“I’m not going to play baseball anymore.”
It must have been one of those shocking but not surprising moments, sort of like when your car breaks down a month after you first noticed the flashing red light on the dashboard.
You knew it was coming, but it still waylaid you in the moment.
You knew it was coming if you had paid attention even just a little, but you didn’t know when, exactly, and you didn’t want to believe it.
But as Mantle’s always-balky knees became gimpy enough to put him on the bench and then to move him to first base, and as the Yankees slid down the standings for the first time in ages, the signs were all around.
The last time Mantle hit .300, banged 30 or more home runs, or drove in 100 runs was in 1964, which was, not coincidentally, also the last time the Yanks made it to the World Series in his tenure.
And, though Mantle played 144 games in each of 1967 and 1968, and though he was still drawing a bunch of walks, his legendary power cratered … by his standards.
Those 18 home runs he clubbed in ‘68 were just a third of his total from that magical 1961 season when he and Roger Maris spent the summer chasing down Babe Ruth.
So, no, the Mick’s retirement couldn’t have been altogether surprising.
That didn’t make it any easier to swallow for Yankees fans or Mantle fans or fans of baseball history … or baseball card collectors.
The timing of Mantle’s retirement did work to all those folks’ cardboard advantage, though, because it came way too late for Topps to really change their base-set lineup that year.
And besides, who wouldn’t want one last Mantle card?
So Topps gave us one, there on card #500 in the 1969 Topps baseball set. At least if the world couldn’t have the real Mickey Mantle that summer, they could still have the cardboard one.
These days, of course, you can’t really tell when a player hung up his spikes by just reviewing his cardboard history. I mean, dudes keep showing up in sets the year after they retire, and the year after that, and the decades after that, if they’re of the proper stature.
Not in 1970, though.
Back then, there was only Topps, and Topps only gave cards to active (or would-have-been active) players.
But in 1971, the Yankees held baseball clinics for young fans before certain home games, lining up former New York greats to help out. To get the word out, the Yanks teamed with Dexter Press to issue a series of colorful postcards featuring the players involved in the clinics on card fronts, and the clinic schedule on card backs.
Can you guess who agreed to take part in the Yankees clinic on August 14, 1971?
Yeah, it was the Commerce Comet himself.
And, just like that, Mickey Mantle was back on our baseball cards, even if just for a fleeting, sunny moment.
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We took a romp through some of the most recognizable Mickey Mantle baseball cards over on YouTube awhile back. It’s always a good time to drink in some vintage Mick cardboard, don’t you think?https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/PjDS14wIKAM?rel=0&autoplay=0&showinfo=0
You can find exquisite Mantle memorabilia to suit just about any taste and budget, but how often do you see something like this?
That’s a souvenir book from the 1949 Independence Yankees, Mantle’s first professional team … with The Mick’s autograph, naturally.
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