Mickey Mantle's Worst Injury: It Was Joe DiMaggio's Play

Harold FriendChief Writer IJune 10, 2011

The Yankees Greatest Centerfielder
The Yankees Greatest CenterfielderDoug Pensinger/Getty Images

Mel Allen described the fateful play as it unfolded in the fifth inning of the second game of the 1951 World Series. Thirteen hundred miles away, Lovell Mantle listened intently as she heard the announcer tell her that her son was lying prone on the ground in right field.

Lovell's husband was in the Yankees dugout. He watched as his son was carried off the field on a stretcher. Gone was the joy of seeing Mickey beat out a bunt in the first inning and score the first New York Yankees run in a 3-1 win that evened the Series.

Mutt Mantle was a strong advocate of the bunt. Mickey had told him that he was going to bunt his first time up against New York Giants right-hander and 23-game winner Larry Jansen. Mantle was batting lead off.

Willie Mays lifted a high, deep fly ball to right center field. Mickey moved to his right as Joe DiMaggio moved to his left to make an easy catch, but inexplicably, Mickey, in some unaccountable manner, tripped as he came near DiMaggio and fell flat.

Mantle, running at full speed, had stopped short when he realized it was the center fielder's play.

A cleat on Mantle's shoe caught on a piece of the underground lawn sprinkler apparatus in the outfield. He had to be carried off the field in a stretcher and later it was revealed by Dr. Sidney Gaynor, the Yankees physician, that "the youngster had suffered a sprained right knee that would sideline him for the rest of the Series."

Mutt Mantle's first thought was Mickey's mother. He said to baseball writer Harold Kaese, of the Boston Globe, "I thought he was hurt bad, but I didn't know what to think. I guess I thought about his mother back home listening to the game."

Mickey failed to move after he went down. Mutt thought that he was unconscious. Yankees coach Tommy Henrich, who had helped Mantle make the transition from shortstop to the outfield, told reporters he thought Mickey had fainted.

"I thought maybe he had fainted. You know, the tension of these things can do some funny things to you—and he's only a kid."

Bullpen catchers Charlie Silvera and Ralph Houk were the first to reach Mantle. Houk, a former Marine, had seen terrible injuries during the war. He immediately knew Mantle might be in a lot of trouble.

The injury was extremely serious and required many operations. It was a big contributor to why Mantle never reached the great heights predicted for him.

After the game, Mantle spoke about the play.

"It was Joe's ball. I was getting out of the way. Maybe I stepped in a hole, but something let go in my knee. I heard it pop. I don't know just what happened."

A recent book about Mantle claims that it was Mantle's play but that he deferred to DiMaggio. It was DiMaggio's play.

The book's author knows the baseball axiom that any ball the center fielder can reach is his, but still incorrectly blamed DiMaggio for taking the fly ball.

It was claimed that Casey Stengel had told the inexperienced Mantle that DiMaggio had a bad heel and that he, Mantle, should take whatever he could.

Kase asked Mantle why he didn't move when he was on the ground. Mantle answered simply that he had been scared.

Joe DiMaggio rushed to Mantle after making the catch. "I saw him go down. I thought he was trying to get out of my way. I didn't know he was hurt at first."

When Mickey was taken off the field, Mutt Mantle rushed to the clubhouse, where his son's knee was packed in ice and then put into a splint. Mickey started to dress as a look of relief came over Mutt.

The father and son spent the night in Mutt's hotel room. In the morning, Mickey couldn't walk on the swollen knee. They went to Lenox Hill Hospital for X-rays.

When Mickey, who needed help walking, put his arm around his father's shoulder, Mutt Mantle crumpled to the sidewalk. The elder Mantle had been sick for six months, but Mickey was never told.

It was later confirmed that Mutt Mantle had Hodgkin's disease. Mickey and his father returned home for their final days together.


Kaese, H. (1951, Oct 06). Father sees mantle fall, thinks first of mother. Daily Boston Globe (1928-1960), pp. 1. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/840555001?accountid=46260

Drebinger, John. "Yanks Win, 3 to 1, Tie Series; Lopat Holds Giants to 5 Hits." New York Times. 6 October 1951, p. 1.

Joe DiMaggio

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