For men of a certain age, The Mick is baseball… and life.
Mickey Mantle, the Commerce Comet, he could run as fast as the wind that sweeps through the Oklahoma plains, his swing from both sides of the plate was pure fury. And his charisma, his smile was as bright as the morning sun.
The Mick was everything that was right about the game even though we later learned about all his human flaws. In a way, those frailties made Mickey Mantle that much more beloved by his fans. He endured all the challenges of growing up a miner’s son, Mantle hit the big stage of New York and flourished despite terrible injuries, and his own terrible weaknesses.
On the field with the Yankees he rose above because of his strength.
Mickey Mantle always swung for the fences. His tape measure home runs were the stuff of legends, but a Mantle drag bunt was exciting to see as well. And his “aw shucks” personality won over Yankees fans as No. 7 became an icon.
He won the Triple Crown in 1956, blasted 536 home runs, won seven World Series titles and three MVPs. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1974.
That Mantle Generation passed along the myth and magic of Mickey to their sons and daughters. Everyone whose father was a Mickey Mantle fan, also felt a special place in their heart for The Mick. The Mick was all about fathers and sons and his story of his father Mutt Mantle tugged at your heartstrings.
Everyone could relate to Mickey in a way, but there was only one Mickey Mantle.
I’ve had talks with Bob Costas in Cooperstown, and he nailed it for a generation of Mantle fans who grew up in the innocence of the late 50s and early 60s when he said, “We knew there was something poignant about Mickey before we knew what poignant meant.’’
No player could match Mantle in baseball stature. And that is still the case. Though he has been dead for a quarter of a century, Mickey Mantle still reigns supreme. His baseball cards are Holy Grail cards as is all Mantle memorabilia. Mantle basically created the memorabilia market.
And yes. It was my father who threw out all my Mickey Mantle cards, not my mother, when I went off to college, boxes of baseball cards accumulated because I had two older brothers and I was one of the best, if not the best baseball card flipper in Kenilworth, N.J. Topsies, leanies, it didn’t matter. If a Mickey Mantle card was up for grabs, I was going to find a way to win it.
Those Mantle cards were reserved a special place in my room. They never went on the spokes of my bikes unlike Jerry Lumpe. I could still see Lumpe’s face being clicked by my front wheel spokes as we raced over to the corner store at the end of 7th Street to buy more more packs of cards or bust over to the 16th Street playground to play baseball all day long – no parents allowed.
And now, after all these years, another piece of Mantle magic has hit the auction block. His childhood home in Commerce, Oklahoma. Yes his entire home.
“Mutt would turn around to those friends when they would get to be horsing around and say, ‘You boys move on, Mickey and I have this work to do.”
In the world of the collectors, pieces are often labeled “Museum Quality’’ but now you actually can buy something that could be converted into a museum.
The House That Built The Mick.
The small home sits at 319 South Quincy Street and includes a detached garage that has seen much better days. But don’t be too quick to judge the garage that may be the best part of the deal. Listen to the story from one of the home’s two owners Brian Brassfield. Brassfield and a partner purchased the home in the early 90s. That partner later sold his share of the home to boxing promoter Tony Holden. Brassfield and Holden have fixed up the home to look like it did back in 1938 when The Mick was living there and was only seven years old. They have kept a piece of baseball history alive.
None of Mantle’s other childhood homes have survived. This white little box and the ramshackle tin barn garage play a huge piece in Mantle lore.
“We hope that somebody that gets it has as much joy as we have working with it over the years,’’ Brassfield told BallNine. “It’s been so much fun. A lot of people have come though to look at the house.’’
The home and barn in Commerce, OK
Former Mantle teammates have stopped by to check out the house, players like Bobby Richardson, who 50 years ago was named the MVP of the 1960 World Series, even though it was the Pirates second baseman, Bill Mazeroski, not the Yankees second baseman, who hit the home run that won that World Series, a loss that left Mickey in tears, Richardson told me earlier this year.
