Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Many baseball scouts called the young Mickey Mantle the most talented prospect they’d ever seen, and he justified that assessment—in the field and at the plate—and reached the big leagues in 1951 at age 19. The next season, he replaced Joe DiMaggio as the Yankees’ center fielder and finished third in the voting for the league’s Most Valuable Player.

Mantle stood 5′ 11″ and weighed about 200 pounds, and he packed prodigious power into that frame. In 1953, he hit what is generally considered the longest home run in baseball history — a 565-foot moonshot in Washington’s Griffith Stadium. He was particularly dangerous as a hitter for two reasons: he was a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate, and he had a keen batting eye. He finished in the top three in walks 12 times and had a career on-base percentage of .421.

Mantle was just as big a threat in the postseason. A seven-time World Series champion, he played the second-most Series games in history and holds Series records for home runs (18), RBIs (40), runs (42), walks (43) and total bases (123).

Mantle’s last few years as a player, however, were not the best of times, as his body, ravaged by injuries and alcohol abuse, began to betray him. His post-baseball life was also wracked with hardships, including liver failure and the death of his son, Billy. In his prime, though, Mickey Mantle was an absolute wonder on the diamond — a rare combination of speed, power, grace and grit.

. Here, LIFE presents a quick tour through The Mick’s life, on the field and off, providing a glimpse into why one player won the hearts of so many fans across so many years . . . and what the lineaments of an athlete’s life can look like when the stands empty and the fans go home.

Mickey Mantle shirtless smiles in locker room after winning World Series October 1952

Twenty-year-old Mickey Mantle celebrated in the locker room after a Yankees’ World Series win, October 1952.

Mark Kauffman/Life Pictures/Getty Images

One of Mantle's nicknames was the Commerce Comet -- Commerce was the name of his hometown in Oklahoma -- and he indeed had exceptional speed. (He was offered a football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma.) Oddly, though, he only stole 153 bases in his big league career.

One of Mantle’s nicknames was the Commerce Comet (he came from Commerce, Oklahoma) and he indeed had exceptional speed.

Ralph Morse/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Mickey Mantle makes a running catch on a fly ball to left field during the 3rd game of the World Series at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, NY on September 30, 1955.

Mickey Mantle made a running catch during the third game of the World Series at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, on Sept. 30, 1955. The Yankees lost the game, 8-3, and ultimately the Series, to the Dodgers.

Ralph Morse/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Mickey Mantle slams into Luis Aparicio's feet while sliding into second, June 1956.

Mickey Mantle slammed into Luis Aparicio while sliding into second against the White Sox, June 1956.

Mark Kauffman/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Mickey Mantle in the backyard of his River Edge, NJ, home on June 7, 1956.

Mickey Mantle in the backyard of his River Edge, NJ, home on June 7, 1956.

Ralph Morse/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Mickey Mantle in a convertible during a New York parade in June 1956.

Mickey Mantle in a convertible during a New York parade in June 1956.

Ralph Morse/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Mickey Mantle, center, hits a home run in World Series game in Pittsburgh in October 1960.

Mickey Mantle, center, hit a home run in a World Series game in Pittsburgh in October 1960.

Art Rickerby/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Score board reading "Mantle Now Has 14 World Series Homers," October 1960.

After Mantle hit his third home run of the 1960 Wrord Series against the Pirates, the scoreboard saluted his powerful Series career.

Art Rickerby/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Surrounded by the press, Mickey Mantle, center, smiles after hitting two home runs in the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates in October 1960.

Surrounded by the press after a 1960 World Series game. Mantle played in 12 career World Series with the Yankees.

Art Rickerby/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Mickey Mantle soaking in whirlpool bathtub after game, 1964.

Mickey Mantle soaked in whirlpool bathtub after a game, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Left to right, self-described "saloon keeper" Bernard "Toots" Shor talks with Merlyn Mantle and husband Mickey at Shor's restaurant, New York, NY, June 1965.

Left to right, self-described “saloon keeper” Bernard “Toots” Shor spoke with Merlyn Mantle and husband Mickey at Shor’s restaurant, New York, NY, June 1965.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Mickey Mantle bandages his leg in the locker room before a game, June 1965.

Mickey Mantle bandaged his leg in the locker room before a game, June 1965.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Getty Images

After a weak at-bat, Mickey Mantle flings his helmet away in disgust, June 25, 1965.

After a weak at-bat, Mickey Mantle tossed his helmet in disgust, June 25, 1965.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Mantle grimacing while swinging during Spring training in March 1967

Mickey Mantle grimaced in pain in the batting cage, spring training, 1967.

Mark Kauffman/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Mickey Mantle poses with his wife Merlyn and their young sons (right to left) Mickey Jr. (who died of cancer in 2000), Billy (who died of Hodgkin's disease in 1994), Danny, and David, in Texas in 1965.

Mickey Mantle posed with his wife Merlyn and their young sons , in Texas in 1965. Right to left: Mickey Jr. (who died of cancer in 2000), Billy (who died of Hodgkin’s disease in 1994), Danny, and David.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Portrait of Mickey Mantle with the text "Mantle's Misery" on the cover of LIFE Magazine, July 30, 1965

Mickey Mantle on the cover of LIFE magazine, July 30, 1965. He was 33 and his decline as a ballplayer had begun.

Life Pictures/Getty Images

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