A Lesson in History: Mickey Mantle and Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig has officially reported to the Los Angeles Dodgers Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma City Dodgers and found some success in his debut. On Sunday, he met fans and signed autographs wearing No. 46 on the field.

It feels like just yesterday, so to speak, he was an All-Star and the future of the Dodgers franchise and Major League Baseball.  Remember this photo from “MLB The Show”?

The young career and life of Puig has been a troubling and exciting one. The roller coaster ride is just beginning and the driver is Puig.

Yasiel Puig: The Agony and the Ecstasy

Where some might call for doom and gloom, American’s have always been about second chances. Everybody loves a comeback story. Puig’s predicament is that he holds the cards. He has a chance to redeem himself in the Minor Leagues to get that call up once again. If he fails, he will be forgotten, mostly, and remembered as what might have been or bring to light again that scouting prospects is much like making plans and hearing God laugh.

Why have we come to this point with Puig? Has he failed himself in developing into a mature adult? Have the Dodgers failed him in developing a gifted talent into a star player? Is the process of acquiring baseball talent from the Caribbean and Latin America flawed? Maybe all of the above.

To determine answers to these questions, we all need a brief lesson in history. We need to look to the past to determine what we might expect in the future.

 “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayan

Let us take a journey back in time through the prism of history. The prism of two men who at first glance seemingly may have nothing in common. Well, let this article remind of you a few things:

Hall of Fame center fielder Mickey Mantle was also once sent down to the Minor Leagues

Perspective matters in life. Puig is no Mickey Mantle or Bo Jackson, yet, but he has the skills and talent to be as such. Consider this story via SABR.org:

“Mantle played his first major-league game on April 17, 1951, at Yankee Stadium against the Boston Red Sox. Although he started the season well, hitting strong in April and early May, he slumped badly in June and early July, prompting Stengel to send him back to the minor leagues for more seasoning, telling him: “It’s not the end of the world, Mickey. In a couple of weeks you’ll start hitting and then we’ll bring you right back again. I promise.”

The decision crushed Mantle. Three months earlier, he was being touted as the next Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio all rolled into one.

Now he was going back to the minors, to the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Kansas City. Things were about to get worse. In his first 18 at-bats in Kansas City, he managed only three hits, one of them a bunt single. He grew lonely and despondent, believing that his career was over before it had a chance to begin.

He reached out to his father, hoping for support, telling Mutt [Mantle’s father] over the phone that he couldn’t play anymore and wanted to go home. Mutt hung up the phone and drove from Commerce to Kansas City, where he confronted his son in his hotel room. Mantle reiterated that he had tried his hardest, but that he had lost his confidence and wanted to quit. “Now you shut up! I don’t wanna hear your whining! I thought I raised a man, not a coward!” yelled Mutt.

Mantle later said that it was “as though Mutt had leveled a double-barreled shotgun at my head.” Mutt proceeded to pack up Mantle’s belongings, all the time grumbling that “he thought he raised a man, and you’re just a coward.” When the time came to leave, Mickey broke down crying and told his father that he would give it another chance.

The incident lit a fire under Mantle, who went on a tear for the next month. By late August, after playing 40 games for Kansas City, Mantle was batting .361 with 11 home runs and 60 RBIs, and was recalled by the Yankees. Upon his return, he was assigned uniform number 7, which he would wear for the next 18 years. In the final 27 games of the season, Mantle hit .284 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.”

The rest is history.

Did you know . . .

“In 1983, he was given a job in public relations with the Claridge Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Shortly after the press conference announcing his new position with the Claridge, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned Mantle from baseball because of his involvement with a gambling establishment. Kuhn had done the same thing to Willie Mays, who also worked for a casino in Atlantic City. In 1984, when Peter Ueberroth succeeded Kuhn, his first official act was to reinstate Mantle and Mays.”

Do you remember when . . .

Yasiel Puig was arrested for reckless driving, in Tennessee and Florida. The reckless driving charge was eventually dropped by the district attorney.

Mantle, one of the greatest ballplayers of all time was sent to the minors. This may seem like a bigger deal now with Puig, social media, and his 7-year, $42 million dollar contract.

