Posted May 13, 2013

Did Mickey Mantle used a corked bat? Here’s why it wouldn’t have mattered

New York Yankees
Mickey Mantle bat

An x-ray of the barrel of the alleged Mantle bat. (Grey Flannel Auctions)

Earlier this month, Grey Flannel Auctions made waves by listing a corked bat that was said to have been used by Mickey Mantle at some point during his 18-year career. On Monday, the auction house pulled the listing after the Mantle family released a statement disputing the authenticity of the bat:

“We no longer can remain silent. The statements and suggestions that Dad used a corked bat more than 49 years ago to cheat at the game he worshipped are false. Let us be clear: Dad didn’t need and never used a corked bat. Mickey Mantle was honest about the way he played the game that he loved and to which he devoted his professional life. He was one of the best who ever played the game because of his natural talents and abilities – and his heart. Our Dad’s legacy must be protected and the injury to his reputation must be corrected — he does not deserve to be the subject of these outrageous fabrications.

The bat in question — a 35-inch, 32.6-ounce Louisville Slugger from 1964 — was said to have been studied by John Taube of PSA/DNA, a professional authentication service. Taube discovered alterations atop the barrel of the bat, and x-rays confirmed that it had been drilled and filled with cork. The Grey Flannel Auctions listing said that former Twins equipment manager Ray Crump claimed in an autobiography (presumably this 1993 out-of-print but available one) that he had corked some bats for Mantle, but that none had surfaced. However, the exact provenance of the bat hasn’t been fully explained, nor has the question of what a Twins employee was doing supplying illegal equipment to the Yankees been answered. Furthermore, it hasn’t been established that Mantle used the bat in a game or in batting practice, or even that it was altered while he still owned it.

Like doctored baseballs, corked bats are illegal according to baseball’s rules, but users are rarely apprehended or disciplined. Since the 1970s, just six major leaguers have been caught using such bats, and suspended for substantial periods of time, with Graig Nettles’ Super Ball-filled bat in 1974 the first and Sammy Sosa’s 2003 corker the most recent. The latter drew an eight-game suspension, which was reduced to seven games upon appeal.

Many more have likely gotten away with using one. A contemporary of Mantle’s, Tigers first baseman Norm Cash, said in a 1981 Sports Illustrated article that he “used a hollow bat my whole career,” including in 1961, when he led the AL with a .361 batting average and hit 41 homers with 142 RBIs, numbers he never approached again. That article also mentioned numerous other players from the 1970s and early 1980s accused by their peers or opposing managers of using corked bats, including Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, and Pete Rose owned up to using one in bating practice. At the time that was written, players truly believed in their benefits:

What does hollowing the wood from a bat do? According to Cash, it makes the bat lighter, so that a batter is getting the mass of a 36-ounce bat with the whip of a 34-ounce bat. And, of course, it stands to reason that a bat with a cork center will be livelier than a bat with a wood center. Players say they can get an extra 20 to 50 feet with corked bats.

More recently, physicists have at least partially debunked the notion that such bats provide benefit. Testing by physicist Alan Nathan of the University of Illinois and mechanical engineer Lloyd Smith of Washington State University at the latter’s testing lab — which performs the official bat testing for the NCAA — showed that the tradeoff between swing speed and collision efficiency did not necessarily work out in the corked batsman’s favor. Batted ball speeds off a corked bat are lower, producing shorter fly ball distances, though there may still be an advantage to being able to produce more bat speed and acceleration. From a Popular Mechanics summary of the recent research:

When testing corked bats, Nathan and his team found that instead of adding more trampoline effect, corking a wooden bat actually decreased it. “What you gain in higher bat speed, you lose in a less effective collision,” Nathan says. “It does not lead to a higher batted ball speed.” And because the bat is lighter, balls hit with a corked bat don’t travel as far, he says. However, the lighter weight of a corked bat may allow hitters to get to pitches they might not otherwise hit with a standard bat.

Between the limited evidence that corked bats provide any benefit and the potentially tenuous connection between Mantle and the offending bat in question, it’s a stretch to suggest that Mantle’s achievements — 536 home runs, three MVP awards, a Triple Crown, seven World Series rings and a plaque in the Hall of Fame — are truly tainted, though one can understand the Mantle family’s desire to refute the allegations produced by the auction listing.

That said, for more than four decades — since the publication of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four autobiography in 1970, at least — it’s been clear that Mantle was no saint. By the slugger’s own admission, he drank to excess during his career, and played hungover more than once, which at least colors the family’s statement that “The legacy of our Dad’s professionalism, perseverance and integrity has endured for more than 43 years since his retirement from baseball and is a testament to his status as an icon in American sports and culture.” His absence down the stretch in 1961 due to an abscess in his hip is said to have been caused by a quack who injected him with a concoction of steroids and amphetamines, administered to cure him of a sexually transmitted disease.

