Monday, June 20, 2011

Famous Mantle ball once went missing

At the time, some baseball writers tried to explain a brief outburst of moon-shot home runs early in the 1953 season to everything from that year's unusually cold, wet spring weather to pitchers having tired arms from overworking them in winter ball.

On April 17, Mickey Mantle rocketed a shot out of Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., that a Yankees PR man claims to have recovered 565 feet away.

Today the Mantle ball resides in the Hall of Fame, but it was nearly lost to baseball history.

Mickey Mantle posed with the
soon-to-be-stolen 565-ft. home run ball.
Facing Chuck Stobbs on a windy spring day in Washington, Mantle caught hold of a belt-high fast ball in the fifth inning. While tens of thousands of fans have since claimed that they were in the ballpark that day to witness the feat, recorded attendance was only 4,206.

Yankees public relations man Arthur "Red" Patterson claimed to have found the ball in the possession of a youngster who lived across the street from the ballpark. The Yankee employee said he paid the kid a dollar for the ball and promised him two autographed balls in exchange. He said he came up with the flight distance of the ball by pacing off from where it left the stadium to where the kid said it was found.
While the Guiness Book of World Records accepted Patterson's account, many skeptical fans and scientists claim it is impossible for a baseball to be batted 500 feet, let alone 565 feet.
Regardless, in early 1953 the baseball world was agog at the feat. The ball, and the bat that propelled it, were quickly put on display in a glass case in the main lobby of Yankee Stadium, preparatory to their being forwarded to the Hall of Fame. The 33-oz. club used by Mantle, by the way, was borrowed from teammate Loren Babe, and Mantle was tinkering with his equipment in the midst of a mini power slump.

On May 31, a maintenance man opening up Yankee Stadium in the morning discovered the famous baseball was missing from the glass case. The wires with which the bat was secured in the display had also been compromised, but the lumber was still there.

Officials later surmised that the thief or thieves had hidden in a restroom after the May 28 game and emerged after the stadium had been vacated to steal the ball.

In reporting the theft in The Sporting News, publisher J.G. Taylor Spink offered a "no questions asked" lifetime subscription for the ball's return.
On June 7, three 10-year-old boys showed up at the stadium with the home run ball. They claimed they had gotten it from two "older lads." The boys and their fathers were team owner Dan Topping's guests at the June 16 game, and the ball and bat were duly forwarded to Cooperstown.

A second notable home run in that first week of the 1953 season occurred on April 29. New Milwaukee Braves first baseman Joe Adcock became the first major leaguer to deposit a home run ball in the centerfield bleachers of the Polo Grounds. (Only Hank Aaron and Lou Brock would ever match the feat). Adcock's homer, off Giants pitcher Jim Hearn, was said to have traveled 475 feet.

I don't believe I've ever read whether the Adcock home run ball was ever recovered and preserved or whether it went home with a fan as a souvenir.
Topps memorialized Mantle's moon shot in the Baseball
Thrills subset of its 1961 baseball card issue.

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