During the summer of 1974, excitement charged the air. We watched with wonder when Philippe Petit walked on a wire between the Twin Towers, with dismay when President Nixon resigned because of the Watergate scandal, and with awe when the Universal Product Code débuted to signify a touchstone in the computer age.
For baseball fans, the Baseball Hall of Fame induction marked the summer. In this particular instance, two Yankee icons, polar opposites in their upbringing but thick as thieves in their friendship, ascended to Cooperstown. Mickey Charles Mantle and Edward Charles Ford. The Mick and Whitey.
Mantle—the Yankee demigod with 536 home runs—thanked his father in his induction speech. “He had the foresight to realize that someday in baseball that left-handed hitters were going to hit against right-handed pitchers and right-handed hitters are going to hit against left-handed pitchers; and he thought me, he and his father, to switch-hit at a real young age, when I first started to learn how to play ball,” explained the Oklahoma native. “And my dad always told me if I could hit both ways when I got ready to go to the major leagues, that I would have a better chance of playing.”
With overwhelming power, Mantle compiled dazzling statistics:
- Led the major leagues in runs scored (five times)
- Led the major leagues in walks (five times)
- Led the American League in home runs (four times)
- 2,401 games played
- 9,907 plate appearances
Mantle’s aplomb came with a cost—strikeouts. #7 led the American League in strikeouts five times and the major leagues three times.
Like Mantle, Ford spent his entire career in a Yankee uniform. Where Mantle came from the Dust Bowl, Ford came from the city. Queens, specifically. After achieving a 9-1 record in his rookie season of 1950, Ford lost two seasons to military service. He returned in 1953 without skipping a beat, ending the season with an 18-6 record.
Mantle and Ford played together on the World Series championship teams of 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, and 1962.
Joining the pinstriped legends were—as a result of the Veterans Committee’s votes—Jim Bottomley, Jocko Conlan, and Sam Thompson.
Bottomley, a first baseman, played for the Cardinals, the Reds, and the Browns in his 16-year career (1922-1937). He was not, to be sure, a power hitter—his career home run total was 219. But he sprinkled 2,313 hits, resulting in a .310 lifetime batting average. Bottomley led the National League in RBI twice, in hits once, and in doubles twice.
Conlan was the fourth Hall of Famer from the umpiring brethren. In his 25-year career, Conlan umpired five World Series, six All-Star games, and three tie-breaking playoffs. Conlan’s page on the Hall of Fame web site states, “He wore a fashionable polka dot bow tie and was the last NL umpire to wear a chest protector over his clothes. Besides his attire, Conlan was known for his ability to combine his cheerful personality with a stern sense of authority.”
Sam Thompson was a right fielder for the Detroit Wolverines and the Philadelphia Phillies from 1885 to 1898. In 1906, Thompson played eight games with the Detroit Tigers. Thompson finished his career with a .331 batting average—he led the major leagues in RBI three times, in slugging percentage twice, and in doubles twice. Thompson also led the American League in hits three times—in one of those years, he led the major leagues.
The Special Committee on the Negro Leagues okayed the inclusion of center fielder Cool Papa Bell, who played for:
- St. Louis Stars
- Kansas City Monarchs
- Homestead Grays
- Pittsburgh Crawfords
- Memphis Red Sox
- Chicago American Giants
In Mexico, Bell played for:
- Monterrey Industriales
- Torreon Algodoneros
- Veracruz Azules
- Tampico Alidjadores
Bell’s speed was legendary; speed inspired his nickname. Ken Mandel of MLB.com wrote, “While still a knuckle balling prospect in 1922, he earned his moniker by whiffing Oscar Charleston with the game on the line. His manager, Bill Gatewood, mused about how ‘cool’ his young player was under pressure and added the ‘Papa’ because it sounded better, though perhaps it was a testament to how the 19-year-old performed like a grizzled veteran.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 24, 2016.