Mantle's sons go to bat for Mickey in corked-bat claim
Mantle's sons go to bat for Mickey in corked-bat claim
By Marty Noble
To the sons of the icon, the words were nothing more than synthetic news, insinuation masquerading as fact. To Danny and David Mantle, the very thought of their father having swung a doctored bat was and is preposterous. To have such a notion expressed publicly stung them when it happened in early May. Since then, they have gathered information and moved into position to contest legally what they consider "outrageous fabrications" made by a sports memorabilia auction house.
Litigation appears unlikely at this point because the person widely regarded as the "final word" in authentication of baseball memorabilia has recanted his initial assessment of a Mickey Mantle model bat that had been readied for auction and presented to the public on the internet as "game-used" and "corked."
John Taube, the managing partner of J.T. Sports and affiliated with Professional Sports Authentication/DNA, said Friday he changed his conclusion about a 1964 model bat presented by Grey Flannel Auctions as game-used by the Hall of Fame Yankees slugger once he was made aware of additional information about the bat.
"I backed off because of evidence that has surfaced," Taube said. That evidence, he said, "calls into question" the claims made by Grey Flannel, claims that seem loosely based on his conclusions. Taube said that his initial conclusion was that the bat was "lightly used." He drew a distinction between "used" and "game-used."
"It's silly to say now that the bat in question was game-used by Mickey Mantle," Taube said. Indeed, in his initial conclusion forwarded to Grey Flannel, Taube used phrasing "was used by Mantle." Those words are missing from the second version.
He also acknowledged that the bat, while clearly doctored, had not necessarily been corked.
"Auctions tend to describe something differently," Taube said. "They embellish."
Grey Flannel had Taube examine a Mantle bat early this year after an Orlando-based collector, Cecil Moore, had decided to sell it. Moore indicated last month he was uncertain of the bat's value, hence his decision to have its worth determined by a buyer via auction.
The auction house described the bat in a posting that no longer is available online. Without announcement or fanfare, Grey Flannel removed the posting shortly after the Mantle sons issued a strongly-worded statement, challenging the legitimacy of Grey Flannel's claim.
"Offered here is the first corked bat linked to Mickey Mantle," the posting had said. No proof that Mantle used the bat was provided. And who can say what "linked" means in these circumstances? In the absence of hard evidence, the posting said "... this is the first corked bat of Mantle that we have seen or heard of." It continued, stating, "In his autobiography, then-Minnesota Twins equipment manager Ray Crump admitted that he had corked some bats for Mickey. Until now, none of these bats have surfaced ..."
The posting didn't necessarily link the bat in question to Crump.
Drew Kastner, the New Jersey-based counsel for the Mantle family for more than 25 years, wondered about the claim in Crump's 1993 book, "Beneath The Grandstands."
"A trainer for an opposing team is going to do that for Mickey Mantle," Kastner said, "when his team is in the same league and has its own slugger [Harmon Killebrew] competing with Mickey? I don't think so.'"
Kastner and Mantle's sons had other, more serious reservations about the posting. With oddly written and punctuated wording, it also suggested a sense of exclusivity: "This is indeed a one-of-a-kind piece of NY Yankees and baseball history."
And another passage -- "... taking nothing away from the icon and legend Mickey Mantle..." -- irritated Danny Mantle.
"You bet it takes something away from dad's image," Danny Mantle said. "It says he cheated. And he never would have done that."
The auction house did not respond to calls from MLB.com.
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The allegation remains unfathomable to both sons and, no doubt, to thousands who regard Mantle a baseball deity. The great Yankees center fielder needed greater bat speed like Elvis needed more wiggle room. The sons say they know better, and though they do, the allegations hit them with the impact of a bat swung with the nearly incomparable energy Mantle routinely generated.
They were alarmed and offended, and they became intent on protecting the image of their famous father. So they retained Bracewell & Giuliani, the law firm of former New York mayor and renowned Yankees fan Rudy Giuliani.
