It was one of the most riotous days in the history of Yankee Stadium. Jimmy Piersall and Mickey Mantle never forgot what happened.
The New York Yankees were hosting the Cleveland Indians for a doubleheader on Sept. 10, 1961. Whitey Ford, who was going for his 24th win, started for the Yankees on the humid, 92-degree Sunday afternoon. The Tribe countered with Barry Latman.
The Indians touched Ford for two runs in the first inning, but the Yankees drove Latman from the mound with six runs in the second. Ford was gone in the Indians four-run third inning.
It was now the top of the fifth inning of a 6-6 game. Jim Coates, who never hesitated to throw close to a hitter that he thought needed a message, retired Willie Kirkland on a ground ball to first baseman Bill Skowron.
Then some trouble started, but it was mild.
Coates hit Vic Power on the back of the neck. Power, who had no love for the Yankees, probably because they had traded him to the Philadelphia Athletics since he was too flashy to become their first black player, glared at Coates as he slowly took his base.
The game continued without incident until the seventh inning. Coates and Power were not involved. Jimmy Piersall and Mickey Mantle were.
The game was still tied. With two outs and the bases empty, Indians right-hander Bobby Locke pitched carefully to Mantle and walked him. Then it really happened.
Two young men jumped out of the stands and headed straight for center fielder Piersall.
"I knew I was in trouble right away," Piersall told reporters after the game. "They were yelling, 'We'll get you, nut.'"
With fists cocked, the two of them went after Piersall, but Piersall was ready. He hit one of the attackers with a left hook to the eye and landed a right on the other attackers head.
"I hit that first guy good. My dad would have been proud of me. I finally won one."
Piersall's father had passed away the previous week.
But it was far from over. One of the men started to get up.
Mantle left first base and raced (he could run pretty fast, as we all know) toward the attackers. Indians second baseman Johnny Temple joined Mantle as the Indians dugout and bullpen emptied.
The police ended the incident with no further violence. They didn't need stun guns or riot gear. In 1961, the police and security knew how to react.
Seeing Mantle run out to help him meant more than words can express to Piersall.
"Mantle really showed me something," a grateful Piersall said. "He could have been hurt. But he wasn't worrying about his homers then. Did you see how my teammates rushed out too? I found out who my friends are."
Mantle took it all in stride.
"Sure I was going out to help him," Mantle said. "Those people have no business out there."
Piersall had a history of emotional problems. Tony Perkins starred in an excellent film, Fear Strikes Out, based on Piersall's autobiography.
Piersall had a fine career. Those who saw him insist that he was the greatest defensive center fielder ever.
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