Mickey Mantle was one of the best players to ever put on the pinstripes. In eighteen seasons from 1951 to 1968, he won seven championships, three MVP’s, a triple crown, and he hit 536 home runs with a 172 OPS+. It doesn’t get much better than that.
His sons, David and Danny Mantle, are showcasing a new card collection featuring their father, the Panini America Mickey Mantle Eternal card. They were kind enough to talk with me about their father, his playing career, their experiences with card trade shows, and the state of baseball and the Yankees.
Matt Provenzano: Thank you so much for talking with me. I wanted to ask you guys a few questions, and I’ll get right into it. What were your experiences like growing up with your father, during or after his playing career, or even some memory you had that coincided with his playing career, even if it was something he just conveyed to you?
David Mantle: I think we enjoyed going down to spring training as much as he did. He loved being with his teammates, and back then it really seemed like a really big family to me. We were all really close; I don’t remember any jealousy between the players or wives or kids. Shoot—I couldn’t wait to get together with Whitey’s [Ford] kids, or Phil Rizzuto’s, or whatever kids were there. It was a great time, and besides that we got out of school for six weeks, and we were able to spend a lot of that time on the beach. Overall it was a great experience—everybody loved everybody.
MP: Was there a moment in your father’s playing career that stuck out that he told you about, or maybe something you saw in person?
David: The biggest moment for me was when I was a senior in high school, I was at a Old Timers’ game at the old Rangers stadium. It was 1974 and, shoot, they had everybody there: dad was there, Joe D[iMaggio], even Casey [Stengel]. When they introduced dad, that was the first time I realized what he meant to the fans when they stood up and cheered. It brought goosebumps and made my hairs stand up. At that moment I really realized how big of a deal dad was to baseball.
Danny Mantle: One of dad’s biggest thrills was his retirement day. He always talked a lot about that. He just felt so good—there were 70-something-thousand people in the stands. Dad didn’t get choked up a lot, but there he did. It was all of his friends there, and there he really figured out what his career really meant.
MP: What was it like growing up after he had retired, now that you had him just to yourself?
David: It was difficult because we always had trouble going out even just to, say, dinner, because it seemed like you could never do anything or go anywhere because people would always come over and ask for autographs; that wasn’t that bad but it just felt like we always had to share dad with the public, and I guess that’s one of the things you have to deal with as a celebrity—you’re always in demand no matter where you are or whether you’re with your family or not. I remember dad, when we were younger, tried to take us to see the Harlem Globetrotters and we barely sat down because within 15 minutes it got so bad we had to get up and leave. So, it was hard for us to do stuff in the public.
MP: But privately, at home, it was much better having him around the whole year?
David: Oh, shoot, yeah. We would, besides playing golf—that was one of the best things we did—we would get the neighborhood kids together and we would play some of the best football games in our backyard; it seemed like we played more football than we did baseball.
MP: Was there any one moment you had together that sticks out?
Danny: We played a ton of golf together, and that’s really where we became close. My dad always thought he was a bad father because he was never there, but when he was able to start being at home we had a great time because we all played golf; we would go out together, just us, dad, and some friends. And I could tell that my dad really enjoyed all that.
David: One thing I just remembered too was that back then we used to have a little projector and some times at night after dinner he’d break out the projector and he’d put movies on there; we’d watch all the old movies when we were younger. So that was pretty cool. We’d sit around hear the old [makes projector clicking noise].
MP: So you mentioned before that the public constantly wanted signatures and always demanded attention, and now you both find yourselves in the position of showcasing a card collection for your father. How did you find yourself getting into this?
David: What we would do is take turns traveling with dad and doing the baseball card shows, and around ‘89 was when it got big. Going around traveling with him was fun and we got to meet a lot of people in the trade; we became pretty good friends with some of them. That’s what got me into it, just collecting all kinds of memorabilia.
MP: And why this particular collection?
Danny: We were on kind of a hiatus—we haven’t done cards since 2012. We had a seven-year deal with the company before this, and it got to a point where we felt like we had to let it dry up. So this year we thought, as we got a ton of calls and emails from fans wondering when there would be more Mickey Mantle cards, we decided to start talking to some card companies, and Panini seemed to have the right deal for us. They’re really willing to let me and David be involved. We’re really excited about what we’re doing here.
David: What’s kind of funny is that after dad passed away, I started getting some stuff in the mail, because I always signed stuff as ‘Son of the Mick’ on it. And it’s funny that people asked for our autographs, and now I’m getting plaques and cards and letters, and then I send a little note and signature back. I’m sure dad is up there laughing because here we are signing autographs when I’ve never hit a home run in a major league ballpark.
MP: I also wanted to ask you both about baseball today. Have you been following the sport since then, and my follow-up to that would be: what’s your opinion on Mike Trout drawing quite a few comparisons to your father?
Danny: There have been comparisons with Trout and Bryce Harper, and those are two of my favorite players that are playing today. They’re both really strong, powerful hitters. Trout is really fast, and he’s kind of structured like dad. So we really enjoy it, and it’s really an honor, for those guys to be mentioned with my dad. I think it’s great.
MP: And do you both still follow the Yankees?
David: I go to the Rangers fairly often during the season, so I always root for the Rangers but when the Yankees come into town, I’m a Yankees fan. I’ll take my daughter out to the Rangers’ games with me, and it’s funny because she says, ‘Papa would hit a home run and we would win!’ I would say, ‘Papa didn’t hit a home run all time time,’ and she would say, ‘Yeah, he did!’ Speaking of that, that reminds me of mom talking about when dad was in the world series and it was a tight game, she just felt he was going to hit a home run. It also helped that he was a lefty, and that the Yankees had such a great pitching staff back then, too.
MP: What do you think of the Yankees today? They’ve obviously changed quite a bit, even in the past few years, past the dynasty years that looked so much like the years in which your dad played. Now, entering a different era, do you think the Yankees are headed in that direction?
David: Firstly, I like the manager, Joe [Girardi]; he seems like a great guy. I love the direction they’re headed in. They had a rough year last year, but the season is just starting so I’m curious to see how they’ll do. They have a lot of new names out there, so we’ll see.
MP: Do you still have any relationship with the organization?
Danny: They had a bobblehead night for dad last summer, and me and David were invited up. But other than that, we’ve only been to the new Stadium once, for the 50th anniversary of Roger Maris’ 61 home run season. But other than that, we haven’t really been up there.
David: We get there as much as we can. We’re still friends with one of the trainers, Steve Donahue, but we haven’t really been there. We wish we could get invited to an Old Timers’ Game. I have a lot of people ask me if we’re going there, and we’ve just never been invited. I know they have other people come to the games, friends and family to represent players, but I’ve always wondered why there was never someone representing Mickey.
MP: I’ll have to get the word out there and get you guys an invite.
David: Good, thank you!
MP: I just wanted to thank you guys for talking with me. Good luck with the card collection, and thank you so much for sharing your experiences, it was incredibly interesting.