Mickey Mantle shirtless smiles in locker room after winning World Series October 1952
Twenty-year-old Mickey Mantle celebrates in the locker room after a Yankees' World Series win, October 1952. The Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven games that year to claim the title.Mark Kauffman—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Mickey Mantle shirtless smiles in locker room after winning World Series October 1952
One of Mantle's nicknames was the Commerce Comet -- Commerce was the name of his hometown in Oklahoma -- and he indeed had exceptional speed. (He was offered a football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma.) Oddly, though, he only stole 153 bases in his big league career.
Mickey Mantle makes a running catch on a fly ball to left field during the 3rd game of the World Series at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, NY on September 30, 1955.
Mickey Mantle slams into Luis Aparicio's feet while sliding into second, June 1956.
Mickey Mantle in the backyard of his River Edge, NJ, home on June 7, 1956.
Mickey Mantle, center, hits a home run in World Series game in Pittsburgh in October 1960.
Score board reading "Mantle Now Has 14 World Series Homers," October 1960.
Surrounded by the press, Mickey Mantle, center, smiles after hitting two home runs in the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates in October 1960.
Mickey Mantle soaking in whirlpool bathtub after game, 1964.
Mickey Mantle in a convertible during a New York parade in June 1956.
Left to right, self-described "saloon keeper" Bernard "Toots" Shor talks with Merlyn Mantle and husband Mickey at Shor's restaurant, New York, NY, June 1965.
Mickey Mantle bandages his leg in the locker room before a game, June 1965.
After a weak at-bat, Mickey Mantle flings his helmet away in disgust, June 25, 1965.
Mantle grimacing while swinging during Spring training in March 1967
Mickey Mantle poses with his wife Merlyn and their young sons (right to left) Mickey Jr. (who died of cancer in 2000), Billy (who died of Hodgkin's disease in 1994), Danny, and David, in Texas in 1965.
Portrait of Mickey Mantle with the text "Mantle's Misery" on the cover of LIFE Magazine, July 30, 1965
Twenty-year-old Mickey Mantle celebrates in the locker room after a Yankees' World Series win, October 1952. The Yankees

Mark Kauffman—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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LIFE With Mickey Mantle: Glory and Pain

Jan 20, 2012

Many baseball scouts called the young Mickey Mantle the most talented prospect they'd ever seen, and he justified their confidence in his abilities on the field and at the plate by reaching the big leagues in 1951 when he was just 19. The next season, at 20, he replaced Joe DiMaggio as the Yankees' center fielder and finished third in the MVP voting.

The story of Mantle's "arc" — from gullible country boy to big city superstar to faded, injury-ravaged icon playing out his last games as a shadow of his former, formidable self — has been told countless times. Here, LIFE presents a quick tour through The Mick's life, on the field and off, in hopes of providing a glimpse into why one player won the hearts of so many fans across so many years . . . and what the lineaments of an athlete's life can look like when the stands empty and the fans go home.

Mantle stood 5' 11" and weighed roughly 200 lbs. his whole career, but he packed prodigious power into that frame. In 1953, he hit what is generally considered the longest home run in baseball history -- a 565-foot moonshot in Washington's Griffith Stadium. He was especially dangerous as a hitter for two reasons: he was a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate, and he had a keen batting eye. He finished in the top three in walks 12 times and had a career on-base percentage of .421.

Mantle was just as big a threat in the postseason. A seven-time champion, he played the second-most World Series games in history and holds Series records for home runs (18), RBIs (40), runs (42), walks (43) and total bases (123).

His last few years as a player, however, were not the best of times, as his body, ravaged by injuries and alcohol abuse, began to betray him. His post-baseball life was also wracked with hardships, including liver failure and the death of his son, Billy. In his prime, though, Mickey Mantle was an absolute wonder on the diamond -- a rare combination of speed, power, grace and, perhaps especially, grit.

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