However, Puig has the opportunity to prove himself once again.  Will he take the opportunity and force redemption with the veracity and force he runs in walls in the outfield? “The Wild Horse” needs to run his race through the proverbial walls of life.

Vin Scully’s 10 Greatest Broadcasting Calls: No. 10-6

Hall of Fame Manager Casey Stengel suggested that his biggest regret was with Mickey Mantle for the potential he had, but that he failed to utilize

That notion sounds eerily familiar. Going back to a quote by Stengel, who was nicknamed the “Old Perfessor,” he said about Mickey Mantle:

“He has more speed than any slugger I’ve ever seen, and more slug than any other speedster – and nobody has ever had more of both of ’em together. This kid ain’t logical. He’s too good. It’s very confusing.”

He was not the only one to share strong sentiment about a ballplayer, former Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said about Yasiel Puig in 2014:

“I don’t know if I’ve seen anybody do something like this. You don’t see this kind of package, a Bo Jackson-type package.”

However, highly talented prospects are just prospects until they can prove themselves.

Mantle was very interesting in that he proved himself great, but he always fell to his own demons, over and over again. The ultimate Greek Tragedy. Puig, like Mantle, has his own demons. Every man has their battle. We can imagine that Mattingly, also a former Yankee like Stengel, must have some disappointment and regrets with Puig.

“In his autobiography, Stengel selected All-Star teams for both his Yankee years and his entire career to that point. Although he listed Mantle among the best Yankees he had managed, he did not list Mantle among the best players in the majors during a period of fifty years. At the time, this seemed an intentional slight. Stengel had great expectations for Mantle. Although he never explicitly said this, it is commonly accepted that Stengel wanted Mantle to be his living monument. The greatest ballplayer of all time would be “Casey’s Boy.” Despite Mantle’s tremendous success, Stengel often seemed frustrated with his approach and lack of focus. At the time this seemed unreasonable. With Mantle’s liver failure and resultant death in 1995, and the concomitant knowledge that some of Mantle’s lapses in performance resulted from his undisciplined lifestyle, Stengel’s disappointment becomes more understandable.”

Mantle often played baseball and lived life like he was cursed. He believed he would die young. We can see some of this same behavior in Yasiel Puig. He lives his life and plays the game with reckless abandon. On the other hand, depression and disappointment can be seen when his pulls a hamstring, over throws or over runs a base, or gives attitude. Unfortunately for Yasiel Puig, to many of his critics and mentors focused on changing the “The Wild Horse,” where the focus should have been on harnessing his talent and letting him be who he wanted to be. Baseball is fun and Puig brings a great excitement to the game.

The Mantle Curse: “Cancer had claimed his grandfather and two of his uncles well before their time, and [eventually his father at the age of 38]. For the rest of his playing days, Mantle told friends, he believed he would also die young. This belief haunted Mantle throughout his life, and was among the many pressures that led to much of his self-destructive behavior . . .

It is no secret that Mantle abused alcohol from his very earliest days in the Yankee farm organization to almost the end of his life . . . After he emerged sober from [a] center [later in life after encouragement by friend Pat Summerall], Mantle made a number of public-service announcements denouncing the dangers of alcoholism. He traveled the country spreading his message, and often saying that if it weren’t for alcohol, he would have been a better player and a better man.”

Stengel like Mattingly, wished to see their golden boys make the most of their baseball careers. Mattingly is now managing the Miami Marlins, while Stengel and Mantle are etched in the Hall of Fame. Puig still has a chance to realize his potential as a ballplayer. Will Manager Dave Roberts and Dodgers coaching staff be the reason for Puig’s recommitment and progression?

Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns, INNING 7: THE CAPITAL OF BASEBALL (1950-1960)

NEXT PAGE: Process of Drafting, Signing and Developing

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Jeremy Evans

Jeremy M. Evans is the Founder & Managing Attorney at California Sports Lawyer®, representing entertainment, media, and sports clientele. Evans is an award-winning attorney and industry leader based in Los Angeles.

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