Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Day Mickey Mantle Played Shortstop

Imagine if you will that the year is 1954. It is the last game of the regular season and your dad has taken you to see your Yankees for one last time that season. Unlike most seasons, these Yankees are not going to the World Series because they came in second place. Oh, it's not as bad as you think. The team won 103 games that year and still finished eight full games behind a juggernaut Cleveland Indians team that featured Larry Doby, Early Winn, Al Rosen and Bob Feller among others. It is a Sunday afternoon and you settle into your seats. The crowd is sparse with only 11,670 souls to witness the game. Nevertheless, this is Yankee Stadium and the organ is playing. Suddenly, the imperious voice of Bob Sheppard appears from the clouds to announce the starting line ups. You dutifully take the names down of the visiting Philadelphia Athletics on your scorecard and then he gets to the Yankees' line up. You mark down on your scorecard that Hank Bauer is leading off and playing right field. Next is Eddie Robinson, which you think is kind of different because he hardly ever played. And then the next two players are announced:

"Playing shortstop, Number 7...Mickey Mantle...Number 7
"Playing third base, Number 8...Yogi Berra...Number 8..."

Those two announcements have you so flubbed up and flabbergasted that you miss the rest of the line up. Did that voice from God just say that Mickey was playing short and Yogi was playing third? You look to your dad and he shrugs and grins. Well, holy cow, as Mel Allen would say.

And so it was. On the last game of the 1954 season, September 26, the Yankees' brilliant center fielder started at short and their fiery little catcher started at third. Irv Noren, a pretty good part-time player in his career, played center. Moose Skowron, long known as a first baseman was in his rookie year and he started the game at second base, one of only two times in his career that he would play there. The immortal Lou Berberet was the starting catcher. It was his only start of the year and only his fifth appearance. The starting pitcher was Tommy Byrne, one of the most unpredictable pitchers of all time. Byrne somehow had a major league record of 85-69 with an ERA of 4.11 despite walking 6.9 batters per nine innings. He walked more batters in his career than he had strikeouts. The next year, in 1955, at the age of 35, Byrne would win 16 games for the Yankees with three shutouts and two saves.

The game, of course, was meaningless. The Yankees lost it to the Athletics, that year's worst team who had as many losses as the Yankees had wins. Yogi had two chances at third and handled them both without a problem. Of course, there is no way of knowing how many balls whizzed right by him. Mickey Mantle had several chances and did not make an error. He had two putouts and four assists He was even a part of a double play (Byrnes to Mantle to Robinson). Skowron had six chances at second and booted one of them.

Mickey went one for two at the plate with three walks (one of them intentional) and he struck out once. The hit left him with a .300 average for the season. Yogi went 0-5 and grounded into two double plays. He finished at .307. Yogi never played third again. Mickey Mantle actually played shortstop four times in 1954, but only started there once. He logged a total of 14 innings there. He played short once in 1953 and twice in 1955. He never made an error there. But before you think this writer is doing too much to glorify the man, he also played third once in 1952 and had four chances and booted two of them. He also played second once in 1954 and had two chances with no problems.

The Fan just thought this was a neat story and an oddity in the careers of two Hall of Fame players.

3 comments:

BRONX YANKEE said...

AUTHOR GOT MOST OF HIS FACTS RIGHT BUT NOT ALL. OBVIOUSLY HE IS NO YANKEE FAN, THOUGH, BECAUSE ANY TRUE YANKEE FAN KNOWS THAT "HOLY COW' WAS PHIL RIZZUTO'S CALL. MEL ALLEN-THE VOICE OF THE YANKEES-WAS KNOWN FOR "HOW ABOUT THAT!" INCIDENTALLY, THE 1940'S,'50'S AND'60'S WERE THE GOLDEN DAYS OF BASEBALL ON RADIO AND TV, AND THE GREATEST EVER TO CALL A GAME WERE ON NEW YORK STATIONS. MEL ALLEN...RED BARBER...RUSS HODGES...VIN SCULLY...SIMPLY THE BEST. EVER. ANY PLACE, ANY TIME. ALL THE REST WERE MEDIOCRE ... AT BEST.
HARRY CARAY? HE'D HAVE TO WORK THE CONEY ISLAND BOARDWALK OR SING "THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN THE WORLD" AT MINSKY'S
AS THE SONG GOES, "ONCE YOU LEAVE NEW YORK, YOU AIN'T GOIN' NOWHERE."
(INCIDENTALLY, "NOWHERE' HAS NOW OFFICIALLY CHANGED ITS NAME ... TO LOS ANGELES)

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Yeah, that's a good call on Mel Allen. Do remember that now. Thanks for the correction.

bobook said...

William, the Bronx Tail personifies the boorish Yankee fan from which I disassociate my Yankee-self. Quick to illuminate mistakes (ours) and incapable of allowing other teams their fans, this Metropolitan Warbler's crowing is an overcompensation for the inadequacies within his life, within his mind and within his pants. Shad up, you're embarrASSing us Yankee fans!