Unmatched in talent with a million dollar smile, adoring fans -- the New York Yankees center fielder hit home runs farther than anyone at the time -- Mickey had it all.
Mantle's career took him from the smallest of towns to the biggest of cities. The legend's career began on a small farm in Commerce, a small town in Oklahoma where he grew up. His path to the major leagues would eventually lead him to the biggest showcase in baseball, Yankee Stadium. The greatest legends in the game played there: Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio to name a few. Like those who preceded him, Mantle became a true Yankee legend.
Injuries plagued Mantle's entire athletic career. From bone marrow cancer during his teenage years, to torn cartilage in his knee during his major league rookie campaign, Mantle found himself practically mummified in athletic tape before very game. Despite severe leg injuries, Mantle found himself among elite company by the end of his baseball career, finishing with 536 career home runs and three MVP's to his credit. Perhaps the most amazing aspect to Mantle's career] is the fact that, during his 18 year career, he led his Yankee team to 12 American League pennants and 7 World Series championships. Mantle was a winner who always seemed to rise to the occasion when the pressure was on. Mantle's World Series statistics remain amongst the best of all-time.
Many of his teammates and opponents acknowledge that Mantle, if it weren't for the leg injuries, could have been the greatest player in the history of the game. Like Willie Mays, Mantle possessed both speed and power, which most observers will tell you that Mantle was superior in both areas, and considering Mays' incredible career, that says a lot.
Another aspect of Mantle's career that can't be explained in raw numbers, is his incredible appeal with fans then and now. Without question, Mantle has the largest fan base of any vintage player in existence. "The Commerce Comet" has such a strong following because of his storybook career, and his small town origins, on a farm no less, and ended up a star in New York City. Mantle had a child-like innocence about him and the Yankee fans, as well as America, could see how genuine this young phenom was. Mantle, unlike DiMaggio, was very personable, outgoing and friendly. While DiMaggio seemed untouchable, Mantle was the accessible star. He was the guy you could hang out with. It didn't matter to Mantle that he was baseball's biggest draw, it never seemed to change who he was as a person.
Mantle will always be remembered as an American icon and a hero to those who watched him play. Even in Mantle's final moments, after a lifetime battle with alcoholism, he remained a hero by taking responsibility for his mistakes and warning young people of the dangers of drinking. Even though he was now frail from cancer and seemed to be only a shell of the old Mickey Mantle, he remained real to the public. Mantle gave the public so many reasons to root for him as a player and a person. When Mantle passed away in 1995, it was like the country lost a family member. Mantle will always be a part of American culture.
Mickey Mantle's baseball cards, as a collectible, have no equal. There are cards that are more valuable or scarcer but, on the whole, the demand for his cards is unmatched. There are two ways to look at this scenario. First, you may be frustrated with the price of some of Mickey's more desirable issues. On the other hand, Mickey's cards will always be in high demand so you know your potential purchase of a Mantle card will be a wise one. Despite the fear of having to spend tremendous amounts of money for Mantle cards, there are many affordable issues that picture Mick's wonderful smile.
Here is a brief list of Mantle's more desirable issues.
- 1951 Bowman #253
- 1952 Berk Ross
- 1952 Bowman #101
- 1952 Topps #311
- 1953 Bowman Color #59
- 1953 Topps #82
- 1954 Bowman #65
- 1954 Red Heart
- 1954 Dan-Dee
- 1955 Bowman #202
- 1956 Topps #135
- 1957 Topps #95
- 1957 Topps Yankee Power Hitters #407
- 1958 Topps #150
- 1958 Topps A.S. #487
- 1959 Topps #10
- 1959 Topps A.S. #564
- 1960 Topps #350
- 1960 Topps A.S. #563
- 1961 Topps #300
- 1961 Topps MVP #475
- 1961 Topps A.S. #578
- 1962 Topps #200
- 1962 Topps A.S. #471
- 1963 Topps #200
- 1963 Topps Bomber Best #173
- 1964 Topps #50
- 1964 Topps A.L. Bombers #331
- 1964 Topps Stand-Up
- 1965 Topps #350
- 1966 Topps #50
- 1967 Topps #150
- 1968 Topps #280
- 1968 Topps Super Stars #490
- 1969 Topps #500
- 1969 Topps #500 White Letter Variation
- 1969 Topps Supers #24
Whew! Mickey has a lot of outstanding cards and this is only an abbreviated list! Let us start from the top. Mantle's true rookie card, the 1951 Bowman, is very tough in high-grade. The horizontal pose is a classic and, because of the narrow borders on this vintage beauty, the card is subject to serious centering problems. This card is also subject to varying print and focus quality. The card features a posing Mantle against a pale blue sky; the card has very striking eye appeal.
