Mickey Mantle lives in players of today
Mickey Mantle lives, and he'll do so forever. In case you haven't been paying attention for the last few decades, I'll put it this way: No other sport matches baseball in sustaining magic by keeping the past intertwined with the present through the memory of its iconic players.
Unlike those iconic players, those memories never die.
You've seen those memories, which are legendary in color or even more so in black and white. Ruth winking at cameras either before or after ripping a pitch toward the heavens. Jackie Robinson stealing home again and again. Willie Mays sprinting an eternity to grab the impossible over his head.
Actually, just uttering the names of those guys and many of their peers in Cooperstown sends pixie dust flying through the air. Sandy Koufax, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, Bob Gibson, Johnny Bench, Orlando Cepeda, Walter Johnson, Frank Robinson, Yogi Berra, Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente, Ozzie Smith, Bob Feller, Ernie Banks, Willie Stargell.
Mickey Mantle, for sure.
I mean, Mickey Mantle. Those words roll so poetically off the tongue that they hint of being the figment of a fiction writer's imagination. That's especially true for those who don't know if Yankee Stadium is located in the Bronx or near Tranquility Base on the moon. Surely "Mickey Mantle" wasn't real, and we're talking about his name and his otherworldly feats. As a result, anybody mentioned in the same breath with this guy surely has to join him as being invented by the Brothers Grimm or something.
So the world nearly spun backward last week after the Blue Jays' Edwin Encarnacion accomplished several things with two swings of his bat during a game against the Royals. First, he hit one home run and then another to reach 16 for the season. Second, he tied an American League record for most blasts during the month of May. Mostly, he became co-owner of that home-run mark with Mickey Mantle -- you know, The Mick, the Yankee legend who inspired the writing of deep songs and even deeper books, the solo owner of that home-run mark for years after he captured the Triple Crown in 1956.
Never mind Barry Bonds set the Major League record for most home runs during the month of May with 17 in 2001. Not only that, most folks couldn't care less Sammy Sosa finished June 1998 with 20 homers for the Cubs to establish the mark for most homers during any month.
Encarnacion just matched Mickey Mantle.
Sort of reminded me of three years ago, when Chipper Jones reached 1,510 RBIs for his career. That was one more RBI than Mantle's career total, and that's all Jones' father, Larry Sr., cared about.
The older Jones grew up in Baltimore loving all things No. 7 as a Mantle disciple. So it didn't matter that Larry Jr., spent the earlier part of that 2011 season adding to his distinction as a future first-ballot Hall of Famer with his 2,500th hit while carrying a lifetime batting average over .300. It also didn't matter to the father that his son kept blasting enough shots over fences to push his final home run total to 468 before he retired from the Braves after the 2012 season.
What moved Larry Sr., the most was Chipper topping Mantle when it came to one of Mantle's most cherished numbers. That career RBI total. In the aftermath, father sent son a text message filled with emotion.
"It was amazing, because I could hear (dad) crying as I read the text," Chipper told me at the time. "I could see him welling up with tears. My mom (Lynne) made no bones about how emotional she was, and her text said, 'This is insane.' As for my dad, he wrote, 'I never thought I'd ever say this -- The Chip and The Mick in the same sentence.' "
Remember, too, that, to this day, back at the family ranch in Carrizo Springs, Texas, the older Jones has a rather large picture of a noted Major League player hanging promptly in his den, and it isn't of Chipper.
Mantle still lives these days beyond just the Joneses and Encarnacion, because there is Billy Hamilton, the blur of a rookie for the Reds. He is a switch-hitter, and when he bats left-handed, more than a few baseball historians shake their heads and say he leaves home plate scooting toward first base faster than anybody since another switch-hitter.
Then there are these never-ending rocket shots from the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton. According to The USA Today, his five homers of 450-feet or more this season entering Tuesday's action surpass the overall total of any team in the Major Leagues. This conjures up memories of (you've guessed it) Mantle, who invented the tape-measure home run about the time he sent one a record 565 feet in April 1953 against the Senators in Washington, DC.
Here's something else: Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig are considered the most complete players of the modern game. They have five-tool talent, which means they can hit for average, and they also can hit for power. If that isn't enough, they can run like crazy, and they can field well in the outfield, and they can throw even better than that.
They sound like the modern-day version of ...
Well, you know.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.