Excerpt from the statement from the Mantle family released May 13
Recently, an online sports memorabilia marketer promoted an outrageously false, misleading and deceptive claim, apparently for a quick buck and publicity, that it was selling at auction a first-of-a-kind baseball bat: a "Mantle-corked gamer" and a "corked bat of Mantle." The claim has spread throughout the internet, and news media outlets nationwide have repeated and republished the marketer's false claims, baseless implications, and purported statements of the marketer's so-called authenticator.
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 worshiped 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.
We are taking a stand for our dad and our family, including his four grandchildren, for Mickey Mantle fans and baseball fans everywhere, for the game of baseball that dad loved so dearly, for the honor of the New York Yankees, the team he gave his heart and soul to for almost two decades, and for all of the other players who, as dad did, have played and are playing the game the right way.
This all stops now. No effort will be spared to preserve Mickey Mantle's well-deserved legacy for honesty, fairness and supreme effort in the face of physical adversity that most players would not have been able to overcome. We love and are proud of our dad. Because he can no longer defend himself, we will do it for him.
The sons are comfortable with what they knew of their dad's respect for the game. They're certain he played the game fairly. They are concerned, though, by what others might believe, given the powerful suggestions included in the Grey Flannel post and the coast-to-coast media coverage that followed, coverage that fed the undiminished interest in most matters involving the three-time Most Valuable Player and seven-time World Series winner.
What of the legions of practicing skeptics predisposed to accept the worst as the truth? What of the baseball cynics whose numbers seem to have increased in recent years? What of the hundreds of thousands of Mantle devotees, most of whom have recognized and forgiven their hero's foibles away from the field, and who made him the most beloved sports figure of multiple generations?
How had all the baseball historians, fans, collectors and sycophants responded to the supposed disclosure that the Yankees slugger had swung a corked bat at some point in his 18 seasons as the centerpiece of baseball's most iconic organization? What might be the extent of damage to the image of Mantle's ferocious swing if folks were to believe Mantle swung a bat that had been made counterfeit and baseball-illegal?
So the sons invested time, energy and money in hopes of eliminating the single-entry rap sheet of the man with whom they proudly share a surname and shedding light on their own misgivings about the baseball memorabilia business, specifically the authentication process.
It wasn't enough for Danny and David Mantle to question the validity of Grey Flannel's claim in a public forum, as they did in May, to characterize the bat, doctored to reduce its weight and presented as game-used by their father, as inauthentic. The sons did more, tracing the bat's 50-some-odd-year chain of custody, as best they could, and finding inconsistencies that suggest Grey Flannel's claim could not be supported.
The sons and their attorneys now support their assertions with photographs, documentation and sworn testimony. Taube's recent retraction reinforces their efforts.
The most perplexing inconsistency in this curious episode involves the age of the bat. According to the description Grey Flannel posted, the bat was one manufactured by Hillerich & Bradsby Co. in 1964, a Mickey Mantle model Louisville Slugger, 35 inches long and weighing 32.6 ounces. Taube identified it as an M-110, the model Mantle twice ordered from Louisville Slugger in March 1964. The bat has the word "Powerized" above the label, a sign of its vintage, Taube says. "Louisville didn't put that on their bats until '64."
However, the bat has five holes that are consistent with alternations made to a bat Mantle is said to have given to former Orioles pitcher Milt Pappas for use in a stairway handrail in Pappas' home. Pappas asked for and received a bat from Mantle, though his recollection is that Mantle accommodated the request in 1960 or 1961. "Probably '61," Pappas said, "because that was the big year for Mickey and Roger Maris."
Pappas recalls Mantle pulling a new bat from a box and handing it to him.
Photographs of the bat, taken by PSA/DNA, show two holes drilled in the barrel and two others closer to the handle and one at the end of the barrel. Each set of two, according to Pappas, was used to attach the bat to brackets that were fastened to a wall. The hole at the end of the barrel was used to connect the bat to another via a wooden dowel. As Pappas recalls, the Mantle bat was at the bottom of the handrail; consequently no hole was drilled in the bottom of the handle.
