Mickey Mantle was Tony Kubek's all-time favorite ball player. Kubek is one of the most underrated of all New York Yankees shortstops. He played for the Yankees for nine seasons and was a member of three World Championship teams (1958, 1961-62).
Kubek found Mantle to be a caring, thoughtful individual to himself personally as well as to youngsters and to the great Joe DiMaggio.
When Kubek joined the Yankees in 1957, Mantle was coming off his Triple Crown season. Kubek will never forget how he was treated by the best player in baseball.
In 1957, rookies were regarded quite differently from today. In an interview with a Canadian reporter, Kubek, who was the Toronto Blue Jays announcer, revealed how Mantle was instrumental in getting Kubek uniform number 10, which had been Phil Rizzuto's number.
"Back then, rookies could be seen but not heard. There was definite class distinction. When you came to camp as a rookie you got a high number so that there'd be no mistaking you. I got 34.
"One day after a couple of dozen games, Mantle sat down beside me and called to the trainer: 'Give this kid a low number. He's gonna be around awhile.' They gave me 10 and I wore it for my nine years up there."
Kubek played 882 games at shortstop, but he also played the outfield, third base and second base. He often would play center field when Mantle was injured.
"Sometimes he had injections to kill the pain. I used to say to him 'For God's sake, don't play. Let that thing heal.' But he'd say—and, look, there'd be nobody around, he wasn't making a grand gesture—he'd say: 'Tony, maybe there's a guy out there with his kid, and it might be the only ticket he can afford all season, and he brought his kid to see me. So I better be out there.'"
Mantle and DiMaggio had agreed that while they would never be friends, they would always be friendly. At the first Old Timer's Day that the retired Mickey Mantle attended, the public address announcer made a mistake. Instead of DiMaggio being introduced last, the recently retired Mantle was introduced last.
Mantle received a bigger ovation than DiMaggio, who was extremely offended, but Mantle took action. Kubek explained what happened.
"Mantle saw that Joe, a remote guy, a loner, was really offended. He told Bob Fishel, the promotions man, he wouldn't be back, because Joe had been hurt. Fishel had the solution. He had the two of them walk on the field arm in arm and introduced them together."
Kubek saw many of Mantle's home run. He recalled two that Mantle hit in Washington's Griffith Stadium. No, not the one that allegedly traveled 565-feet off a Chuck Stobbs delivery.
"We were in Washington's Griffith Stadium, a huge park where center field was 420 feet away with a high green wall and, beyond that, a grand oak tree. Camillo Pascual, a right-handed curveballer, was pitching for the Senators when Mantle, batting left, hit a ball into the oak tree. The old catcher, Bill Dickey, who was our first base coach, said he'd seen the Babe put one in that tree too.
"Three innings later, Mantle came up again, and Chuck Stobbs, a left- hander, was now pitching. Hitting right, Mickey hit the ball over the tree. We all watched Dickey in the coach's box at first base. He stared towards center and then he turned to the bench and put his head down and covered his eyes. He couldn't believe it."
Mantle's great baseball feats have been duly documented. So have the times when he acted badly to the public.
It's time that Mickey's actions that made him Tony Kubek's all-time favorite teammate were also publicized.
Frayne, Trent. "Kubek confers mantle of greatness on ex-mate." Globe & Mail [Toronto, Canada] 23 Mar. 1985: S1. Infotrac Newsstand. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.