Mantle's first Topps card appeared in 1952. This card is, arguably, the most popular card in the hobby. When you think about collecting baseball cards, the 1952 Mantle comes to mind immediately. To say this card has tremendous eye appeal is an understatement. The entire 1952 Topps set, arguably the most popular set of all-time, is considered to be one of the most beautiful sets in the hobby. But the Mantle reaches another level. The blue colors on this card are just outstanding and, when people compare certain vintage issues to small pieces of artwork, this card exemplifies that sentiment to the fullest.
For some time, industry experts have claimed that the 1951 Bowman issue was much more scarce in high grade because of the "find" of 1952 Topps cards that surfaced several years ago. If you check your PSA Population Report, it shows that both of these cards are very comparable when it comes to high-grade examples. If the 1952 Topps Mantle is, supposedly, so much easier to find in high-grade, then where are they? The 1952 Topps Mantle seems to offer a great value because, as other key vintage cards have escalated in price over the last few years, the Mantle has remained fairly stagnant .
The 1952 Bowman Mantle, though not as popular as its Topps counterpart, is a classic. This is one of those cards that bring you back to the 1950s. The wonderful portrait of Mantle makes this card look like a small painting, rather than a simple baseball card. For those collectors fed up with the current trend of using foil wrap, 3-D images and CDs for sports cards, the 1952 Bowman Mantle brings comfort.
Topps and Bowman produced Mantle cards in 1953. Both are very popular, but the Topps issue has a slight edge. The Topps issue is extremely difficult because of the colored bottom borders and, unlike the Bowman issue, Topps included a key card of Willie Mays. While the Topps issue offers beautiful artwork, Bowman offers excellent photography. Both cards of Mantle are the keys in highly collectible sets, attractive and very difficult to obtain in high grade.
Mantle did not make an appearance in the 1954 Topps set, but did make an appearance in the Bowman set and two regional sets. In my opinion, the 1954 Bowman Mantle may be the most underrated Mantle card in existence. The only regular issue Mantle card of 1954, this card is great looking and extremely tough in high-grade. Just check your PSA Population Report, there aren't a lot of examples graded PSA NM-MT 8 or better. This card has a very bright future. Red Heart dog food produced another Mantle card that year and, although this card is easier to locate in high grade compared to other Mantle cards, it is very popular. The Red Heart Mantle has awesome eye appeal with a rich blue background. The other regional Mantle isn't as easy. The Dan-Dee Mantle is very tough in high-grade. Why? This card came in potato chip bags. As you might imagine, staining is a big problem. The image of Mantle on this card is outstanding and, when you consider the card's difficulty, it makes for an exceptional value.
The 1955 Bowman Mantle is another very interesting card. This is the only Mantle card for the year 1955. With that in mind and the fact that the card is virtually impossible in mint condition because of the brown borders and horrible printing problems, this card seems underrated as well. No Mantle run is complete without the 1955 Bowman. The card suffers a bit because the Bowman set as a whole is not nearly as aesthetically appealing as the Topps counterpart. Plus, Bowman left Ted Williams and rookie cards of Harmon Killebrew, Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente out of the set. Oops!
The year 1956 marked the end of the Bowman run; now Topps was exclusive. The 1956 Topps Mantle, while not extraordinarily difficult, it one of the hobby's favorites. It marks a Triple Crown year for Mantle and the card, once again, features the huge boyish smile of `The Mick." Mantle's 1957 Topps card is another favorite because the set, as a whole, is considered one of the nicest looking sets of all-time. Mantle is obviously one of the keys and the full body pose shows Mantle in full swing. Centering and print "snow" seem to be the biggest problems for this card.
To round out the 1950s, Mantle's 1958 and 1959 Topps cards are both extremely difficult. The 1959 issue comes with its share of centering and print quality problems once again. The background on this card can range from an almost pink color to an orange/red color to deep, bold red. The small borders pose centering problems for the Mantle card. Also, keep an eye on the 1959 All Star Mantle, it's a very tough card from the high number series. The 1958 Topps Mantle is even more difficult in high-grade because the paper stock used was atrocious and inconsistent. You might have two Mantles placed right next to each other and they will almost show no resemblance. Some are found with bright colors, full gloss with white borders and others are found with virtually no eye appeal whatsoever. You just have to be patient when looking for a high quality 1958 Mantle.
