillow was very small (not much bigger than Ford's resin bag). And, furthermore, fate had placed me in an adjoining suite to Mel Allen. Our connecting door remained locked, but his voice carried. At home when the "Voice of the Yankees" grows too loud I can turn down the volume knob. But this night there was no knob to turn.

At exactly 10 a.m. (I had been hovering in the hall outside) I knocked on the door of Room 638. Mantle opened it. He was wearing a pair of Bermuda-length jockey shorts that said M-A-N-T-L-E in an undignified stencil on the rear. When he saw my camera, he pulled on a pair of blue slacks and a blue polo shirt. There was a table with his breakfast in the center of the room. He asked if he could order me something. I was tempted to say, "Yes, I want to start my day with the same energy-packed breakfast that Mickey Mantle eats." But then I wouldn't have been able to take pictures.

What is the breakfast that Mickey Mantle eats? If you'd asked me to guess I think I would have said, "A sirloin steak, 11 flapjacks, four fried eggs and a pound of link sausages." But I was shocked to see that in reality he was eating a piece of melon, a tiny box of cereal (from one of those 10-pack assortments) and coffee.

Our talking must have awakened Whitey Ford. I looked up to see the pitcher with the highest won-lost percentage of all time stumble sleepily through the connecting door in a pair of blue silk pajamas. He took a bite of Mantle's melon, and studied it like a wine taster. "Pretty good Cranshaw," he said and went to the phone to place an order himself.

"Do you always eat in your room?" I asked Mantle.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7