The End Is Near

If you don’t know that this is Derek Jeter’s last season of playing major league baseball for the New York Yankees, you live a very sheltered life. For many of us, 2014 has been one long farewell tour, with every moment informed by the fact that this could be the last time that Jeter does this or does that (I predict we’ve already seen the last time Derek Jeter saw postseason play, and that’s when he went down with an ankle injury that marked the beginning of the end to his playing career–the 2012 playoffs).

Moreover, for Yankee fans this isn’t the first farewell tour we’ve experienced. Just last year Mariano Rivera, also returning from a season-ending injury, announced that 2013 would be his last season. That announcement also sparked a farewell tour, with teams giving him gifts, an emotional All Star Game appearance, and ample press coverage capped by this event:

With Jeter, we’ve seen even more fuss, with commercials, various hashtags, and even more souvenirs than marked Rivera’s retirement.

It was not always this way.

Mickey Mantle’s last great hurrah in pinstripes came in the 1964 World Series, where he hit three home runs, marked by a walkoff blast at Yankee Stadium in Game 3.

(Mantle recalls that home run here. More details are here.)

That said, Mantle was already falling apart. By 1967 he had moved to first base, his batting average sagged (eventually bringing his lifetime average under .300), and his bat, while still potent, connected for far fewer home runs (82 over those last four years).

Two of them were particularly memorable, however. First came home run number 500, at a time when very few people had reached that mark:

The Mick beat the shift …you can’t position a fielder in the stands (unless, of course, you’r Derek Jeter). Number 2, by the way, was third base coach Frank Crosetti.

If you watch the entire clip. you can see that Mantle was a shadow of what he had been.

The second memorable Mantle homer cam near the end of the 1968, when Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers, on his way to a 31-win season (they last time that’s been done), decided to give Mantle a sendoff gift of his own, one that enabled Mantle to pass Jimmy Foxx for third (at the time) on the all-time home run list.

Mickey Mantle rounds third after homering off Denny McLain, September 19, 1968. [New York Times]
(Mantle recalls that moment here. So does the Detroit catcher, who was not Bill Freehan. McLain recalls it hereย [go to the 6:10 mark]. Note the differences in recollections, including McLain’s change of heart about who was catching. So much for the “they were there, so they should know” school of historical evaluation. The box score proves helpful).

Mantle struggled through the remainder of that season, but it was not until the Yankees went to spring training in 1969 that he announced his retirement. It would be left to a young Bobby Murcer to attempt to fill his cleats (Murcer would start the season at third, endangering the lives of fans who sat behind first, and was shifted to the outfield, eventually inheriting Mantle’s center field position).

Mantle murcer 1969

That June, the Yankees held a day for Mantle to mark the retirement of his number and the placement of a plaque to him in center field (this was in the days before Monument Park at either the renovated stadium or the new ballpark).

(If you want the full ceremony, go here. Even in 1969 some Yankee fans booed Roger Maris. You’ll also see the last player prior to Thurman Munson to wear #15, Tom Tresh.)

And here, at last, is Mantle’s last home run at Yankee Stadium …

I guess Ford took lessons on grooving a pitch from McLain.

I suspect we may never see Jeter play in an Old Timers Game at Yankee Stadium. Even Joe DiMaggio came to understand that playing in such games, while fun, diminished the brand, especially when fans in attendance had never seen him play for real.

So savor the moments that remain, now that you know what’s ahead … and how it used to be.


32 thoughts on “The End Is Near

  1. Christopher Shelley September 20, 2014 / 1:23 pm

    As a Dodger fan, it is difficult for me to “like” this. But I’m a baseball fan first.

    • John Foskett September 21, 2014 / 8:26 am

      I’ll admit to being the reverse.

  2. Bob Nelson September 20, 2014 / 3:12 pm

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Brooks. No, it’s not the first “farewell” season nor is it likely to be the last. But it is truly a memorable one owing to the character of Derek Jeter. During the last decade, which has been marred with steroids and scandals, Jeter has been a shining light for MLB. You all know he’s from Kalamazoo (“I gotta gal in Kalamazoo … zoo … zoo”), MI and was drafted directly out of high school at Kalamazoo Central. The first week of September, my wife and I took a tour to the Rockies hosted by Judy Markee, long-time news anchor at WWMT Channel 3 in Kalamazoo. She has interviewed him dozens of times and made this remark on the trip (paraphrased) when someone asked her if Jeter was really as nice as he appeared. “He’s terrific. You have no idea how many appearances he has made in his home town for one charity or another … for free.”

