COMMERCE — The thought of Mickey Mantle playing for the Washington Senator is mind-boggling — but it almost happened.
According to KOM League historian and author John Hall, the Washington Senators offered right-handed pitcher Ray Scarborough to the Yankees for their Class C shortstop at Joplin — Mantle — in a 1950 trade.
“The Yankees didn’t bite, of course, and he (Scarborough) eventually wound up with the Yankees and Mantle’s teammate,” said Hall, who wrote the book “Mickey Mantle: Before the Glory.” “Scarborough was 14 years older than Mantle. Can you imagine what would have happened had the Yankees accepted that offer?”
A 9-foot, larger-than-life statue of Mantle will be dedicated during a ceremony at 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
Brian Waybright, who is director of the Mickey Mantle Classic, a high school baseball tournament held in April, has spearheaded the project.
“He is doing such a tremendous job in keeping dad’s name alive with that tournament,” said Danny Mantle, the youngest surviving son. He and his wife will be in attendance as well as other Mantle family members.
“It’s something the family really appreciates,” Danny Mantle said. “I know my dad would. You have to give Brian a lot of credit. He’s done a heck of a job doing that.”
The statue was to have been dedicated during the tournament, but bad weather delayed the start of work.
The statue is from a cast by the late Nick Calcagno. The Oklahoma Centennial Commission funded it.
Schaefer Art Bronze of Arlington, Texas, handled the pouring of the statue.
The statue is the fruition of lengthy efforts to have some kind of salute to “The Commerce Comet.”
Mantle moved to Commerce with his family when he was 4 and developed into a multi-sport standout.
Yankee scout Tom Greenwade, who had gone to a Baxter Springs Whiz Kids game in 1948 to check out prospect Billy Johnson, discovered Mantle.
Mantle switch-hit two home runs into the river well outside of the ballpark. During a rain delay, Greenwade offered Mantle a contract.
He had to wait a year before signing with the Independence (Kan.) Yankees of the KOM League.
Mantle was to have made his debut with the Yankees on June 12, 1949, but had to wait a day — the game was washed out by rain.
Mantle played the entire ‘49 season with Independence (89 games) as well as seven more in the playoffs (four against Ponca City and three against Iola).
He spent the 1950 season with the Joplin Miners and was called up to the majors on April 7, 1951, to play right field for the Yankees. He was assigned No. 6.
But following a slump, Mantle was sent down to the Yankees’ top farm team, the Kansas City Blues.
He became frustrated and called his father, Mutt.
“I don’t think I can play baseball anymore,” the younger Mantle said.
Mutt made the drive to Kansas City that day. When he arrived, he started packing his son’s clothes and (in Mickey’s memory) said, “I thought I raised a man. I see I raised a coward instead. You can come back to Oklahoma and work the mines with me.”
That was enough — Mickey ended the slump and hit .361 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs in 40 games in Kansas City.
He was called back to New York for good. This time, he was issued No. 7.
Mantle led the American League in 17 different offensive categories over the course of his 18-year career, including on-base percentage, slugging percentage, batting average, RBIs, total bases, home runs, triples, walks and intentional walks.
He was a 20-time American League all-star, playing on seven World Series teams.
Mantle was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1956, 1957 and 1962 and won the AL Triple Crown in 1956 when he batted .353, hit 52 home runs and drove in 130 runs.
“I was a Mickey fan growing up in the’50s, and then I went to work for the team in the ‘60s,” said Marty Appel, who handled fan mail for Mantle while in the public relations department of the Yankees in the 1970s. “He couldn’t have been easier to be with; no airs or pretension, just a terrific guy. But I never lost sight of being in the presence of a baseball god, nor of how amazing it was that Mickey Mantle knew who I was!”
Mantle announced his retirement on March 1, 1969, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 — his first year of eligibility.
Mantle died on August 13, 1995, at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.