In his Triple Crown season of 1956, Mickey Mantle beat out over a dozen bunts by the end of July.
Mantle told his good friend and confidant, Tom Molito, that many writers criticized him for not swinging away since he was eight games ahead of Babe Ruth's 60 home run pace entering August.
Tom wasn't especially surprised. He had followed Mickey's career closely and thought that one great advantage Mantle had over other sluggers, including Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, was that he could bunt. Tom also knew that most baseball people wanted home run hitters to swing away, not bunt for a base hit.
Mantle sat back and laughed his boyish laugh as he explained that although the New York Yankees held a comfortable lead over the second-place Cleveland Indians, he knew that with a pitching staff led by young fireballer Herb Score, the Indians might make a run at any time.
Late in July, Mantle revealed his statistical goals for the 1956 season. He wanted to hit 50 home runs, drive in 125 runs and bat .350. He thought that would be enough to win the Triple Crown.
When Mickey confirmed to Tom that he really was more concerned with winning the Triple Crown than going after Ruth's record, Tom had an excellent question.
"But Mickey, a bunt base hit helped your average, but you gave up a chance for a home run and an RBI."
Mickey asked Tom if he remembered whom he had to beat out to win the batting title. Tom felt a little sheepish when he immediately remembered that Ted Williams was still in the league.
"Another reason I wanted to win the batting title was that no switch hitter had ever done it."
"Tom," Mantle said as he turned to his friend, "Do you know what turned me into a better hitter that season?"
Molito was curious and simply shook his head.
"I changed my stance hitting left-handed. Casey told me to move away from the plate a little. He said I would be able to handle the letter high fast ball on the inside better.
"When I tried to bunt for a hit, it was because we had to get something started. I figured that winning the pennant was the most important thing of all. Sure, I wanted to break Ruth's record, but not at the expense of winning."
A few writers expressed the opinion that Mantle's statement was an attempt to take pressure off himself, which was ridiculous.
Harold Kaese, the great baseball writer, believed that Mantle's indifference to the record was genuine because he was young and would have other opportunities to attempt to break Ruth's record, assuming he could avoid serious injury.
Mantle had little trouble with most teams, but surprisingly the sixth-place Baltimore Orioles held him to a .268 average and two home runs, both hit at Yankee Stadium.
"Tom, I didn't hit a single home run in Baltimore."
Orioles manager Paul Richards was the reason. Richards thought that Mantle was a better hitter than Ruth, but the former catcher knew how to exploit any batter's weakness.
Richards had his pitchers change speeds in order to exploit Mantle's eagerness. Connie Johnson, a pitcher who usually gave the Yankees a lot of trouble, said Mantle seemed "...anxious, obviously going for the home run...He's really dangerous, but he's also a little 'tight' up there, from all the pressure he's under."
It turned out that base hit bunts allowed Mantle to win the batting title.
He batted .353 to Ted Williams' .345. Winning the home run title was no problem. Vic Wertz was the runner-up with 32 home runs. Al Kaline almost topped Mantle with 128 RBIs to Mantle's 130.
Mantle became the 11th player since 1901 to win the Triple Crown. Since then, only Frank Robinson in 1966 and Carl Yastrezemski in 1967 have accomplished the feat.
Kaese, H. (1956, Aug 05). Why does mickey bunt so often? Daily Boston Globe (1928-1960), pp. B1. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/840240880?accountid=46260