Unlike Mariano Rivera’s Farewell, No Fanfare And Only 5,723 Fans At Yankee Stadium – September 25, 1968
With all the celebrations surrounding Mariano Rivera’s retirement and last game at Yankee Stadium, it got me thinking about Mickey Mantle’s last game at Yankee Stadium.
It was a sunny day on Wednesday, September 25, 1968 and not being able to attend school yet because I was too young, my father who worked a night shift took me to Yankee Stadium to see a meaningless 2:00 pm game between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees. It was the last home game of the season for the 5th place Yankees. I vividly remember the game, but it originally wouldn’t be because it was Mickey Mantle’s last game at Yankee Stadium.
It had been speculated that Mantle was considering retiring after the 1968 season but no one knew for sure what Mantle was going to do, not even Mickey. He was no longer playing the outfield, as age had slowed his already hobbled legs down to the point that first base was the only position he could still play. Mantle came into the game batting just .238.
I loved Mickey and cheered mightily when in the first inning he singled. The next two times however Mantle struck out. And his final time up he walked. The worst part about the game was that the Yankees were blanked 3-0 on a one-hitter by Indians starter Luis Tiant who won his 21st game of the year.
Yes, that lone single by Mantle prevented the Yankees from having a no-hitter thrown against them.
So no one in the sparse crowd of 5,723 knew that it was going to be Mickey Mantle’s last game at Yankee Stadium, so there were no goodbyes that day.
But at the conclusion of the game, something happened that I will never forget. As I described in my previous story about the original Yankee Stadium the fans leaving the stadium were allowed to exit the Stadium by walking on to the field!
When the game concluded we had moved our seats right down the third base line. So we were among the first people on the field. And as we walked out on to this glorious huge green field with the other few fans, the Indians pitchers who were hanging out in the bullpen, all started walking by us. To a small child like myself all the players seemed huge. But none were bigger than the man walking towards us with his head down.
As six foot five “Sudden” Sam McDowell walked by my father said, “Hi’ya Sam!” McDowell stopped, glared at my father for the impertinence of his greeting and looked like he might punch my dad out. But McDowell glanced to my father’s side saw me standing there in awe and smiling. McDowell then looked at me and said, “hiya kid.” and marched off to the dugout and disappeared into the clubhouse.
I was ecstatic. A ballplayer had spoken to me!
Getting back to Mickey Mantle, he appeared in a game for the last time on September 28, 1968 at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. He popped out in the first inning and was replaced at first base by Andy Kosco in the bottom of the first. The 36-year-old Mantle had played his final game.
On March 1, 1969 Mickey Mantle refused a $100,000 contract saying he could no longer hit and retired from baseball. Later that year on June 8, 1969 the Yankees and their fans honored Mickey properly, as the stadium was filled with adoring fans and his number seven uniform was retired and he was given a plaque that was hung in center field at Yankee Stadium. After Mantle’s death in 1995, a monument of Mantle replaced the plaque. The monument can be seen in Monument Park at the new Yankee Stadium. Mantle’s original plaque is now on display at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center.