Entering the 1955 season, Mickey Mantle was once again under pressure to reach the heights predicted for him ever since he had been a rookie in 1951.
Despite having three solid seasons following a mediocre rookie year, Mickey was still only the third-best New York center fielder, ranked below the Giants' Willie Mays and Brooklyn's Duke Snider.
When the New York baseball writers first saw Mickey Mantle, they gave him the burden of having even greater potential than even Joe DiMaggio, primarily because Mickey was faster than Joe and he could hit the ball farther.
Mickey was criticized because he possessed the physical requisites for greatness, but except for occasional flashes, he was not yet a great player.
It was claimed that Mickey Mantle lacked Joe DiMaggio's fierce inner pride. When compared to Tommy Henrich, it was whispered that despite having twice Henrich's talent, Mickey was only half the player Henrich had been.
Mickey's bad legs hindered his development, but he didn't bunt enough and he struck out too much.
In his first four seasons, Mickey's strikeout totals were 74, 111, 90, 107, which is about one strikeout for every five official at-bats. In 2009, Mickey Mantle would not have been criticized for not bunting enough or for striking out too much.
In February 1955, Mickey received a $5,000 raise, which made his salary $25,000. For the first time since he joined the Yankees, Mickey was entering a season completely healthy.
The knee that he injured stepping into a drain during the 1951 World Series was finally sound, and the cyst that developed on the back of the knee by playing basketball too soon after the operation was gone.
Casey Stengel, who wanted Mickey to be the crown jewel player of his managerial career, thought a healthy Mickey could win the batting title.
"He could be the best all-around player in the league and maybe all of baseball."
Willie Mays was coming off a season in which he won the batting title with a .345 average, hit 41 home runs, had 110 RBIs, and was voted the National League's Most Valuable Player.
Stengel continued. "Mantle probably has eighteen strong points. Youth, strength, speed, a switch-hitter, a distance hitter. There are more, of course, but why go on? If Mickey would do more bunting, he'd be a cinch to pick up twenty or more hits a season. With his speed, he should bunt more."
The Yankees hired Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane to help Mickey with his hitting. Mickey helped Mickey with dragging bunts when batting from the left side, and he suggested that Mickey loosen his grip on the bat and not meet the ball too hard.
As Mickey Mantle fans know, his father, Mutt, named Mickey after Mickey Cochrane, whose name was really Gordon, not Mickey.
Nineteen fifty-five was a good year for Mickey Mantle, but it was the break out season Mickey, the Yankees, and his fans wanted.
Mickey led the league with 37 home runs, but Willie hit 51.
Mickey hit .306, had 99 RBIs, led the league with 11 triples, and cut down his strikeouts to 97. He led the league with a .611 slugging average.
Willie batted .319, had 127 RBIs, led baseball with 13 triples, and led baseball with a .659 slugging average. Willie struck out 60 times.
Mickey Mantle fans once again had to wait until next year. But next year was going to be 1956.
By ARTHUR DALEY. (1955, February 27). Sports of The Times :Under the Sheltering Palms. New York Times (1857-Current file),S2. Retrieved May 15, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) database. (Document ID: 92628313).
By ROSCOE McGOWEN. (1955, February 16). Mantle Accepts Yankees' Contract for Reported Rise to Salary of $25,000 :STAR OUTFIELDER 35TH MAN TO SIGN Mantle Will Report to Yank Camp in Sound Condition -- Expects Good Season. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 39. Retrieved May 15, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) database. (Document ID: 83352714).
By LOUIS EFFRATSpecial to The New York Times.. (1955, March 6). OPTIMISM REIGNS AS YANKS APPEAR FIT FOR CAMPAIGN :YANKS' CONDITION PLEASES STENGEL Stengel Looks for Big Year From Mantle--Bauer Only Ailing Player on Team. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. S1. Retrieved May 15, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) database. (Document ID: 93728747).