Mantle fans from all walks of life have made the pilgrimage to 319 South Quincy Street. George Wendt, Norm from Cheers, stopped by out of the blue one day. Wendt is 72 so you can see why he had to see Mickey’s childhood home for himself. Frank Stallone also visited.
“We’ve had the chance to meet famous ballplayers who have come to the home that we would have never gotten the chance to meet,’’ said Brassfield, who lives in a nearby town. “Ron Mantle, a cousin of Mickey’s was my first Pee Wee baseball coach. And there were different Mantles that were a little older, a little younger in this area. I had them on ball teams and different things.
“When I got a little bit older and making a little bit of money, we thought ‘let’s try to find some neat sports collectibles of Mantle’s’, so we placed an ad in the paper and we got a call one time and the lady said. ‘Well, I got Mickey Mantle’s backstop.’ ’’
“On the way over there we were thinking how are we going to authenticate a backstop? Is it going to be chicken wire around a frame, what’s it going to be?
“We get there and the lady sits out on the porch and we go: ‘Where’s the backstop?’
“And she goes, ‘it’s right there, it’s that tin barn.’
“We said, ‘Did Mickey live around here?’
Mr. Brassfield takes a swing against the tin backstop where The Mick honed his craft as a kid.
“And she said, ‘Yeah he grew up right here, 319 South Quincy. And I’ve been trying to sell the property for years.’ ’’
Sale made, and a little homework.
“We went to the courthouse and later we found in the book The Mick (by Mickey Mantle with Herb Gluck in 1987) that he talked about the house at 319 South Quincy.’’
Mutt was a zinc miner and originally rented the house in 1933. He purchased the home around 1938 and the family lived there until 1944 when they traded the home for a small farm.
Mickey was born October 20, 1931. So he spent his formative years at the home, including all that time learning to become a power-hitting switch-hitter. He used the barn/garage as his backstop with Mutt pitching to him every night.
“The home is just a really small home and he had quite a few family members who lived in it all at once,’’ Brassfield said. “When I talked to the childhood friends of Mickey, they had so much pride and were such classy people.’’
To Brassfield, 58, the most special part of the house is outside the house, the tin barn.
“The tin barn being his first backstop and how in ‘The Mick’ he described how his grandfather would pitch lefty to him and his father would pitch righty,’’ Brassfield said. “I had a chance to visit with a couple childhood friends of Mickey’s and they said night after night Mutt would be pitching to Mickey against this tin barn.‘’
The friends were Cecil Witten and Gerald Moudy.
Noted Brassfield: “Mutt would turn around to those friends when they would get to be horsing around and say, ‘You boys move on, Mickey and I have this work to do.’ It was kind of a spectacle even though it was just a dad pitching to his kid.’’
If The Mick really wanted his Maypo, this was the kitchen where he was eating it.
Not any kid.
“Mickey talked about the games they would play: if the ball was below the window it was a single, if it was above the window a double, on the roof was a triple and of course if he hit it over the house it was a home run. He said he was the only kid in town who did not get in trouble for breaking the windows in the house.’’
Consider this poignant scene.
“The lady we bought the house from said at times Mickey would be sitting outside the house when he would come through the area,’’ Brassfield noted. “Another unique story she told us is that there were some old roses at the front of the house, little roses, and one day he got out of his car and said to her, ‘Hey those roses are still there. My dad wanted to tear those roses out the entire time we were here, and my mom wanted to keep them. I can’t believe they are still here.’ ‘’
The roses are long gone now.
On occasion Brassfield pulled up to the house, “And there might be a Winnebago or something up front and a guy will be standing there with tears in his eyes,’’ he explained. “And I’d say, “What’s wrong, do you need anything?’ And he’d say, ‘No this just brings up old memories. My dad used to take me to the Yankee games.’
“The other day when I was there, there was a person from Philadelphia, another from Minnesota, Kansas, another one from Southern Oklahoma and we don’t even have it advertised or anything. It’s crazy. But you see postings on social media a lot with people just coming by.’’
