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Remembering fuzzy details of Mantle's last triple

One of the things that gives so much power to the memories of Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio is that, unlike in the case of Ruth, Cobb, et. al, there are still hundreds of thousands of fans who remember seeing Mickey, Ted and Joe actually play the game. And those memories can be powerful, if often embellished to the point of being apocryphal. With that introduction:

I saw Mickey Mantle hit his final major league triple in a mid-summer game in 1968 against the Tigers, a doubleheader, in fact, at Yankee Stadium in heat so sweltering we couldn’t drink beer fast enough. We tried, though.

It was way over 100 degrees, and we had taken a bus from Upstate New York (Johnstown, west of Albany), a four-hour bit of Animal House type business years before the movie came out. The bus was chartered by the local Eagles club, there was no restroom and there were huge, shiny metal garbage cans filled with beer for the trip downstate Sunday morning. The facilities, as such, consisted of a single five-gallon gas can like the Army used (gerry can) that rested in the middle of the aisle. It was not for the faint of heart or for the squeamish.

The Tigers were in the middle of a pennant race and, ultimately, perhaps the most glorious year in the team’s history. The Yankees were in the tank yet again, awkwardly trying to adjust to the end of their incredible 1949-64 dynasty, which didn’t bother me at all, because I hated the Yankees. I was a Mets fan. Still am. But I loved The Mick.

We also figured this might be the last chance to see The Mick, which was reason enough to visit the otherwise reviled Yankee Stadium. It was in the first game, I don’t remember the inning or the pitcher, but I think he was batting left-handed when he rocketed one back over the mound and into dead center. As I’ve told the story for the last 40 years, the ball was struck with such ferocity that it never got more than 10-12 feet off the ground, yet made it all the way to the monuments in centerfield on the fly, back when they were actually on the field of play. And that’s what got Mick the triple. It was one of the hardest-hit balls I ever saw in my life, and certainly the hardest-hit ball that didn’t leave the park.

As we screamed and dumped Ballantine beer on one another, Mantle hobbled around the bases. He seemed to barely make it to second, but as the ball clattered like a pinball between the plaques of Ruth, Gehrig and Miller Huggins, he didn’t have much choice but to limp on to third base. He made it standing up; it was the only triple that the hobbled Mantle would hit that season.

I would join the Navy in a couple of months and be in the Philippines before Richard Nixon could set foot in the White House. The trip to see Mickey’s last triple was also the last chance before joining the military to do a bit of bonding with my father. We didn’t call it bonding in 1968.

As to the reference to apocryphal above, I guess I would find it disconcerting if all the facts didn’t line up the way I remember them, but as the circumstances have been described, I’d have at least one really good excuse if they didn’t.