The "four small mounting holes" were mentioned in the posting by the auction firm without explanation of how they came to exist and for what purpose they were made. Neither Grey Flannel nor Taube had been aware of Pappas' involvement.
X-rays show the bat has been otherwise doctored. According to Taube, the hole at the end of the barrel is consistent in size and location with holes made in other bats that were part of the corking process. He says the X-rays indicate something other than wood is inside the bat. The material cannot be conclusively identified, however.
Cork? Plastic wood? The piece of a dowel? Who can say?
Now familiar with the bat's apparent link to Pappas, Taube is neither certain of the identity of the material inside the bat nor convinced that the material isn't a piece of a dowel. (He said recently that subsequent authentications he does will include identifying any foreign material detected by X-rays.)
Also at issue is the amount of pine tar on the bat. Danny Mantle suggests the sticky substance was applied to give the bat the appearance of having been used. And he doesn't recall his father having used so much of it. Taube says that photographs indicate Mickey Mantle seldom used pine tar in the '50s but did use it more often later in his career.
So the whole situation becomes stickier, more curious.
"Any so-called claim that the Mickey Mantle bat I possessed had been corked or 'game-used' by Mickey Mantle is false. Changes apparently have been made after I sold the Mickey Mantle bat."
-- Former pitcher
Attorney Jonathan Halpern, partner in Bracewell & Giuliani, issued the following statement in May: "Following Bracewell & Giuliani's intervention, on May 9, the online marketer informed us that it had withdrawn the bat from sale and also had removed the bat (and related photos and statements) from its web site. The marketer has made no mention on its web site of the bat's removal from the site or the auction sale. The [Mantle] family has made several straightforward, common-sense authenticity requests, including the right to review the purported bases for the claim; the chain of custody of the bat's owner(s); and the right for forensic analysis and independent third-party examination. To date, we have received no response to these requests. We will continue to pursue a correction of the false claims and suggestions, vindication of Mickey Mantle's integrity in the game and restoration of his rightful legacy."
Halpern said in late September that Grey Flannel had made some late-summer inquiries after it received his letter and provided some information, including the critical morsel that the Mantle bat "came from Milt Pappas."
Responding to an MLB.com request for comment, Halpern said: "It is difficult to calculate the great harm -- and the depth of the hurt -- that the baseless claims of a Mickey Mantle "game-used corked bat" have caused and continue to cause.
"It's unfathomable that anyone would make an outlandish attack on the reputation and integrity of a national icon before first checking the facts and getting answers to fundamental questions. Regrettably, the facts were not checked and questions were not asked until Bracewell & Giuliani intervened. And when our intervention led to some information about ownership, we quickly got confirmation of what we knew all along: that the claims were entirely false.
"We continue to await and expect a full and unqualified retraction. And Mickey Mantle fans everywhere await and are owed an apology."
Most reactions to the allegation of Mantle corking were fueled by emotion, not to mention incredulity. Eighteen years and millions of printed words after his death, Mantle still evokes passion, hence the value of any memorabilia connected to him. His sons auctioned off his 1960 contract for $39,930 in May, donating the proceeds to the Hurricane Sandy relief fund.
Had Pappas only known. "I never would have sold [the bat] if I knew the kind of money those things would go for these days," he said.
"Any so-called claim that the Mickey Mantle bat I possessed had been corked or 'game-used' by Mickey Mantle is false," Pappas said in a sworn affidavit. "Changes apparently have been made after I sold the Mickey Mantle bat."
Pappas said he had been handed a "pristine bat out of the box" by Mantle. Pappas said he subsequently gave the bat to then-Orioles trainer Eddie Weidner, who was to drill the holes for the brackets. Weidner had the bat and others Pappas had acquired from Ted Williams and Yogi Berra for an extended period before he completed the work.