Warts and all, Mantle is still revered for what he accomplished as a player and for facing up to his demons later in his relatively brief life (he died in 1995 at age 63). It’s doubtful that the corked bat in question will ever be definitively connected to him, so this saga over a randomly resurfaced curio shouldn’t do anything to diminish his standing in the eyes of baseball fans.

32 comments
John NoLastName
John NoLastName

Yeah, it takes a lot of guts to come up with these whacko allegations, based on nothing but innuendo and hearsay ... half a century after the fact.

This dude must really be proud of himself. Gotta build yourself up by tearing someone else down.

tracejuno
tracejuno like.author.displayName 1 Like

Regardless of whether Mantle used a corked bat, cheating was not invented in the 1990s.

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

@tracejuno True enough ("cheating"), TJ, and neither was 'turning a blind eye,' 'burying your head in the sand' and all those other idioms that define enablers, facilitators and appeasers of "cheating" from olden days to our present.

johnnytucf
johnnytucf

Half of author's rationale sounds just like McGwire's apology/admission. "I used steroids, but they didn't help me hit homeruns." (paraphrase).

So Mantle may have used a corked back.  The argument whether it helped or not is completely irrelevant and should not have even been mentioned.  I think the connection is worth looking into.  And if it is found out that it was his bat - then let everyone be the judge.

JohnRobert
JohnRobert

He had a quack try to cure his STD.  That's awesome.  Hey Mantle, are you playing today?  Nope, I'm recovering from my STD treatment surgery.  Nice.  

tombow
tombow

You apologists for the tainted steroid era need to come to grips with the fact your so-called heroes - Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, etc. - CHEATED!!  Since you can't, or won't accept that, you go after guys from the '50's like Mantle, in attempt to rationalize the use of banned substances by those phony players from Steroid Era.  If those players were comparable in ability to the players from the '50's, '60's, and earlier, why did they feel the need to cheat?  And if it wasn't steroid use, but their natural ability the used to break records like Maris' 61 homers, why has the yearly home run production shrunk for their era?

mdrandman
mdrandman like.author.displayName 1 Like

Mickey Mantle hit a 600 foot home run as a 19 year old 165 pound rookie at USC's field in an exhibition game. If ANYONE did not need to cheat to hit for distance it was Mantle, the greatest long-ball hitter EVER.  So many losers want to sell something or get their name in the news.  What a load of crap.

cry1baby2usa
cry1baby2usa

@mdrandman Sorry but I would put my money on Josh Gibson as the greatest. But that is just me.

jrkjellberg
jrkjellberg like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

How do they know what Dad did?  I wouldn't tell my kids if/when I am being dishonest.  Everyone has looked for an edge since the beginning of baseball, do people believe it really started with steroids?  Do you really think the so called "heroes" of the 50's and 60's wouldn't have juiced if it was available like it was in the 90's??

joeshine730
joeshine730

Mickey Mantle was American Baseball so why tarnish the name of someone who played hard like Mantle did.

cry1baby2usa
cry1baby2usa

@joeshine730 Your comments are a joke right? Funny how you can have 2 people who cheat. If you like one they get a pass, if you hate the other you want them banned. 

newshamg
newshamg like.author.displayName 1 Like

@joeshine730 Why not tarnish the name? If it is a fact then it is a fact - reputation be damned. Certainly the family bleating is just that - bleating.

riley8
riley8 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@joeshine730 Many would argue Mcgwire and Sosa saved the game.  It probably won't come to anything but if it is proven Mantle cheated do you give them all a pass? The problem with baseball is that cheaters are already in the HOF.  

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

@riley8 @joeshine730 Mark & Sammy "saved the game?"  I don't remember it being in need of saving back in '99.  And many of those "(m)any" you write of were media and then kids with McGwire & Sosa rookie cards under glass.  As the author notes, it's "doubtful" this bat "will ever be definatively connected to (Mantle)," so you'll have to conjure up another analogy to get your guys in the HOF.  But don't worry about.  Hall's lost much of its cachet.  Best thing for roid guys to do, come clean, get some piece of mind and reputation back (McGwire).  Owners, teammates and baseball media did, and still do somewhat, turn a blinds eye, so there in lay a defense.

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

@metalkiwis @StevenKeys @matt37 @riley8 @joeshine730     You get your chance for that "serious discussion" you claim but then turn tail & run ("I won't do research (blah blah blah)").  Why am I not surprised?