The minimum bid is $50,000 and the auction is part of a lot called The Mickey Mantle Childhood Collection. Details of the auction can be found at:
“We’ve had many of his teammates come by over the years and got to hear great stories,’’ Brassfield told me, excitement in his voice. “Johnny Blanchard, Don Larsen, Bullet Bob Turley, Hank Bauer and Goose Gossage has been to the home twice.’’
Former players call old teammates and friends and say, ‘You’ll never guess where I am? I am at Mickey Mantle’s childhood home,’’ Brassfield explained.
“We paid a lawn service every year to keep the grass cut,’’ said Brassfield, who is in sales, “and it the house has been vandalized a few times, I would go over there to fix the windows. We paint the thing every year or two because there is fire retardant sprayed on the building and it keeps the paint from sticking. It’s not going to burn down but man I wish we would have thought that through.’’
In Commerce they have a wooden bat baseball tournament named the Mickey Mantle Classic. It began in April 2001 when the Commerce High School baseball field was named after Mickey.
“There is always a guest speaker at the event, a former major league player, and that player always wants to come by and see Mickey’s house,’’ Brassfield said.
On the website for the Mickey Mantle Classic is a Mantle quote that says it all, “It was all I lived for, to play baseball.’’
Mickey played it with his dad in the yard, against the tin backstop, with balls headed toward the little white house at 319 South Quincy.
“This was an investment, but it was a passion as well,’’ Brassfield said. “We saw the shape that it was in, we hired a team that had done restoration work on some homes up in the Northeast so they could really help us get it to just as close as to what it would have been like when Mickey was there and we shot for 1938 because Mickey was seven in ’38.’’
No. 7 was 7.
“When you are doing a restoration you have to search for a year because things evolve,’’ Brassfield said. “So that is when the time stood still for us, in ’38. Not many people around Commerce had very much money so they would do with what they had.
“A few years before Mickey passed, he was doing a signing here in Miami (pronounced Me-ah-me) and we asked him what we needed to do to restore it to when he was a kid and he said, ‘Well it’s about the same now as when I was a kid.’ He had such a charisma about him and it was unique.’
“We said we were going to straighten that tin barn out and he laughed and said, ‘Don’t straighten it up, it was leaning when I was a kid.’
“We found in ‘The Mick’ that is how he described it, ‘I had a little tin barn that leaned close to our house.’ When we did the restoration, we had reinforcements made but we kept the lean in the barn. The barn is pretty tattered right now. This stuff is old.’’
A young Mantle outside the home in Commerce, OK
Tour buses come through to stop at the house.
“One of Mickey’s boys said the whole house was heated by a cook stove so when we went through restoration we found an old cast iron cooking stove and moved it in there,’’ Brassfield said. “A couple of the walls we had to do some work on we noticed there was not bit of insulation in the house. Wind just whistled through that little house.’’
A little house with such a big story. When Brassfield and his partner first purchased the house Brassfield’s wife Dana thought he was a little bit crazy.
Anytime history can be saved is a win and being a little crazy is a good thing. Certainly anyone who has gone out of their way to make the journey to 319 South Quincy can appreciate that the house and the barn are much the same as when young Mickey was walking through the yard with a bat in his hands.
Every day when Mutt Mantle got off work at 4 p.m. the baseball work would begin. From that humble little house came one of the most revered sports figures in history. Who knew that one day in Commerce there would be Mickey Mantle Boulevard, the water tower would have a big No. 7 on it and Mantle would be revered by a generation of fans.
“A lot of the childhood homes from people from that era are gone,’’ Brassfield said. “The house was originally owned by the mining company that Mutt worked for. The Mantles didn’t buy the house until ’38.’’
Over the next few years, countless baseballs were hit towards and over the little white house.
“We hope whoever gets it will get as much joy from the home as we have,’’ Brassfield said.
As Mickey once said, “I put everything into my swing, including my teeth.’’
And it all began at 319 South Quincy: The House That Built The Mick.