"Eddie was a great woodworker. But it took him forever," Pappas said. "I called Eddie when I was traded [in 1965] and told him 'I've been traded, I've got to have it now.' And he finally got it to me." Pappas said.
Pappas was traded to the Reds in December 1965 -- he was one of three players the Orioles moved to acquire Hall of Famer Frank Robinson in an exchange that became infamous for its imbalance -- but lived in Baltimore through his time with the Reds and then the Braves. He moved to the Cubs in 1970 and eventually relocated to Chicago with his four-bat handrail intact.
By the time he moved, Mantle was 1 1/2 years into retirement.
The handrail never was installed in the new home in Chicago. Pappas sold the bat after his retirement in 1974, to whom he doesn't recall. The whereabouts of the bat were unknown for the next 24 years, creating a gray area that adds uncertainty to the episode.
More uncertainty has developed since the planned auction was announced. Grey Flannel's May 13 response to Halpern's letter included a copy of a letter sent on June 3, 1998 from the owner of the bat to the collector who purchased it in 1998.
The letter said, in part: "The reason we know this bat was used by Mantle in 1961 is that it came from Milt Pappas, who was a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles at that time." Those words contradict Pappas' assertion that the bat was "pristine" and "out of the box." Taube said he believes Pappas and that the former pitcher "has the years mixed up. ... I believe the spirit of his story," Taube said.
The original letter was sent by Pete Siegel to Cecil Moore.
Siegel, co-founder and now partner in "Gotta Have It!" collectibles, currently holds the bat in question, though it belongs to his friend, Moore. Siegel sold the bat to Moore in the late '90s, according to Moore, who recalls paying "somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000" for it.
Moore decided in February to sell the bat, but, he said, "At the time, I had no real idea of its worth." So he contacted Grey Flannel. He developed an idea of the bat's value in August when he attended a national memorabilia convention in Chicago and was asked whether he would accept $40,000 for it. He declined.
"I didn't need it. I lost some of my swing, but I was still strong enough to hit the ball out. I didn't hit as many long home runs as I'd hit when I was younger. And I didn't hit as many, long or short. But it was my legs more than anything else. If I could've corked my knees, I would have played longer."
-- Mickey Mantle in 1983
He and Siegel say they had no idea of what was detected inside the bat until X-rays were taken at Taube's insistence. They were aware, they said independently, of the four small holes in the bat, but knew nothing of the hole in the end of the barrel. "Cecil didn't buy the bat as something that had been corked, and I didn't sell it as corked," Siegel said.
Moore said he became aware that the bat had been hollowed only after Grey Flannel prepared to auction it. "It was news to me," Moore said. "I had it for 10 or 12 years and never saw anything at the end of the bat. But I wasn't examining it."
Moore acknowledges the nine-month scenario looks quite messy and suspicious and says, "When I get to heaven, I'm going to ask Jesus about it, find out who did what to the bat."
More suspicions developed last week when Siegel offered to sell two Mickey Mantle bats -- the one in question and another from 1957 that had been doctored and supposedly signed by the Yankees of '64 -- to the family. The Mantles, through Kastner, declined.
"Pete presented himself as a friend of the Mantle family," Kastner said. "He said he knew when the second bat became public knowledge it would raise questions; you know, having two Mantle bats out there, both allegedly corked. He said he was willing to help. He was serving as a broker for the bats' owners, and that they were willing to let us buy them so we could bury the bats and spare Mickey's image any more harm.
"We told him no. We're not interested in acquiring the bats or burying the bats. We're not worried or afraid of what another bat could mean. We know they're not real, they're fraudulent. And we can prove, in a legal forum or in the court of public opinion, they're fake."
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Suspicions aside, Pappas remains incredulous about the entire episode. "The dumbest thing I've ever heard," he said. "Mickey Mantle needed a lighter bat? He was a strong as anyone in the game. The whole idea of using a lighter bat ... does that really help?"
