Mantle joins 50-home run club

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

After his first four full seasons in the big leagues, Mickey Mantle was already a star. But by the time the 1956 campaign was complete, Mantle was an American icon.

His inauguration began in earnest on Sept. 18, 1956, when The Mick became just the eighth player in MLB history to tally 50 home runs in one season.

Fittingly, Mantle’s home run wrapped up the American League pennant for the Yankees – their eighth in 10 seasons. Mantle connected in the top of the 11th inning off the White Sox’s Billy Pierce, and Whitey Ford and Bob Grim combined to shut down Chicago in the bottom of the frame – setting off a celebration for the Yankees at Comiskey Park.

Mantle joined Babe Ruth (who reached the 50-homer plateau four times), Jimmie Foxx (two times), Ralph Kiner (two times), Hack Wilson, Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize and Willie Mays as the only players to record at least 50 homers in one year. Roger Maris became the ninth player in the club with his record 61 long balls in 1961 – the same season Mantle hit 54.

“Mickey Mantle was a legend before his time,” wrote author Robert Lipsyte, “an enormous burden for even so wondrously gifted an athlete.”

Mantle’s 1956 season was arguably the best of his career. He led the AL in runs (132), RBI (130), batting average (.353), slugging percentage (.705) and total bases (376) to go along with his home runs – and was voted the AL’s Most Valuable Player.

The Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series that fall, Mantle’s fourth championship as a member of the Bronx Bombers. He would go on to win three more rings, and retired prior to the 1969 season with 536 career home runs.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974 in his first year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot.

“Only a handful of players in all baseball history,” wrote Leonard Koppett of The New York Times, “have been as important to winning teams and have been able to contribute as much to eventual victory as has Mickey Mantle.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series