Baseball BeatDecember 15, 2003
Items on Mickey's Mantel Draw Millions of Dollars
By Rich Lederer

"I measure it by Cadillacs. I used to pay $5,000 for mine. They pay $20,000 now. So if they make three times as much as I did, what's the difference?"

--Mickey Mantle, 1979

Guernsey's conducted an auction of Mickey Mantle memorabilia at Madison Square Garden last Monday that raised $3.25 million. The items were affixed with a "Mickey Mantle Auction" tag and accompanied by a certificate signed by a member of the Mantle family certifying that the items came directly from the family's archives. The proceeds from the auction are slated to pay for the college education and first homes for each of Mantle's four grandchildren.

There were no 1952 "rookie" cards or any other pieces of cardboard. Instead, the family disposed of Mickey's trophies, plaques, rings, gloves, bats, balls, and other personal belongings of the legendary baseball player. Mantle's 1957 MVP trophy took high honors at $319,250. Mick's Silver Slugger bat for leading the league in batting average in 1956 sold for $313,500, his 1962 MVP Award went for $290,500, his Rawlings glove drew a bid for $212,400, his 1956 Babe Ruth Sultan of Swat award was hammered down at $198,500, and his 1962 World Series ring was purchased for $165,200.

Although the hardware was the primary focus of the auction, it was Mantle's original baseball contracts that caught my attention. There were 20 in total, including Mickey's first professional contract in 1949, every major league season (1951-1968), plus an agreement for 1969 that was never signed due to Mantle's retirement that March.

The Commerce Comet signed his first professional contract on June 13, 1949, the night he graduated from high school. The terms of the contract were agreed upon in the back of the scout's car. Mickey signed with the Independence Baseball Club of the National Association, a Class D minor league farm team of the New York Yankees. The contract called for Mantle to receive $140.00 per month plus it had a provision that "player is to receive a bonus of $1150.00 to be paid by the Independence Club as follows: $400.00 upon approval of contract by the President of the National Association and the remainder, $750.00 payable on June 30th 1949 if player retained by Independence or any assigned club."

1951		$  5,000 
1952		$  7,500 
1953		$ 17,500 
1954		$ 21,000 
1955		$ 25,000 
1956		$ 32,000 
1957		$ 60,000 
1958		$ 65,000 
1959		$ 70,000 
1960		$ 60,000 
1961		$ 70,000 
1962		$ 90,000 
1963		$100,000 
1964		$100,000 
1965		$100,000 
1966		$100,000 
1967		$100,000 
1968		$100,000

Mantle earned a total of $1,123,000 during his major league career, ranging from his rookie salary of $5,000 to his peak of $100,000 for the final six seasons of his career. Mickey received his biggest percentage increases after his outstanding sophomore season at the age of 20 and on the heels of winning the Triple Crown in 1956. Mantle's other raises were fairly pedestrian for a player of his accomplishments, especially when you consider that the Yankees were the best team in baseball during his career and regularly led the league in attendance throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. In fact, the $10,000 paycut that Mantle took for the 1960 season seems rather harsh given his production the previous year.

Mantle's 1959 Counting Stats:

  G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR   RBI   SB   CS   BB   SO
144  541  104  154   23    4   31    75   21    3   93  126
Mantle's 1959 Rate Stats vs. the League Average:
Mantle		.285	.390	.514	.904	150
League Avg.	.257	.328	.393	.720     100
Mantle ranked 2nd in the A.L. in runs and stolen bases; 3rd in walks; and 4th in home runs, times on base, extra base hits, and total bases. The Yankees slugger also placed 2nd in the league in OPS and OPS+. Moreover, Mickey led the league in Runs Created Above Average (RCAA) and Runs Created Above Position (RCAP).

1959 A.L. RCAA

1    Mickey Mantle                54   
2 Tito Francona 48
3 Harvey Kuenn 43
4 Al Kaline 42
5 Eddie Yost 37
6 Gene Woodling 34
7 Minnie Minoso 30
8 Harmon Killebrew 27
9 Pete Runnels 26
10 Rocky Colavito 25

1959 A.L. RCAP

1    Mickey Mantle                43   
2 Tito Francona 40
T3 Eddie Yost 33
T3 Harvey Kuenn 33
5 Yogi Berra 32
6 Pete Runnels 31
T7 Al Kaline 29
T7 Nellie Fox 29
9 Gene Woodling 25
10 Harmon Killebrew 23

Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia

Mantle also tied for the league lead in Win Shares along with Nellie Fox, the MVP honoree that year.