Pappas is not alone in his wonder in that regard. A corked bat can be swung with greater speed, yes, but with cork rather than wood at its core, a doctored bat has less mass and imparts less energy to a ball than an undoctored bat swung with the same strength. "It's not like a guy using steroids," Pappas said. "He doesn't swing the same bat harder."
Mantle, who retired before the 1969 season and died 26 years later at age 63, offered his thoughts about doctored bats in a conversation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1983. "I know [Yankees third baseman Graig] Nettles got caught [in 1974] and it was a big for a day or two. But it blew over. Norm Cash never got caught. He said he used a doctored bat all season in '61. I hope he didn't stop using it after having a season like he had. (Cash won the American League batting title with a .361 average.)
"I didn't need it. I lost some of my swing, but I was still strong enough to hit the ball out. I didn't hit as many long home runs as I'd hit when I was younger. And I didn't hit as many, long or short. But it was my legs more than anything else. If I could've corked my knees, I would have played longer. That's where I lost the power, my legs. I was still strong, but my legs weren't. When my legs weren't bad, I could get around on anyone ... maybe not [Dick] Radatz -- he gave me trouble -- but other guys. ... I didn't want to do anything wrong. The game was good to me. I didn't want to ... ya know, abuse it ... or insult it."
Mantle's sons did learn from Hillerich & Bradsby Co. that their father had ordered bats of three different weights, a practice not uncommon, especially for switch-hitters and players who anticipated wearing down during the hot summer and in the postseason. When he needed a change, Mantle could have used lighter bats he had ordered rather than go to the trouble of having bats hollowed and corked.
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Mantle's distinction as a player -- a switch-hitting slugger with uncommon speed and remarkable power -- made him almost mythological. Over the decades, documented truths about him often have become mixed with the apocryphal. But some of the apocryphal was believable because of some of his actual achievements were unprecedented and quite extraordinary.
Home runs he hit in Detroit, Chicago, Washington D.C., Brooklyn, and of course in the Bronx have been presented through the years as fact and fiction. Mantle himself thought some stories had been embellished. "And maybe I puffed them up once or twice myself," he said in 1983.
A book, entitled "Explosion: Mickey Mantle's Legendary Home Runs" by Mark Gallagher, explores the slugger's long-distance deeds and documents, some that evidently are not widely known. Indeed, Gallagher makes mention of affidavits from reporters stating that Mantle home runs reached the lights or the distinctive frieze above right field at the original Yankee Stadium on multiple occasions, not merely twice as is widely believed.
The late Darrell Johnson, one-time Red Sox manager and Mantle's Yankees teammate in the '50s, insisted that Mantle routinely hit batting-practice pitches into a lake 100 feet beyond a 20-foot-tall chain-link fence some 450 feet from the plate at the Yankees' St. Petersburg Spring Training facility.
"I saw him play his last year," Johnson said in 1985. "He could hit a pitch just as far then as he did as a kid. The power was there, but his legs couldn't support him from day to day."
Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner stood in amazement at the last Old-Timers Day at the original Yankee Stadium in 1973. Batting right-handed during batting practice, Mantle, five years retired, hit a ball that one-hopped the left-center field wall, 461 feet away. "No one can have that kind of power," said Kiner, who saw Babe Ruth play.
Johnson and Kiner had no reason to add myth to the legend. At this year's Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., Kiner dismissed the notion that Mantle might have corked. He laughed and said, "He was the last guy who would have needed to cheat."
It could be that less-laudatory myth has crept into Mantle's legacy, that claims of the Hall of Famer corking are nothing more than imagined. Even if a Mantle bat has been located and found to have been doctored at some point in the past 50-some odd years, there is no evidence that it was done with his knowledge or even during his lifetime. Or that he ever used a doctored bat.
"That's all we want people to know," Danny Mantle says. "My dad loved the game, and he wouldn't cheat. My brother and I just want the public to trust the image they have of my dad."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.