  3. neukomment September 20, 2014 / 3:14 pm

    I am a life long Detroit Tiger fan who will never forget Mantle’s home run blast that went over the right field wall and out of the park at old Tiger stadium back in 1961… We were rural small town Little Leaguers sitting in the center field bleachers… During the pre-game warm up Mickey waved at us and “played to the crowd”…. We were ecstatic that he acknowledged our existence.. Mickey Mantle will always be my favorite Yankee with Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and Thomas close behind….

  4. Mark H. September 20, 2014 / 3:40 pm

    I enjoyed the Jeter Gatorade commercial.

    As a ChiSox fan, I wish Paul Konerko had been given a little more recognition as a solid, retiring professional….but the past few years have been a struggle for him.

    Although I’m not a Yankee fan, I can appreciate what Jeter has done for the Yanks and his standing in the game.

    • Bob Nelson September 20, 2014 / 4:04 pm

      I agree. Konerko has not received the adulation he should have gotten after 15 years with the Sox, in fact, almost no attention at all. FWIW, I grew up in suburban Chicago and am a Sox/Cubs fan at heart although my support has been all-Tigers in recent years. He almost single-handedly won the 2005 World Series for the Sox, the franchises’ first since 1917 (two years before the “Black Sox Scandal”). Remember his grand slam in Game 2? But as is common in MLB today (also other sports and business/industry), “What have you done for me lately?” There were rumors of him being traded (aka “dumped”) three years ago. Sorta reminds me of Mantle in his last two years with the Yankees.

        • John Foskett September 21, 2014 / 8:25 am

          It’s “unfortunate” that Mr. Koufax exited with his customary grace and class in a brief press conference announcement rather than spending a year basking in an over-the-top farewell tour while he obviously could no longer play at the top of his game. ๐Ÿ™‚

          • Christopher Shelley September 21, 2014 / 11:26 am

            All true, except that his last season was one of his best. Did you know he once made over 200 pitches in a game?? Hard to imagine what could have been had overwork not reduced him to 12 years.

          • John Foskett September 21, 2014 / 1:16 pm

            Agree. And IIRC he put them over the top for the pennant that year by pitching twice on short rest. A real shame that his last game was against the Orioles when Willie Davis, as Jim Murray put it, “played CF like it owned him.” Koufax had the perfect pitching motion. If you’ve read the bio, you’ve seen his sketch of the delivery. And he really only had 6 years – commencing with almost walking away in ’61 and a talk with Norm Sherry about not overthrowing. Who knows what he would have done if that had happened sooner, if he hadn’t had the finger problem in ’62, and if his elbow hadn’t gotten arthritic.

          • Christopher Shelley September 25, 2014 / 1:05 pm

            That’s just a great biography. Especially the intro by Robert Pinsky. And now that MLB is releasing them, you can look at youtube videos of some of those old games, including Game 7 of the ’65 Series, and see his mechanics. He was just the greatest.

          • John Foskett September 25, 2014 / 2:35 pm

            That game 7 was vintage Koufax. Short rest and he had one pitch working. The Twins still could do nothing with him. His current reincarnation is now 21-3. Only one of several similarities – before last night the lowest career ERA by a pitcher against an opponent with minimum X no. of starts is 1.44 – held by Koufax against the Mets and Kershaw against the Giants. Pretty eery……

          • hankc9174 September 26, 2014 / 9:00 pm

            And they say koufax tipped his pitches…

      • Mark H. September 22, 2014 / 6:54 am

        I would also argue that some dominant pitching throughout the postseason helped the Sox win the title, but Konerko certainly played a key role throughout all of ’05.

    • Bob Nelson September 21, 2014 / 2:03 pm

      Another guy, Billy Butler, deserves better than he has gotten this year. Was watching the Tigers vs. KC this afternoon when one of the announcers remarked that this would probably be Butler’s last season in KC. As he put it (paraphrased), “We live in a ‘What-have-you-done-for-me-lately society.'” It’s hard to imagine the Cubs trading or waving Banks or Williams or Santo in their last year or two simply because their numbers had tailed off.

      • Brooks D. Simpson September 21, 2014 / 4:30 pm

        The Cubs traded Williams and Santo: Williams to Oakland, Santo crosstown.

        • Bob Nelson September 21, 2014 / 4:44 pm

          Oops. My bad!!! You’re right, of course, Williams played one year with Oakland, Santo one year with the Sox. There was a lot of upset folks on the north side when they dealt Santo. IIRC, he only hit around .240 his last season with a half dozen home runs. I never understood why he was never elected to the Hall of Fame while he was alive.

