The New York Yankees retired Mickey Mantle’s shirt yesterday and gave him a new hat. With nostalgia oozing from every corner of proud Yankee Stadium, the Yankees and fans of New York told Mickey how much they loved him for 18 years of super-stardom, in which he hit 536 home runs – third on the all-time list – and led the Yankees to 12 American League pennants and seven world championships.
First the Yankees retired Mantle’s No. 7 uniform and sent it to join Babe Ruth’s No. 3, Lou Gehrig’s No. 4, and Joe DiMaggio’s No. 5 in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. Then they announced that Mantle would continue his association with the Yankees, serving as president of the New York Yankee Mickey Mantle Foundation, which assists in the development and promotion of sandlot baseball in the metropolitan area.
By proclamation of Mayor John Lindsay, it was Mickey Mantle Day in New York City, and Mickey’s fans turned out by the thousands to honor him between games of a double-header with the Chicago White Sox. They began chanting “We want Mickey” as soon as the first game ended, and they rocked the old ballpark each time a speaker mentioned his name, capping their affection when the 37-year-old slugger finally emerged from the Yankee dugout with an ovation that lasted more than six minutes.
Mantle took a ribbing from his ex-teammates and rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment before the crowd quieted down. Then Joe DiMaggio, his predecessor in the Yankee list of super-stars, showed him a plaque listing Mantle’s achievements that will be placed on the center field fence. Then Mantle, in turn, displayed a DiMaggio plaque which will also hang there. “If my plaque will be on the center field fence,” he said, “Joe DiMaggio’s deserves to be higher.” Mantle, who announced his retirement in March when he decided his aching and oft-injured legs couldn’t stand the strain of another season, called the ceremonies “the biggest thrill of my life – I had goosepimples during the whole ovation.”
He told the crowd that he didn’t “have the words to describe how I feel right now. Playing 18 years in Yankee Stadium for you folks was the best thing that could ever happen to a ballplayer. Retiring my uniform tops anything I could have wished for.” There was hardly a dry eye in the Stadium when he said with a catch in his voice that he’d “always wondered how a man who knew he was going to die (Lou Gehrig in 1939) could have stood here and said he was the luckiest man in the world. Now I know how Lou Gehrig felt.”