When Mickey Mantle Arrived To Replace the Great DiMaggio

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Hemingway wrote “therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

In baseball, the bell tolls for every player. Eventually every player must take off the uniform and make way for the next generation, the next star, their own replacement.

In the spring of 1951, Joe DiMaggio‘s legendary career was winding down. The 12-time All-Star and three-time Most Valuable Player was even talking about his retirement openly. Even though he was 36 years old, it was odd that The Yankee Clipper felt his days as a ballplayer were nearly over. Just the previous season, in 1950, DiMaggio batted .301 with 32 homers and 122 RBI, leading the league in slugging percentage. The Yankee star finished ninth in MVP voting in 1950.

But in 1951, DiMaggio was aware that his body was starting to fail him.

“The things I used to enjoy doing, are becoming work,” he said.

Waiting in the wings was a young Oklahoman named Mickey Mantle, a switch-hitting slugger who could run like a deer.

Joe told reporters in Yankee camp that spring: “If the kid can [make the team], I will move to right [field] or left [field].”

Actually, though the 19-year old Mantle made the team out of spring training, DiMaggio did not move. He played center for most of what would be his final season, and Mickey played in right field.

The loss of DiMaggio after the ’51 season didn’t harm the New York Yankees: they were in the middle of winning five straight World Series titles. Mantle would help the Yanks to 12 pennants and seven World Championships in his stellar career. By 1956, when he won the Triple Crown, Mantle was making many fans forget Joltin’ Joe.

April 4, 1951 Cartoon from The Sporting News

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is the author of three books about baseball, including Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. He lives in Michigan where he writes, runs, and enjoys a good orange soda now and again.
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