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The House that Built Mantle

Will Stern
by  Will Stern
The House that Built Mantle

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The House that Built Mantle

by  Will Stern
The House that Built Mantle

Mickey Mantle’s star rose faster and higher than perhaps any other athlete in American history. And the two most important places that contributed to his unmatched lore were Yankee Stadium (demolished in 2009) and his childhood home in Commerce, OK. The small house on 319 South Quincy street is unremarkable at first glance, a simple two-bedroom home with a tin shed out back. But looks can be deceiving. This unassuming property nestled in the small town of Commerce (population: ~2,500) in the Northeast corner of Oklahoma represents the genesis of an American folk hero.

“Somebody once asked me if I ever went up to the plate trying to hit a home run. I said, ‘Sure, every time.”

– Mickey Mantle.

Mickey Mantle was ‘bred’ to play baseball.

Many parents plan out their children’s lives long in advance. Often projections of long-abandoned ambitions from their own lives, cast unto the next generation, it’s rare to see these plans come close to fruition — particularly when they involve impossible odds, extraordinary luck, and intense devotion from the kid.

But for all the parents who must come to terms with the fact that their child didn’t become an astronaut or a Senator or a Poet Laureate, a precious few actually got it right from the start.

Mutt Mantle was one of those few.

A lifelong baseball obsessive, Mutt had dabbled in semi-professional ball in his youth, though had his dreams dashed after the death of his mother forced him to leave school for the mines to help support the family. By the time Mutt and his wife Lovell were preparing for the birth of their first child, Mutt decided that if it was a boy he would be named Mickey, after the 2-time MVP catcher, Mickey Cochrane.

Starting at the age of four in the mining town of Commerce, OK, Mickey’s training began. Six days a week, Mutt and Mickey had a standing appointment at 4PM in the backyard of their home in Commerce. It was there that the greatest switch-hitter to ever live honed his swing(s). With the tin shed as a backstop, Mickey’s father threw to him right-handed and his grandfather left-handed, forcing Mickey to master the game from both sides of the plate.

The daily training had its own set of rules, with a ball hit below the windows of the house counting as a single; above, a double; the roof, a triple; and over the house, a homerun.

I was the only kid in town that didn’t get in trouble for breaking a window.

– Mickey Mantle.

Mutt’s insistence on switch-hitting was unconventional at the time, but he was convinced it was the future.  “My dad always believed there would be platooning some day,” Mantle recalled years later. As a natural righty, Mickey was reluctant, though by the time he was “big enough to start walking” he had already started taking cuts from the other side of the plate.

During a game when Mickey was 12, he batted right-handed against a righty pitcher, striking out and incurring the wrath of his father, who yelled “Go on home and don’t you put on a baseball uniform again until you switch hit like I taught you.”

That seemed to do the trick.

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