The Mick and the Corked Bat

The corked bat that was allegedly used by Mickey Mantle and was set to be sold at auction is no longer available after Mantle’s family hired attorneys to prevent the item’s sale. This entire episode tears another scab off the sordid nature of sports memorabilia.

Ironically in the past week the industry was in the news in a more serious court case as O.J. Simpson’s appeal of his kidnapping and armed robbery conviction was being heard in Las Vegas. Simpson was involved with memorabilia dealers and claims he was trying to reclaim his property and it expanded into guns, shady characters and a conviction. Simpson says it was an innocent misunderstanding. Sort of similar to going to the home of his ex-wife, just happening to be wearing the outfit of an inept burglar and carrying a knife, and proclaiming his purity when she and her friend wound up dead, bathed in pools of their own blood. It started so innocently with the best of intentions.

I don’t understand the memorabilia industry from the perspective of people who buy this stuff for their own enjoyment. The players themselves—including Mantle—thought it was a ludicrous endeavor, but went along because it was making him a lot of money with little effort and after his career was over, he didn’t have much money until the industry blew up. I get people buying it as an investment, but that goes back to the circle of preying on the childhood memories of others for profit. For those who think that having a “piece of history” in their homes are going to impress anyone when there’s no truly flawless method to verify the piece’s authenticity, it’s a momentary and mostly insincere “wow.” How much time can they spend staring at an old jersey? An old hat? An old glove? A bat that was supposedly laced with cork to lighten it, increase the hitter’s bat speed, and add a substance that may or may not add distance to the ball’s travels? And nobody can say whether or not the bat was actually used by Mantle.

Was it?

Based on Mantle’s style, he might have just used it as a joke once or twice just to see what happened. He wasn’t one to look before he leaped and did things because he could do them or because he thought it might be a kick. That didn’t extend to a long series of off-field incidents due to his drinking and womanizing as it would today because the writers were protective of players’ off-field lives during Mantle’s day, but if he was playing today you can bet there would be DUI incidents, an array of barroom brawls, and other stories of his exploits popping out all over.

For all of Mike Francesa’s bluster about the “reality” of sports, it takes little prompting for him to revert to the adolescent Mantle idol-worshipper when anyone dare question his hero and all-knowing, ignoring other factors statement that Mantle didn’t need to use a corked bat, therefore it is proven that he didn’t use one.

Mantle’s family stated that he never used a corked bat. How they would know this is not stated.

Did Mantle “need” to use a corked bat? Of course not. Did he use one a few times? Possibly. Does it tarnish his legacy? Not if his 535th career homer off Denny McLain in which McLain tossed a tailor made batting practice fastball specifically for Mantle to hit out the park didn’t tarnish his legacy and ruin the aesthetic for Francesa and the aging men who treat Mantle as their ideal.

Mantle was a “Yeah, what the hell?” guy and that might have extended to him trying a corked bat a few times. But with no one to guarantee that it’s legitimate or that Mantle hit with it to the degree that it truly affected his results and career numbers, a chunk of people only care because they want to shield their bubble of beliefs; the others seek to maintain the profits they can make from “real” Mantle memorabilia. I understand why they’re doing it, but I’ll never understand why people would pay money for that stuff to begin with.

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