The 1960s brought us more great Mantle cards and this decade also marked an end to a glorious career. Mantle's 1960 Topps card is an interesting case. There was a find of 1960 Topps unopened cello packs several years ago and a few high grade Mantles surfaced. Since then, few mint examples have surfaced. The card exhibits very strong colors and a horizontal format. Unfortunately, the 1960 Topps cards have horrible print problems and many of these cards have severe rough cuts to the edges. The 1960 All Star Mantle is also fairly popular and resides in the high number series. The 1961 Topps Mantle is a very popular card and probably one of the easier Mantle's to find in high-grade. There are a few extra Mantle cards in this set including a MVP card and an All-Star card found in the high number run.
The 1962 Topps Mantle may be the toughest Mantle in the 1960s to find in high-grade. The tough brown borders on this card show the slightest signs of wear, which makes the search for mint examples almost impossible. This card, on the other hand, is not the most attractive Mantle card. The super close-up shot of Mantle looks like a pose for a pore cleansing commercial. This set also has a few additional Mantle cards to offer, such as another All Star card and a card entitled "Manager's Dream," which has Mantle posing with the great Willie Mays. The 1963 Topps Mantle is a close rival to the 1962 issue in terms of difficulty, because of the tough green border at the base of the card. Both of these cards pose real challenges.
The 1964 Topps Mantle is deceptively tough. This card doesn't seem to get a great deal of attention, similar to the 1954 Bowman Mantle, but it is very tough to obtain in mint condition. It is very hard to find this card with fresh eye appeal; it tends to come with a dull look or finish. Topps also produced a 1964 set called Stand-ups and Mantle is one of the keys. This card is surrounded by colored borders and is truly a challenge in high grade. The 1965 Topps Mantle is one of his most popular cards. This card features Mantle finishing his powerful swing and this Topps issue, in general, has great eye appeal. This really is an outstanding card.
My choice for the most underrated Mantle card in the 1960s is the 1966 Topps Mantle. The 1966 Topps Mantle was double-printed, but that does not mean it is an easy card to find in high grade. It really is one of the toughest Mantle cards to locate in mint condition from the 1960s. Overall, it may not be as tough as the 1962 or 1963 Topps Mantle but, at current market levels, it seems to represent a great value. The 1967 Topps Mantle is another popular Mantle card because it features Mantle in full smile and the card can be obtained with nice eye appeal. The card can be found with bright white borders, but this card is also subject to print defects, which inhabit the face of Mantle.
The 1968 Topps Mantle, while not the toughest Mantle to obtain in high-grade, is somewhat deceptive. The borders, due to their coloring and design, mask edge and comer wear so collectors must take a close look at this Topps issue to determine the quality. A near mint example can easily pass for a mint one if the proper examination is not made. Finally, in 1969, Mantle's card career came to an end. Mantle was featured on two cards with one very important variation. The 1969 Topps Mantle, because it has Mantle's career statistics, remains a very popular card with collectors. Centering is a nightmare with this issue.
The 1969 Topps set also produced a very rare variation on the Mantle card by printing a version of the card with white lettering instead of the traditional yellow. This card sells for multiple times the regular version because of the very limited supply of this variation. The 1969 Topps Super Mantle closes out the above mentioned checklist and is also a tough card to find, however, the card is not difficult to find in high grade because of the rounded comers. Despite this, it remains one of Mantle's most beautiful cards because of the glossy appearance and outstanding photography.
There you have it. Mantle cards will always be amongst the elite cards in the hobby. His collector base may be the largest of any vintage player in the entire hobby. Mantle had all the ingredients of a true legend and it shows through the relentless demand for Mantle collectibles. Something about Mantle separated him from other stars of that era. He was a hero to many because of his outstanding baseball skills but that wasn't it. Mantle may have been blessed with unbelievable ability that kept baseball fans in awe, but it was his personality and down-to-earth demeanor that kept Mantle in people's hearts. He was like a friend or brother to many and, because of this, people kept rooting for "The Mick" until his final moments. Mantle will always be a pillar of the hobby.