LITTLE FALLS, N.J. -- Few folks told a story better than Mickey Mantle. He had stories galore and a wonderful, folksy way of delivering them. His timing in front of a microphone or merely sitting on the other side of a table was comparable to his timing in the batter's box with Early Wynn on the other side of thrown pitch. Often hilarious, Mantle seldom disparaged his topic.
The exception was George Weiss, general manager of the Yankees through the first 10 years of Mantle's big league career. Some called him Weiss, others used "The GM" or "Mr. Weiss" or ornery or uncompromising or stubborn. Mantle called him cheap, and he wasn't alone in that assessment. Whitey Ford swore Weiss had the pockets of his trousers under lock and key and said that the pockets could have been deeper but Weiss had them custom-made shallow with a set mouse trap in each.
It was at the annual winter dinner staged by the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America in 1989 that Mantle allowed his opinion of Weiss to become a tad more public than it had been. After regaling the audience with a number of happy anecdotes, he moved on to his one-time boss and, without a smile, characterized him as the "cheapest SOB on the face of earth."
Before those words, Mantle had explained how Weiss had reduced his salary following the 1959 season, the season the Yankees didn't win the pennant and the year the eventual Hall of Fame center fielder led the league in nothing other than strikeouts. Mantle's salary was $65,000 in 1958, the year he led the league in runs, home runs, total bases, walks and, though it was yet to be created, OPS. And he'd placed fifth in the voting for the Most Valuable Player Award.
In '59, when he earned $70,000, the Yankees finished third, and his home run and RBI totals were 31 and 75, respectively. He batted .285, 34 points lower than his average of the preceding seven seasons. He played in 144 games.
And Weiss cut his salary.
Mantle's contract for 1960 -- when he finally did sign it -- was for $60,000. And he didn't sign until he had missed the early days of the Yankees' training camp. He was wondering privately whether he would be traded -- to the Indians for Herb Score and Rocky Colavito was what he imagined -- and he was gathering material for his routine on Weiss' frugality. Indeed, Weiss had offered less than $60,000 in his first correspondence with Mantle.
Those were the days before another man with identical initials -- Marvin Miller -- took his first swings, the days the players were at the (lack of) mercy of the clubs and the reserve clause was unquestioned. Even a player who could hit balls over buildings from either side of the plate lacked sufficient power in contract negotiations. A Triple Crown, two MVP Awards and World Series rings from 1951, '52, '53, '56 and '58 were essentially overlooked in the "what have you done for me lately" world governed by Weiss.
Mantle's salary reached $100,000 following the 1962 season, his third MVP season and the second year after Weiss' departure from the Yankees, and it remained at that level through his final season, 1968, securing a legacy put in words Monday by Brett Schissler, the executive vice president of Steiner Sports. He referred to Mantle as "the most underpaid player ever in the game."
His 1960 salary suggests as much and that he never was paid more than $100,000 clinches the unwanted distinction for him. That '60 contract, the original contract painstakingly preserved by Mantle's wife, Merlyn, goes on auction Wednesday as part of an effort by Steiner Sports to raise funds to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. The auction concludes June 2.
Schissler, his boss and the founder of Steiner Sports Memorabilia, Brandon Steiner, Mantle's son, Danny, and former Yankee Joe Pepitone gathered at the Yogi Berra Museum on the campus of Montclair State University to announce the auction. Go on line for the Steiner "Ground-Breaking Auction" at http://auction.steinersports.com/ for additional information.
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Mantle was extraordinarily popular through the final nine years of his career -- after Roger Maris had joined the the Yankees -- and was the team's lone draw once Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra retired. Indeed. He was as much a draw as any everyday player in any sport at the time.
He made $40,000 less than a man named John Kennedy in 1960. And while Mantle had a down year in 1959, Kennedy was a mere rookie in 1960. We know that Babe Ruth earned $80,000 in 1930, the first full year of the Great Depression, and that President Herbert Hoover was paid $75,000. Ruth explained that succinctly: "I had a better year than he did."
Schissler and Steiner sense that Mantle's contract for 1960 is worth significantly more these days than it was when it set his salary. Because of Mantle's ongoing popularity and the cause connected to the auction, they estimate the contract could fetch $1 million, all of which would go to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, chaired by Mary Pat Christie, wife of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Danny Mantle said he and his brother, David, each of whom spent much of each summer of their youth in New Jersey, were troubled by the experiences Sandy's victims endured and decided auctioning one of their many pieces of Mantle memorabilia was one way they could help.
"Even though it's six months later, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy is still severely impacting many people," Danny Mantle said. "We decided to take the contract and put it to good use to raise some money for the victims."
He noted the contract is in near perfect condition.
Other items available in the auction include Weiss' 1939 Yankees World Series ring, a baseball signed by the 1929 Yankees, among them Ruth, Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Lou Gehrig, Leo Durocher, Miller Huggins and owner Jacob Ruppert, and the glove Jackie Robinson used during both the 1955 and '56 World Series.
The Mantle family spent summer weeks in Ridgewood, River Edge and Fort Lee in the '50s and '60s. Danny recalled how he and his brothers and Ford's sons were quite taken with Phil Rizzuto's daughter. The Rizzuto's lived in New Jersey as well.
"My brother and I have fond memories of that time," Danny Mantle said. "We're happy to share something with the people of New Jersey."
He spoke of his father's generosity.
"He gave away most of his stuff," Danny Mantle said. "People asked, he said, 'Yes.'"
And Steiner recalled how Mantle often asked to have his teammates included in the lucrative business.
"He'd say, 'Get my teammates involved and I'll do it.'"
Steiner referred to Mantle as "the first major player to take the sports memorabilia industry seriously" and noted Mantle was "so photogenic" and that "there's nothing like a Mickey Mantle autograph."
And now, available in auction, is Mantle's autograph -- on a contract.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.