While playing a semipro game in the summer of 1948, a Yankee scout named Tom Greewade came to a game. Afterward, he excitedly approached Mantle and asked, “How would you like to play for the Yankees?!” Mickey Mantle has one true rookie card.
The Passing of the BATon
In 1951, Yankee great Joe DiMaggio was considered one of the best players in baseball. During spring training that year DiMaggio announced his retirement, 1951 would be his final year.
Jolting Joe served in the military for three years and because of that only played for 13 seasons. But he helped the Yankees win 9 World Series titles in those years.
But as one Yankee great was hanging up his cleats another was just putting them on. The passing of the baton between Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle was a date with destiny.
Manager Casey Stengal was really impressed with his new stallion and quickly declared him as the successor of DiMaggio with the media, during spring training.
Mickey debuted in his first MLB game on April 17, 1951, in a game against the Boston Red Sox. He started strong but by mid-summer falls into a terrible slump. The slump was so bad he was sent back down to the minors.
It went from bad to worst as Mantle struggled in the Triple-A farm system as well. Mantle took it really hard and was considering hanging it up.
He reached out to his dad to give him the news and legend has it that dad hung up on him and headed to Kansas City to confront his son.
Once he got to Mickey’s hotel room it’s been documented that dad told him, “Now you shut up! I don’t wanna hear your whining! I thought I raised a man, not a coward!”
Dad proceeded to pack his son’s belongings mumbling to himself “I thought I raised a man…” Mickey broke down in tears and told his dad he’ll give it another try.
This was a healing moment for Mickey, and it was the spark that lifted him out of his slump.
What Made Mickey Mantle So Great
Looking at the character of the man, teammate Whitey Ford who also debuted in 1951 described Mickey this way.
“A Superstar who never acted like one. He was a humble man who was kind and friendly to all his teammates, even the rawest rookie. He was idolized by all the other players.”
There was a demeanor about Mickey, his conduct, and his presence that made him the alpha male in the room. Even his facial appearance had the features of a king.
But yet humble enough to never be a braggart, when he hit a home run he would quickly run around the bases because he didn’t want to show up the pitcher.
Mickey Mantle was an icon while playing baseball. From day one he was considered Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio wrapped up into one.
This was another aspect of The Mick that made him great. His ability to shoulder the expectations that fans and the game of baseball put on him.
His body, however, did not want to participate. Mickey had multiple seasons that ended prematurely due to injuries but his desire and love for the game of baseball carried him past those injuries.
On the field, without question, he was one of the greatest switch hitters the game had ever seen. As a switch hitter, he led the league in every offensive statistic at least once.
Mickey Mantle’s 1956 Season
Coming off of a heartbreaking loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1955 World Series, Mantle’s contract had come to an end.
But General Manager George Weiss saw the handwriting on the wall and offered Mantle a contract that made him one of the top paid players on the team.
This must-have motivated Mantle because the following season was no ordinary season for The Mick. In 1956, he won the Triple Crown, leading baseball in batting average (.353), home runs (52), and RBIs (130).
That year he also led the league in runs scored with 132 and was obviously the AL MVP. Also, Mantle’s performance in the 1956 World Series was the thing legends are made of.
To this day Mickey Mantle’s 1956 season is considered by many baseball fans and baseball historians as one of the greatest seasons of any player in the history of the game.
In 1957, Mantle played with just as much vigor and won his 2nd of three AL MVPs.
Career Stats & Accomplishments
Mickey Mantle played in the Major Leagues for 18 years, all of them with the New York Yankees.
WAR 110.2 | At Bats 8,102 | Hits 2,415 | Home Runs 536 | Batting Avg .298 | RBI 1,509 | OPS .977
- 20x All-Star
- 7x World Series Champion
- 3x MVP
- Major League Player of the Year (1956)
- Triple Crown (1956)
- Batting Title (1956)
- Gold Glove (1962)
- Hutch Award (1965)
- 1974 Hall of Fame Induction
Mickey Mantle True Rookie Card
1951 Bowman, #253 (RC)
Well, Mantle had captivated the hearts of Americans everywhere, this All-American kid from Commerce, Oklahoma lived up to the rookie hype. He delivered and by the mid-1950s he’d become a cultural icon.
