Every summer when I was growing up in Montgomery, AL, my father, who worked for the L & N Railroad, would apply for railroad passes for all the family to travel on. In the summer of 1953 he applied for free passes that would take us to the Big Apple, New York, New York.
That was a dream trip I will always remember. I was 16 years old and loved every aspect of baseball and every minute detail and trivia which went with the game. I knew the players on the majors as well as the members of our local Montgomery Rebels team.
My father surprised me, when after a few days of sightseeing New York City, by asking me if I would like to go to a Yankee baseball game. He had already secured the tickets, and we to go to Yankee Stadium the next day.
I could hardly sleep the night before thinking about the game. The New York Yankees were at the pinnacle of success. I could name most all the players, their batting averages, and the jersey number they wore. When the Yankees played a game over radio, I kept a box score.
So after breakfast the next morning my father and I caught a subway train to Yankee Stadium. That morning before we left our hotel I read the sports page of the New York Times. They had a big story on the game. The Yankees and the Chicago White Sox were tied for leadership of the American League.
Casey Stengel, the colorful manager of the Yankees, had selected Whitey Ford, a 24-year-old left-handed pitcher, to pitch for the home team. Paul Richards, manager of the visiting Chicago White Sox, had countered with his best pitcher, Billy Pierce, a 26-year-old lefty who at season's end had 186 strikeouts. Whitey Ford only struck out 110 by the end of the season.
What a thrill to see the two top pitchers of that era pitching in the same game.
We arrived in time to see the teams run out on the field to take their warmups. I remember distinctly thinking when I saw the teams run out on the field, even though both had the same won-lost records, the "blue pinstripe team" looked much more confident. The Yankees had won the last four consecutive World Series.
What a collection of outstanding baseball players the Yankees had. Mickey Mantle, No. 7, was every boy’s icon. Mickey was only 21 years of age that year. What he could do was sometimes beyond belief. He roamed center field and caught balls in center, left, and right. The Yankees really did not need but one outfielder.
He switch hit. He beat out bunts when the other team knew that he was going to bunt. And that day he was going to show the baseball world something that very few players have ever done, especially in Yankee Stadium.
Yogi Berra was a dream catcher. He was an excellent defensive catcher and hit the long ball (27 home runs in 1953). Mick only hit his age of 21. Yogi beat Mick in the RBI race too. Yogi had 108 to Mick’s 92.
The infield for the Yankees had Billy Martin, Phil Rizzuto, and Hank Bauer. They don’t get any better than that. But Chicago had two great baseball All-Stars in Minnie Minoso and Nellie Fox.
The game rocked along to about the fifth inning. Both Whitey Ford and Billy Pierce were mowing the players down with their speed and their finesse. But up came No. 7, Mickey Mantle. Everyone in the stands stood up and started chanting “Mickey, Mickey.”
Mick switched to the left side of the plate. The infield all started easing toward the plate. Everyone thought he was going to lay down a bunt and try to beat it out. Wrong! Mickey hit the ball on the fly to deep center field up against the fence.
The center fielder ran for the ball. The ball bounced off the fence and veered toward right field. The right fielder came to try to help, but the center fielder picked the ball up and immediately threw to the cutoff man, the shortstop. But in the meantime Mickey had rounded second and was nearly to third base.
I thought the manager at third tried to hold Mickey up, but by that time he was running so fast it was impossible to stop him. Mickey’s style of running reminded me of an antelope who only occasionally touched the ground very lightly.
Mickey scored with a perfect slide at home. Safe with no error on the play! So I had witnessed an inside the park home run from one of baseball’s greatest players.
This great performance is what young kids dream about doing someday when they are playing baseball. Mickey Mantle’s dream came true when they beat the White Sox that day in August of 1953. The Yankees went on to win their fifth consecutive World Series that year against the Brooklyn Dodgers in six games.
What a team, what a game major league baseball was in 1953.