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Brown first saw Mantle run in the fall of 1950, when the Yankees brought him up for a late-season cup of coffee, a reward for winning the batting title of the Class C Western Association. Mantle ran so hard, Brown says, that "he kicked up tufts of dirt as high as his head." Even after the injury, which cost him at least a step, he was faster than anyone else from home to first. One night during a lull in the fighting on the 38th parallel, Brown had screened footage from the 1952 World Series for the enlisted men in the mess-hall bunker. Mantle hit the first of his 18 World Series home runs in Game 6 and broke a 2--2 tie in Game 7 with a sixth-inning homer that vanquished the Brooklyn Dodgers once again. But that wasn't what took the GIs' breath away. "It was a bunt on one bounce back to the pitcher that he was out on by about half a step," Brown says.
"Lieutenant, lieutenant, run that back again!" an enlisted man called out.
The projectionist ran it again. "Look at that 4-F son of a bitch run!"
Twice Mantle had been declared 4-F by Army doctors because of osteomyelitis, a bacterial infection of the bone in his left shin. While Sullivan and Brown were on the front line, Mantle was in pinstripes, receiving death threats and bad p.r., which prompted another military physical exam in November 1952. The Army surgeon general took one look at Mantle's X-ray and declared him unfit to serve, citing a "chronic right-knee defect resulting from an injury suffered in the '51 World Series." Yet Mantle did not have surgery for another year. And, the Yankees' trainer confided to Brown, Mantle hadn't done the exercises he needed to strengthen the muscles around that knee. He hid the weights he had been given so he didn't have to do the prescribed exercises on road trips.
When Mantle came to the plate to face Frank Sullivan with two outs in the bottom of the first inning, what was Sully thinking? "Not much," he says. "I would have been throwing sliders for strikes and a fastball to get the guy out, and I had no idea where the fastball was going."
Mantle, at 5'11", wasn't an intimidating physical presence, not to Sullivan, who at 6'7" was the tallest pitcher in the American League. (After the 1960 season he would be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for 6'8" Gene Conley in what is still known as the biggest trade in baseball history.) Sully had made his first major league appearance as a reliever the previous July and walked Mantle the first time they met, that September. But this was his debut as a member of the starting rotation. He struck Mantle out in the first inning and in the fourth and again in the sixth. "I thought, Where's all the press on this guy coming from?" Frank says. "Then he hit one [off me] so far up in the bleachers in Yankee Stadium, I couldn't believe it. He could hit the ball so much farther than anybody his size. Or anybody's size."
The headline in THE NEW YORK TIMES the next morning said, ROOKIE FANS NINE, TRIPS BOMBERS, 6--3: Red Sox' Sullivan Wins First Big League Start Despite Mantle's 2-Run Homer. Buried at the bottom of the story was this note: "Mantle, starting against right-handers again, now has more strikeouts than hits, 17 to 16."
By the time Sully faced him in Boston on July 1, Mantle was hitting .313. He hit his 15th home run of the year in the third inning, but the Yankees left Boston a half game further behind the first-place Cleveland Indians, a gap they would never close and an indignity Casey Stengel would never forgive. He blamed Mantle for the Yankees' forfeiture of their rightful place atop the American League, daring him at season's end to be as good as the Dodgers' Duke Snider and the Giants' Willie Mays, his New York counterparts, who surpassed him in statistics and stature. The Mick would have much to prove in 1955.
Mantle reported to spring training as whole as he could be. On May 6, in a pregame ceremony at Fenway Park, the Red Sox celebrated the beginning of Mental Health Month in honor of outfielder Jimmy Piersall—"now fully recovered from a nervous breakdown," the Times noted. Mantle celebrated his regained fitness by hitting his fifth home run of the year. He defied a whistling wind blowing in hard from rightfield and redirected one of Sully's first-inning pitches into the Yankees' bullpen. (A week later he would have the only three-home-run game of his career, which would also be the first time he homered from both sides of the plate.) Sullivan was gone by the fifth inning, having "strained his left shoulder when he fell while fanning," the Times reported.
Sully recovered in time to be the losing pitcher in the 1955 All-Star Game in Milwaukee, a black mark on what would be his finest season, with an AL-best 18 wins. He was summoned to relieve Whitey Ford with two outs in the eighth inning and the American League leading 5--3 thanks to Mantle's 430-foot first-inning home run (one of only two he hit in 20 All-Star Games). The game had been delayed a half hour by the funeral of Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward, who'd conceived the Midsummer Classic in 1933. "I had to walk by Mantle coming in from the bullpen," Frank says. "He hollered at me, 'Let's get this thing over, because it's getting into cocktail hour.' I didn't reply. I was nervous as hell."