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Mickey Mantle was a "neuromuscular genius" and may have played 17 years with a torn ACL

Oct 13, 2010, 2:48 PM EDT

Richard Sandomir of the New York Times wrote about Jane Leavy’s new Mickey Mantle biography and included this interesting tidbit regarding the Hall of Famer’s infamous 1951 knee injury:

Her research into Mantle’s injury history rejects his claim that his right knee was operated on after he fell over a drain cover at Yankee Stadium while stopping to let Joe DiMaggio catch a fly ball in the 1951 World Series.

When Mantle had surgery two years later, there was no established procedure to fix a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which she believes Mantle played on for the rest of his career. The orthopedic surgeon who analyzed the case history that Leavy compiled said it was likely that Mantle compensated for the torn ACL with what the orthopedist called “neuromuscular genius.”

There are no further details about the knee injury in Sandomir’s article–the goal is to get you to buy the book, after all, and the basic information about the injury is well known–but Mantle was a 19-year-old rookie in the aforementioned World Series and the notion that he went on to play 17 seasons with a torn ACL is pretty extraordinary. Mantle won three MVPs, hit 523 homers, stole 145 bases, and played 12,000 innings in center field after Leavy claims he tore his ACL.

  1. The Common Man - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:06 PM

    You know, I’ve had a torn ACL for almost three years now and I’ve still been able to play with my son, work out, jog, swing a bat, and live a normal life. So I buy that you could play baseball on a torn ACL. I think it’s amazing, though, that Mantle managed to have such an amazing career, and especially defensive acumen, with reduced mobility.

  2. Tony A - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    One of the best Right Handed hitters in the history of baseball; switch hitting didn’t add that much to his value. Interesting to think how good he might have been if Joe D had warned him about the drain instead of just watching…

  3. Simon DelMonte - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    Kind of makes you wonder if all that drinking was to cope with what might have been a ton of pain.
    This, BTW, is why even if you take away PEDs, it’s not easy to compare today’s players and players of the past. Modern medicine has changed so much. There is no way to know what Mantle would have done with proper surgery and better medical advice, and there is no way to know how durable any of today’s greats would have been back then. Best to appreciate all in the scope of the era.

  4. bigfan - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    I remember seeing pix of his legs being wrapped in miles of Ace bandages before each game and then iced down after the game.

  5. bigfan - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    It’s amazing what a high blood alcohol level can do.
    Seriously, the man’s legs were wrapped with miles of Ace bandages before each game and iced afterward. One tough dude. No wonder he drank a bit.

  6. matt - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:39 PM

    Simon, If I remember correctly a story from the past, Mantle said he partied and drank so much because he didnt feel he would live a long life based on the cancer history of his closest male relatives like his father and grandfather. They all died relatively young. I know he did say during his issues with his liver transplant that if he knew he was going to live so long that he wouldn’t have drank so much. But, pain while playing might have been part of it too.

  7. Phil - Oct 13, 2010 at 4:19 PM

    Anyone who watched Mantle play was amazed at what he could do. The thought of a torn ACL is unbelievable. If I remember the numbers, he once was timed from home to first in 3.1 seconds. Try beating that Carl Crawford. He also had an officially measured 565 foot home run in Washington. He holds all the power records for a switch hitter, connecting from both sides in the same game so many times, no one else need apply. He had a tremendous arm, great glove, unsurpassed power, hit for average, and ran like a deer. I don’t care what anyone says, he was better than Willie Mays. The only comparable person today – Josh Hamilton, but he has a long way to go to equal Mantle.

  8. BC - Oct 13, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    He had osteomyelitis, a bone disease that caused most of his pain. I recall reading one of his biographies that mentioned he got flak for not serving in the Korean War, but it was because he flunked the physical. This article backs that up.

  9. Simon DelMonte - Oct 13, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    No matter how you slice it, the Mick faced a lot of things that made his life rough. It was made easier by being a beloved star in a beloved sport at the best time to be the Mick, but at the end of the day, I would not want to be him, and I think he gets a lot of sympathy from me for having to cope.

  10. Trevor B - Oct 13, 2010 at 4:33 PM

    I hear that, I’ve been going the last 3.5 years on a torn left rotator cuff. I’m right handed which helps but I get along and keep an active, sports filled life.

  11. YANKEES1996 - Oct 13, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    I can still remember my grandfather telling me about Mantle and how great he was and the toll that injury took on his career. If he played all those years on a severly damaged knee is it awe inspiring to think about how great he could have been if he had stayed healthy. My grandfather and my father both believed that Mick was better than Mays also, I would have loved to see him play!

  12. silverdeer - Oct 13, 2010 at 5:36 PM

    Always knew those darn ACL’s were over rated.

  13. fiveiron - Oct 13, 2010 at 6:25 PM

    He hit 536 homers, not 523. I miss those old-time, thirsty heroes.

  14. smootysmoot - Oct 13, 2010 at 8:41 PM

    @The Common Man
    Ur full of crap! I had one and there is no way u can do what u want to do on a torn ACL. Don’t mistaken torn Acl with a bruised knee.

  15. askmrsam - Oct 13, 2010 at 9:44 PM

    When Mantle played, they were athletes & played hurt. It took a lot to get them out of a game, & they also played hard, not like today’s players that don’t risk injury because they are paid so much.

  16. Old Gator - Oct 13, 2010 at 10:30 PM

    Hell, I was a “neuromuscular genius” in my youth too. All it took was a willing coed, some good weed, an incense burner, some black light posters and the long version of “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida.” I once tried substituting Coltrane’s “Africa Brass” sessions and tore my ACL. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  17. gregg - Oct 13, 2010 at 11:02 PM

    An amazing player! Cream of the crop. From Oak Hill, Texas!

  18. Troy - Oct 13, 2010 at 11:57 PM

    Been without an attached ACL for quite a while myself. Had a blow out there in 1981. H.S. football ultimately did me in but it started with wrestling. Got it fixed but tore it up again. No cartliage in there either. Not as painful as my orthopedic said it should be. He said I just got used to it. Compensated.
    Mantle really compensated to play on the level that he did for that long. The cold weather makes this a real problem…The Mick probably wouldn’t have faired so well if baseball was a winter sport!

  19. alan69 - Oct 14, 2010 at 3:20 AM

    It was probably a partial tear of the ACL. He would have no stability rounding the bases if it was completely torn.

  20. alan69 - Oct 14, 2010 at 3:39 AM

    He probably just had a partial tear of his ACL. A complete tear would have prevented him from rounding the bases without blowing it out again.

  21. alan69 - Oct 14, 2010 at 3:42 AM

    Old gator- That was great! Love it.

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