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Mantle: I Will Stay in Center Field

May 28, 1964 - Mickey Mantle, New York’s injury-plagued superstar, brusquely thrust aside any possibility of switching from center field to a less laborious position to preserve his ailing legs.

The switch-hitting Yankee slugger, who underwent a knee operation — his second — last winter, was forced out of the lineup again yesterday because of a muscle strain in his left side.

The latest injury occurred in the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s game with Cleveland when Mickey made a spectacular running catch of a fly ball hit by Max Alvis. The Yankee Stadium crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Mantle has a history of leg trouble, but it has never been more evident than this season. Once one of the fastest — if not the fastest — in the game, Mickey has slowed to a walk.

On a number of occasions, he has settled for singles on long drives that normally he would have stretched into doubles. Except for occasional well-placed bunts, he rarely beats out infield hits any more.

At times, it has been an effort for the 32-year-old Mantle to walk, let alone run. A teammate, who asked not to be identified, said Mantle was playing on nerve alone, a quality which has evoked sympathy and admiration from his teammates.

“Mickey is giving it all he has,” the teammates said, “but it is evident he is not half the center fielder he was in other years. He still makes great plays on occasions, but these plays would have been routine for him before.

“It’s inevitable that, sooner or later, Mickey will have to be shifted to another position, perhaps to right field. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year Mickey is handled the same way the Yankees handled Babe Ruth, playing him in different fields depending on the park and the ground he has to cover.”

It also has been suggested that Mantle should switch to first base. Stan Musial and Tommy Henrich made that move.

Mantle is against it.

“I think as long as I play ball, I will play center field,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever have to switch. When the time comes that I can’t play center field, I’ll quit.

“Actually, center field is the position where I’m least likely to get hurt. There are too many quick starts and stops at first base. Also, there is always the danger of a collision with a runner.

“A center fielder has more freedom of range than a right or left fielder, and there’s less danger of running into a wall.”

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