        • Bob Nelson September 22, 2014 / 10:22 am

          Two other things about Santo. First, he was diagnosed with diabetes in high school and suffered from it his whole life. Most of the guys he played with never knew and in later years both of his legs had to be amputated below the knee. Second, there was a groundswell of support from many Northsiders to have him named as manager in the late 70s or early 80s but nothing came of it. Word was back then that the Wrigley family nixed the deal.

      • Christopher Shelley September 22, 2014 / 7:44 am

        Well, let’s not get too nostalgic. Baseball has a great tradition of cold-bloodedness. The Dodgers traded Jackie Robinson to the Giants (by all that’s holy!). Robinson retired rather than wear orange (and rightfully so). And the they SOLD Duke Snyder to the hated Giants. But no-one was more bloodless than Yankees’ GM George Weiss, who famously released Phil Rizzuto on Old-Timers’ Day.

        • Mark H. Dunkelman September 22, 2014 / 1:20 pm

          It’s Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider (not Snyder) and the Dodgers sold him to the Mets for $40,000 plus $38,000 in salary. It happened on April Fool’s Day 1963. The next year, at Duke’s request, the Mets sold him to the Giants. The Duke was my boyhood hero–I still have the scrapbook I kept of his deeds commencing in 1957, the year before the Bums moved to L.A. My copy of his ghosted autobiography, “The Duke of Flatbush,” is inscribed by Duke, “To Mark, My Greatest Fan!”

          • Christopher Shelley September 23, 2014 / 6:14 pm

            Whoops. Looks like I bollocks’d up Snider. My bad.

          • John Foskett September 24, 2014 / 3:53 pm

            But you’re sort of on to something. Supposedly O’Malley ordered Bavasi to dump Duke to the Mets because he’d been a leader in the bitching about Alston’s handling of the relief pitching in the 9th inning of that infamous game on October 3, 1962. Drysdale volunteered to take the hill in the 9th with the boys up 4-2 but Smoky was holding him for game 1 of the WS the next day against our host’s favorite team. So instead he brought in Stan Bleeping Williams, who promptly blew up and gave the pennant to the Unmentionables from Up North. Stan also departed, to the NYY that fall in a trade for Bill Skowron, who then had a rotten 1963 but torched his old team in that glorious 4-game sweep in October.

        • Bob Nelson September 22, 2014 / 5:00 pm

          Actually, Rizzuto resigned. The story goes (see “Scooter” by Carlo DeVito) that the 1956 Yankees were looking to find a spot for Enos Slaughter. In a meeting with the coaches, Rizzuto was consulted on which Yankee should be released to make room for Slaughter. After arguing that none of them should be cut, “Scooter” realized that he was the logical one to be cut and announced his retirement the same day. At the urging of one of his teammates, George Stirnweiss, Rizzuto chose never to criticize the Yankees for the decision because it might hurt his chances for a post-player career in MLB. And perhaps as a result of it, he wound up announcing for the Yankees for forty years. A great example of a class guy!!! His signature phrase, “Holy Cow,” was later picked up by Harry Caray.

          • Christopher Shelley September 23, 2014 / 5:18 pm

            This is a different version than the one given in Peter Golenbock’s “Dynasty”. Golenbock describes Rizzuto running around the field on old-timer’s day with a camera, taking pictures of the Yankee legends–only to go into the clubhouse and get the news of his release.

  5. jfepperson September 21, 2014 / 10:52 am

    I well remember when McLain gave Mantle that homer. I was listening to the game on the radio with my Yankees-fan step-brother, Jim Forest. IIRC, McLain literally asked Mantle where he wanted the pitch. That was a good year to be a Tigers fan!

    • Jerry Sudduth September 21, 2014 / 11:46 am

      The funny thing about the McLain-Mantle moment is that when Joe Pepitone came up next he pointed to where he wanted McLain to put his next pitch.

      McLain knocked Pepitone down!

      That said, Jeter deserves the adulation he’s received. He’s a superbly gifted and classy athlete. The Yankees have had a good many over the years.

      • Brooks D. Simpson September 21, 2014 / 12:13 pm

        However, the record also shows that Pepitone singled in that at-bat. Give it up to Mr. Hairdryer.

        • Keith September 21, 2014 / 5:13 pm

          Even more importantly for Pepitone’s legacy, he designed New York’s Central Park. At least according to Cosmo Kramer. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Buck Buchanan September 22, 2014 / 9:04 am

    I remember Yaz’s last year.

    Not too much herald trumpets as a respectful rememberance.

    Of course it was a different time.

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