Mickey Mantle		30
Nellie Fox		30
Rocky Colavito		29
Minnie Minoso		29
Tito Francona		27
Al Kaline		         27
Eddie Yost		27
Harvey Kuenn		25
Jim Landis		25
Camilo Pascual		24
Pete Runnels		24
Given that the Chicago White Sox won the pennant in 1959, I don't really have a problem with the writers voting for the slick-fielding second baseman despite his inferior offensive stats (.306/.380/.389). To Fox's credit, he hit over .300, had 71 walks against just 13 strikeouts, captured a Gold Glove, and was the best player on the best team.

Nevertheless, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that Mantle ended up 17th in the MVP balloting in 1959. Mantle was simply held to a higher standard than his peers and almost anyone else who ever played the game. The Yankees finished in third place that year, one of only two times between Mickey's rookie year in 1951 and his last great year in 1964 in which the team did not win the American League pennant (1954 being the other). Rather than winning three MVPs, Mantle could have won as many as ten based on the fact that the Yankees center fielder led or tied for the league in Win Shares every year from 1954-1964, except 1963 when he was injured and played in only 65 games.

      Win Shares MVP      Actual MVP
1954	Mantle		Berra
1955	Mantle		Berra
1956	Mantle		Mantle
1957	Mantle		Mantle
1958	Mantle		Jensen
1959	Mantle/Fox	Fox
1960	Mantle		Maris
1961	Mantle		Maris
1962	Mantle		Mantle
1963	Yaz/Tresh		Howard, E.
1964	Mantle		Robinson, B.
As Bill James wrote in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, "Of course, Mantle didn't win all of those awards, as the writers went through an annual process of figuring out, (a) who do we give the MVP Award to this year, other than Mantle, and (b) why is it we're snubbing Mickey this year?"

Mantle was not only snubbed by the MVP voters in 1959, but he was slighted in 1954 (15th), 1955 (5th), and 1958 (5th) when he failed to pick up a single first-place vote in any of these four years. Mickey earned some respect in 1960, 1961, and 1964 when he trailed the winner only. However, one could argue that he deserved better in 1960 when he was the recipient of more first-place votes (10) than Roger Maris (8), yet finished three points behind his teammate.

Mantle's Runs Created Above Average and Runs Created Above Position yearly rankings also validate his greatness.

1951	23rd		24th
1952	1st		1st
1953	3rd		4th
1954	2nd		2nd
1955	1st		1st
1956	1st		1st
1957	1st		1st
1958	1st		1st
1959	1st		1st
1960	1st		1st
1961	2nd		1st
1962	1st		1st
1963	10th		9th
1964	1st		1st
1965	15th		28th
1966	5th		6th
1967	7th		11th
1968	9th		11th
As detailed, Mantle topped the A.L. in both categories nine times (1952, 1955-1960, 1962, and 1964). He also led the league in RCAP in 1961 when he finished second (behind Norm Cash) in RCAA. Whether Mickey earned ten MVPs (based on Win Shares and RCAP) or nine (RCAA), this study at least points out that Mantle was robbed of as many as seven MVP Awards during his career.

As another indication of Mantle's lack of proper respect, he received raises of only $5,000 and $10,000, respectively, after his MVP campaigns in 1957 and 1962. Furthermore, he topped out at the $100,000 mark and made the same salary for each of his final six seasons. In fact, his 1968 contract had a special covenant that read as follows:

"It is specifically understood and agreed that of the $100,000.00 provided for, $25,000.00 shall be paid during the 1968 year. The remaining $75,000.00 shall be paid as follows: $25,000.00 on January 15, 1969; $25,000.00 on January 15, 1970; and $25,000.00 on January 15, 1971. The above sums cannot be withdrawn before the maturity date."

Can you imagine a player of Mickey Mantle's stature today getting three quarters of his pay deferred without even any interest? Don't get me wrong, Mantle was paid as well as any player in the game in the early 1960s. I recognize that Mantle's seemingly "paltry" salaries and increases were more a function of the times than anything else. However, it is still a fun exercise to compare his pay back then to the players of today. Even if you exclude the salaries that were negotiated at the top of the market a few years ago prior to the establishment of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it would be safe to assume that Mantle would be "worth" at least $15 million per year in today's world. That is 150 times Mantle's highest annual level. Using Mantle's reasoning about the correlation between Cadillacs and salaries, that would mean General Motors should now be charging $750,000 for its luxury automobile.

Given that most Caddies go for about $50,000 now, one can deduce that Cadillacs were either overvalued back then or are dramatically undervalued today. Alternatively, one could argue that Mickey Mantle was either unbelievably underpaid in his playing days or the current superstars are overpaid. No matter where your opinion falls, there is no doubt that Mantle--even as great and as beloved as he was--was still underappreciated throughout his Hall of Fame career.

Richard Lederer
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT