THE RECORD BUSINESS
In Boston last Wednesday Mickey Mantle dropped behind Babe Ruth's 1927 home run pace for the first time this year, and 60 homers began to seem beyond reach. People all over the country were a little sad—and at the same time a little glad to think that if the Everest God made has fallen, the one Ruth made is safe for another year.
Well, safe in the big leagues, that is. Ken Guettler of the Shreveport Sports wound up the Texas League season the other day with 62 home runs, breaking the league record of 55 (set in 1924). Dick Stuart of the Lincoln (Neb.) Chiefs got 61 homers by August and then slumped uninterruptedly through the final month of the Western League season. He wound up with a mere 66, half a dozen short of the alltime minor league record of 72, set by Joe Bauman of Roswell, N. Mex. in the now defunct Longhorn League in 1954.
These Mantles of the minors have almost nothing in common except their crisp performances at bat. Both are in their 20s, yet the hard facts of physiology are such that one of them has a major league future in baseball and the other will be lucky to have another season as good as this one.
At 23, Stuart is on the way up. He will tell you he expects to be playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates next year unless some (in his opinion) wise baseball executive from another major league club buys him first.
Guettler, on the other hand, describes himself as a 29-year-old outfielder with a crooked right arm, poor vision and 11 years of minor league baseball behind him. He doesn't expect to make the majors ever, because of his injuries and long years of batting against second-and third-rate pitching.
No major league club has even inquired about Guettler. He has a short right arm which he can't bend more than 45°, a result of an ice hockey injury. He can't even throw like an outfielder, and his vision is so bad that he had to sit out a series of games in Houston last May when his glasses disappeared from his locker. Texas League baseball writers recently named him Player of the Year. Having done that, they noted that Guettler is a newcomer from the Piedmont League (which folded after the 1955 season) and voted him Rookie of the Year as well.
In contrast, Stuart is cocky, handsome, powerful (6 feet 3 inches, 210 pounds). His one purpose is to hit home runs. "They pay for home runs in baseball," he explains.
His teammates call him Donkey, as a tactful hint that his fielding might be better. Indeed, they are fond of reminding him that, as a movie extra, he recently played the part of a dead soldier in D-day, the Sixth of June—swearing that he plays his outfield role the same way. At bat, though, Stuart comes to life. One of his homers (hit in Pueblo, Col.) measured 610 feet, and several of his drives at Lincoln Park have cleared the 60-foot light tower at the 375-foot marker. A good many Nebraskans have found that, for suspense and excitement, a real-life Dick Stuart compares favorably with an electronic Mickey Mantle.
It's the same down in Shreveport. There, when some stranger asks a local fan, "Do you think Mickey Mantle still has a chance to break the record this year?" he gets another question right back: "Which record—Ruth's or Guettler's?"