He captured the hearts of the kids too, and their pennies were quickly spent on packs of baseball cards in search of The Mick.
This 1951 Bowman, #253 is Mickey Mantle’s only true rookie card. This was a 324 card set released in a single series. They are a bit smaller than your traditional baseball card measuring 2-1/16″ x 3-1/8″ in size.
It’s believed that this was a press photograph of Mantle that was turned into a painting but look at the details on this thing. The cloudy blue sky with the small details of trees and the electrical pole in the background is just fantastic.
Through the years some novice collectors have believed the 1952 Topps is Mantle’s rookie card but a long-time standing rule of thumb says, a player’s rookie card is his first card released in a mainstream product and the ’51 Bowman is just that.
1952 Bowman, #101 (PRT)
The 1952 Bowman set is smaller in size, weighing in at 252 cards. The high numbered cards 217-252 are believed to be more scarce.
Mantles name on the card front is in the form of a facsimile autograph rather than text in the text box. Other than that it’s very similar to the 1951 set. Same size, artistic design, the card back is almost identical too.
A bit of baseball card history news I think you’ll find interesting. Bowman feeling the heat of a new competitor named Topps decided to put a registered trademark on the word “Baseball” on the card back.
Bowman sued Topps and declared that only they can use the word “baseball” when selling bubble gum. The courts disagreed and allowed Topps to advertise its product as baseball cards too.
This was the beginning of what is known in the baseball card history books as the era of “Card Wars.” For more on this topic, I recommend a book titled, “The Bubble Gum Card War” by Dean Hanley.
1952 Topps, #311 (PRT)
Well, here it is folks! The baseball card of all baseball cards, it’s the one card that has evolved into a cultural icon. This card screams pure Americana.
What makes it so special? That’s a great question and I’m glad you asked.
First, it was the premiere release of the Topps brand. It’s for that reason some collectors view this one as a rookie card. But it is not. It’s a second-year card therefore earning the Post Rookie Theme identifier, it is however his 1st Topps card, but that alone doesn’t make it a true rookie card.
I’m not saying it’s not collectible nor valuable but it is not a Mickey Mantle rookie card. For more details on this topic please see my article The 10 Commandments of the Rookie Card.
Now let’s take a look at the design of this card. What do you think? Look at Mantle’s pose, the camera angle, the colors, the bat on the shoulder, the black outline around the photo, and the little stars that go around the text box. The true Mona Lisa of baseball cards.
Collector preference varied between the Topps & Bowman brand. However, Topps was the bigger set at 407 cards and bigger in measurement 2-5/8″ x 3-1/8.”
Finally, this card is perhaps one of the most expensive to purchase. On January 15, 2021 actor Rob Gough purchased this card in PSA 9 condition for $5.2 million dollars! Making it the most expensive baseball card ever sold.
1953 Topps, #82 (PRT)
In 1953 Bowman continued to pursue legal action against Topps claiming that they owned the rights to print baseball cards, not Topps. Because of this ensuing court battle, Topps had to scale back on the number of cards in their checklist.
1953 Topps is a 274 card set. That’s 133 cards less than their debut set in 1952 shown above. The reason? Some players signed with Topps while others signed with Bowman. But players were not allowed to sign with both.
Much like the previous year, Topps offered collectors another absolutely stunning card of Mickey Mantle. Look at the pose, the facial details, the colors, the details in the background. A truly beautiful card.
This card has also become a cultural icon and it too is not cheap to own.
A Final Word on Mickey Mantle Rookie Cards
As of the date of this post the vintage card market has been skyrocketing, especially the Mantle cards. It’s too difficult to give you pricing at this time due to the volatility of the market.
One final thing I would suggest if your thinking of owning one, get one that has already been authenticated by a third-party grader.
There must be caution taken against forgeries, and reprints. Graded copies of reputable authenticators (PSA, BGS, SGC,) give us the collectors peace of mind.
Happy Collecting Collectors,
Learn. Collect. Enjoy.