The day Mantle played short and Yogi played third

And so it was. On the last game of the 1954 season, September 26, the Yankees’ brilliant center fielder started at short and their fiery little catcher started at third. Irv Noren, a pretty good part-time player in his career, played center. Moose Skowron, long known as a first baseman was in his rookie year and he started the game at second base, one of only two times in his career that he would play there. The immortal Lou Berberet was the starting catcher. It was his only start of the year and only his fifth appearance. The starting pitcher was Tommy Byrne, one of the most unpredictable pitchers of all time. Byrne somehow had a major league record of 85-69 with an ERA of 4.11 despite walking 6.9 batters per nine innings. He walked more batters in his career than he had strikeouts. The next year, in 1955, at the age of 35, Byrne would win 16 games for the Yankees with three shutouts and two saves.

The game, of course, was meaningless. The Yankees lost it to the Athletics, that year’s worst team who had as many losses as the Yankees had wins. Yogi had two chances at third and handled them both without a problem. Of course, there is no way of knowing how many balls whizzed right by him. Mickey Mantle had several chances and did not make an error. He had two putouts and four assists He was even a part of a double play (Byrnes to Mantle to Robinson). Skowron had six chances at second and booted one of them.

Mickey went one for two at the plate with three walks (one of them intentional) and he struck out once. The hit left him with a .300 average for the season. Yogi went 0-5 and grounded into two double plays. He finished at .307. Yogi never played third again. Mickey Mantle actually played shortstop four times in 1954, but only started there once. He logged a total of 14 innings there. He played short once in 1953 and twice in 1955. He never made an error there. But before you think this writer is doing too much to glorify the man, he also played third once in 1952 and had four chances and booted two of them. He also played second once in 1954 and had two chances with no problems.

This game occurred before I was born. But for those that attended, it must have been a sight to see.

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

5 thoughts on “The day Mantle played short and Yogi played third

  1. John

    Another great nostalgia piece Will. Keep em coming.

  2. Guest

    I just finished Jane Leavy's biography of the Mick, The Last Boy, a fantastic book. Mantle actually started out as a shortstop in the minor leagues, but it sounds like his throws to first always entailed the risk of killing someone in the stands. In 1950 he batted .383 for the Joplin Mariners and had 55 (!) errors playing short. This, I guess, explains why, according to Hank Workman (quoted by Leavy), Casey Stengel, taking one look at Mantle playing short and sailing throws over first, came out of the dugout waving a "fungo bat" [what's that?], "and he shoos [Mantle] into the outfield, and turns around and loudly announces to all the coaches and everybody that's assembled that this guy is gonna be a center fielder" (9).

    And here's Leavy on the last game of the '54 season: "[Stengel] fixed the blame [for their second place finish] on Mantle's slowness to heal from his off-season knee surgeries and his knuckleheaded refusal to act like an adult . . . Perhaps that's why he sent Mantle out to play his first and last complete game at shortstop, the position of his callow youth" (122). (Mantle had only hit nine homeruns since the allstar break that year.) Found all that pretty interesting. It's a great book, I thought. Good post, too, WT.

  3. ProfRobert

    Loved this. Next assignment (if I may be so presumptuous): The story of Don Mattingly playing third base!

    • williamjtasker

      Okay!

  4. getomermort

    U-N-I-Q-U-E

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