Character and Courage and Cooperstown
Of course, history shows that Mantle stayed. He hit two home runs in his next game and, at one point, knocked in 21 runs in nine games for the KC Blues. Soon he was back in New York, where he would help the Yankees win their third of five straight World Series titles.
“I'm glad, my father knew I was not a failure,” said Mantle, whose dad died the next year.
Mantle went on to hit 536 home runs and some of the longest ever measured.
He became a Hall of Famer after becoming an American folk hero.
Indeed, Mays was beside himself. He would go hitless another three games, making him one for his first 26 in his first seven big-league contests.
At one point, Mays admitted, “Yes, I was crying. I was crying in my locker and (first-base coach) Freddy Fitzsimmons came in and he saw me and he tells Leo, ‘You better go see about your boy. He's in there crying.’”
Mays later said, "So I'm nervous now. (Durocher) is going to send me back very quickly because that’s the way they do it in the majors. If you don’t hit, you're gone.
“Leo came out and said to me, "You’re my center fielder. Don't worry about anything else. Just go on home and relax.’”
Mays was living on 155th street in Harlem.
“We'll never trade you. We think you'll be great, in time. I know it. We’re going to give you all the time you need.”
Ultimately, Snider conquered himself – his fears and misgivings – and then National League pitching. But there was one more hurdle he had to overcome.
When the Dodgers were caught by and then beaten in a playoff by the Giants in 1951 for the National League title, Snider, whose average had dropped from .321 to .277 that year, was blamed in many circles.
Snider later said, “Looking back now, I guess the worst time of all was late in 1951. I went to (Dodgers owner) Walter O'Malley and told him I couldn't take the pressure. I told him I'd just as soon be traded. I told him I figured I could do the Dodgers no good.”
According to Snider, O'Malley said, “We'll never trade you. We think you'll be great, in time. I know it. We’re going to give you all the time you need.”
Snider turned the corner at that point and in 1980, Snider became the third of the great center-field trifecta to be inducted in the Hall of Fame, following Mantle (1974) and Mays (1979).
But their journey to Cooperstown would have never happened without the character of their convictions – and the courage to press on.
Rick Hummel won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing in 2006