COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Hitting a baseball is widely considered one of the most difficult tasks in all of sports. Many men dedicate their whole lives in an attempt to hit the ball consistently either as a right or left handed batter.
Mickey Mantle, however, hit the ball from both sides of the plate like no one before him.
Fifty-five years ago this week – on May 18, 1956 – Mantle showcased his talents in an unprecedented way. Mantle connected for two round-trippers, one from the right side and one from the left – becoming the first player to achieve the single-game milestone three times in a career.
Mantle began the 1956 season on a torrid pace, entering the game on May 18 with a .387 batting average, 13 home runs and 29 RBI, leading the Yankees to an 18-10 start.
The Chicago White Sox sent staff ace Billy Pierce to the mound that day, hoping to avenge the loss from the game before. He was also off to a strong start in the season with a 4-1 record.
But Mantle went 2-for-2 against Pierce with a single, walk and a two-home run in the fifth inning. The Yankees had built a 5-1 lead by the time Pierce, a lefty, was removed from the action. But the White Sox rallied for two runs apiece in the sixth, seventh and eighth to take a 7-6 lead heading into the ninth inning.
The White Sox’s right-handed relief specialist Dixie Howell had already pitched a perfect eighth inning, striking out two. In the ninth he got the first two batters to ground out, so all that remained between a White Sox victory was Mantle.
Mantle stepped up to the plate, having already hit a home run from the right side, and now delivered one from the left side. He tied the game before the Yankees went on to win in the 10th inning.
Mantle began the season on a pace to break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record from 1927. Although he didn’t break the record, it didn’t stop him from earning his first of three career MVP awards. Mantle led the league in average, runs, home runs and RBI taking home the Triple Crown with a .353 average, 52 home runs, and 130 RBI.
Hall of Famer Bill Dickey saw the raw power Mantle possessed from both sides of the plate very early in his career.
“I was pitching batting practice when the kid came to the plate,” said Dickey. “The boy hit the first six balls nearly five hundred feet, over the lights and out of sight. He hit them over the fences right-handed and left-handed.”
Mantle finished his career with 10 games where he homered from both sides of the plate, a record at the time of his retirement.
Mantle joined Dickey in the Hall of Fame when he was inducted in his first year of eligibility in 1974.
Kevin Stiner was the spring 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum