On May 22, 1963, the Yankees' Mickey Mantle came into the home game against the Kansas City Athletics batting a rather customary .303/.400/.658. He was coming off an MVP season in 1962, and the day before he had clouted two home runs off KC pitchers. Mantle was 31, and because of injuries and personal excess he would last only another five years in the majors.
But in 1963 he was still Mickey Mantle as we think of him. For one at-bat on May 22, 1963, he was something beyond even that.
In the bottom of the 11th of a 7-7 game, Mantle, hitting left-handed and using the bat of teammate Dale Long, stepped in against Bill Fischer. Mantle worked the count to 2-1 and sat dead-red. But Fischer uncoiled a slow, looping curve ball, which Mantle mistimed badly. Then Fischer came back with the high fastball. This happened ...
And here, courtesy of Greg Rybarczyk, Bruce Orser and Rick Kaplan, is a 3-D modeling of what that homer might have looked like as it unfurled ...
Joe Pepitone said he could "hear the boom" when the ball hit the facade. Onlookers would insist to their graves that the ball was still rising when it hit that facade, and it was generally regarded as the closest anyone ever came to hitting a fair ball out of Yankee Stadium.
Mantle said it was the only ball he ever hit in which he could feel the bat bend in his hands.
Here's how one contemporary account from the Sumter (SC) Daily Item rendered it:
Later estimates of how far Mantle's impossible smash traveled ranged from well more than 500 feet to well more than 700 feet (that latter figure is, of course, the stuff of myth-making). Regardless of its span, Mantle's homer was like nothing so many seasoned observers had ever seen. It would live on as such.
Less than two weeks later, Mantle in the field ranged back on a Brooks Robinson humpback liner, got his spikes caught on the fence and snapped his foot like a sapling. He came back, but the the Yankees were swept by the Dodgers in the World Series. He still had a stellar performance in 1964 World Series ahead of him (albeit in defeat), and his 500th home run wouldn't happen until 1967.
Still, it's correct to consider this one of Mantle's last typifying moments with a bat in his hands.
A number of Mantle's homers aren't identified by where they cross the fence or what part of the outfield seats they land in. Rather, they're called to mind by the names of the city streets they landed on or even forded.
There's Trumbull Avenue in Detroit (his 1958 blast off Jim Bunning), and there's Fifth Street in Washington, DC (he smote one out of Griffith Stadium and over the roofs of adjacent row houses in 1953).
There was no such geography to this one, if only because one of Yankee Stadium's scalloped arches got in the way.
Needless to say, the lavishly gifted Mantle hit a lot of balls hard, but to hear him tell it, the hardest ever happened 50 years ago Wednesday.