Even with my toothless opponent in full retreat, I consider this distasteful exchange to represent a victory for those who know PEDs to be plague upon a game that could never die ("(A)ttendance," what happened to "dead?"  Leave it to a saberhead to try resurrecting the "dead" with numbers.) and sabermetrics, an often annoying, excessive and surprisingly hostile breakdown of baseball that perverts what had always been a reasonable, necessary and enjoyable numerical assessment of the sport.      

metalkiwis
metalkiwis

@StevenKeys @metalkiwis @matt37 @riley8 @joeshine730 Here is a quote from your own stupid self, "As for your Mark & Sammy "rookie cards," ". Yes, you brought up collectibles for no reason, just like your idiotic statements about Brad Pitt and sabermetrics. 


I wont do research for someone as stupid as you, but the numbers of rock-bottom attendance are out there for the 90's before steroids took over the game. 


You are again embarrassing yourself with your ignorance.

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

@metalkiwis @StevenKeys @matt37 @riley8 @joeshine730   Again with the lame "baseball was dead" declaration.  Yeah, real persuasive.

And "a serious discussion?"  Try to not be an annoying brat and see what develops next time.

Your "idiot" clincher: "Nobody mentioned anything about useless "collectibles,"" made in a comment thread to an article about an unauthenticated, corked bat claimed by its owner to have been used by a famous ball-player that got pulled from an auction listing.  That qualifies as a "useless collectible."  You get "dumber" with every line you write, metal-whatever.

metalkiwis
metalkiwis

@StevenKeys @metalkiwis @matt37 @riley8 @joeshine730  What are you talking about? First your imaginary baseball card argument and now you randomly pull out Brad Pit and some outdated fear of advanced stats?


Baseball was dead. The stadiums were mostly empty and people had no interest. It isn't the most healthy sport now, but it went through a phase that helped grow the game and bring in younger fans. 


There is nothing childish about calling out an idiot for being idiotic. You are empty-headed and unable to have a serious discussion about baseball without making awful and stupid assumptions. I don't care about your feelings, you are an idiot. Your opinions are terrible and I feel dumber for reading your mindless words. 

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

@Michael10 @StevenKeys @matt37 @riley8 @joeshine730 You were so busy cherry-picking you left out my "lively baseball" reference, Mike.  Exit from the 'dead ball era' gave big boost to "offensive production."  As for Mr. Ruth, he always had "boom," even in Boston and probably Baltimore too, new ball or not.  History is fundamental, or it should be.

And anologizing Selig with Landis as "reactive?"  C'mon, not even close.  Took Bud ten years before he even pretended to care about PEDs.  And today, he has real fight but then Landis never had to deal with the MLBPA.

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

@metalkiwis @StevenKeys @matt37 @riley8 @joeshine730  You're bratty comment is "embarassing" enough for everyone, "metal" whatever.  Name-calling ("idiot") is a child's response and certain sign of no case whatsoever.

Define "dead" and "damn near ended" (baseball).  Course, for a person who "watch(es)" the comment threads, I won't expect anything solid.

And that tired "strike" claim is as lame as your comment, used by faux-baseball fans for years and now sabermetric steroid supporters like yourself.

You're not a baseball fan, metal-whatever, you're a Brad Pitt fan.  Nothing wrong with that, just don't confuse it with knowledge on sport.

Michael10
Michael10

@StevenKeys@matt37@riley8@joeshine730

Let's see, a slugger with an unprecedented HR rate, a dominant and reactive commissioner and a sudden league-wide boom in offensive production--sounds a lot like the post-strike steroid era to me...

metalkiwis
metalkiwis

@StevenKeys @matt37 @riley8 @joeshine730 You are such an idiot it's painful to watch. Baseball was dead before the big home run chase. The strike damn near ended the league. Their HR chase brought in a lot of much needed fans. Nobody mentioned anything about useless "collectibles". Stop embarrassing yourself.

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

@matt37 @StevenKeys @riley8 @joeshine730 Ahhh, one of the collectors.  Were you old enough to smoke in '98, Matt?

If I'm "following" your cryptic cmt right, MLB needed saving?  How so, because owners were only making a mere 2-3 billion a year?  That one's not gonna' fly, Matt.  Now if we were talking 1920 (Black Sox), THAT baseball needed saving, thank you Mr. Ruth, Mr. Landis...and lively baseball. 

As for your Mark & Sammy "rookie cards," sentimental value is about all you can hope for, something saber-heads may never understand.  But you keep those cards.  Everything becomes collectible, in time.   

BillCampbell
BillCampbell

I think everyone used cork bats - Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker. They also used pine tar on their bats, took steroids. Throw them all out of the Hall of Fame, on suspicion. Then start over. Baseball is just digging its own grave with stories like this one. 

riley8
riley8

@BillCampbell I agree with everything you said except for one thing: baseball is IN the grave.

DennyG
DennyG like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Nobody used corked bats in the 50's and early 60's.   Mickey was the simply the best (longest) hitter in the history of baseball.  What else would the current media like to lay on him?  Read the book!!!!!!

tracejuno
tracejuno

@DennyG I don't see how the Bible would help, but okay I'll try.