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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Shift on Mickey Mantle.

Lou Boudreau manager Boston Red Sox
1953 Bowman card via Wiki Commons
Lou Boudreau deployed his shift on both Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle.  The shift on Williams is fairly well known but its use against Mantle was brief and so mostly forgotten.  Mantle was a switch hitter with great speed who often bunted in his early seasons.

Boudreau was player-manager of the Cleveland Indians 1942-1950, Boston Red Sox 1952, then manager only of Boston 1953-1954, Kansas City Athletics 1955-1957 (103 games), Chicago Cubs 1960 (137 games).  His Cleveland team won the 1948 World Series.

A Closer Look: Mickey Mantle's 1956  MONDAY, AUGUST 4, 2008

On June 5 at Yankee Stadium, Kansas City manager Lou Boudreau tried, unveiling a new, more extreme version of the “Williams Shift” he had devised a decade earlier to combat the best hitter in baseball, Ted Williams. No doubt desperate because Mantle was already 10-for-16 with four home runs in 1956 against his Athletics, Boudreau moved almost all of his fielders out of position when Mantle batted with nobody on base. The second baseman moved into the outfield and over toward the line, the shortstop took the normal second base position, the third baseman was stationed in short center field, the left fielder played a very deep third base, the center fielder played in deep left-center, and the right fielder manned deep right-center.

By bunching his fielders up the middle, Boudreau gave Mantle the outfield corners and the left side of the infield, invited him to push a bunt to third base, then pitched him high and tight. The shift worked. Mantle whiffed his first two times up, failing to bunt twice, but batted later in the game with a runner on, no shift, and socked a home run. Quoted as calling the shift “crazy,” Mantle failed to get a hit against it in four at-bats during the series, and went 4-for-9 when there was no shift. Later in June, at Kansas City, Mantle went 4-for-8 against the shift, but all four hits were singles, including a bunt on a 3-2 pitch.

Mantle wasn’t the only one transfixed by Boudreau’s shift. Some observers maintained that bunting would defeat it, but Stengel said Mantle would be doing the opposition a favor by bunting. A “Sporting News” editorial favored changing the rules to outlaw such gimmick defenses (“Suppose this worries him into a slump?”), and a Japanese newspaper carried an account and diagram of the shift. Other American League managers weighed in more skeptically. Bucky Harris of the Tigers said, “Let Boudreau get the credit—we’ll try to get Mantle out honestly.” White Sox skipper Marty Marion said, “I’m thinking about putting a fielder in the stands,” and Paul Richards of the Orioles suggested simply walking Mantle. That last option was chosen by Pete Ramos of the Senators, the pitcher burned twice by Mantle on Opening Day. When Ramos faced Mantle again late in June, he walked him all four times.

Wow.  The Athletics essentially played two outfielders.

The book "Mickey Mantle's Greatest Hits" by David S. Nuttall states that Mantle homered off Art Ditmar at Yankee Stadium in the first game of a doubleheader against Kansas City July 22, 1956: "In the at-bat prior to this one, Kansas City manager Lou Boudreau had decided to employ the "Mantle shift" by moving a third infielder to the second base side of the infield.  Mantle had then dragged a bunt down the third-base line for a bunt single."

In the 6th inning with the Yanks trailing 6-0 Mantle led off with his bunt single against Ditmar, which is described in the B-R log as being towards second base, which makes more sense for a drag bunt batting lefty.  In the 7th Mantle hit a two run homer off Ditmar making the score KC 7, NY 4, which was the final.  In 39 career games Mickey bunted and homered.

Mantle won triple crown by bunting.  Friday, February 24, 2012

Mickey Mantle led AL in 1956: 130 RBI, 52 HR, .353 BA.  Ted Williams was second in BA: .345.

Mantle had 188 hits in 533 AB.  Mantle attempted the most bunts in his career: 21 PA; 12 hits in 20 AB.  Without the bunts: 176 hits in 513 AB: .343.  Williams leads in BA and Mantle does not win the triple crown.

Casey Stengel manged Mickey Mantle and the Yankees in 1956 to a World Series championship over the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had Gil Hodges playing first base as he had in the 1952, 1953, 1955 WS against the Yanks.  Stengel was an innovator.  His comment about the shift is curious and puzzling.

I recall Washington Senators manager Gil Hodges having his infielders shift against Mantle.  Hodges had finished his playing career with the expansion New York Mets in their first two seasons, managed by Stengel.  Hodges had only 142 plate appearances in 1962 and 25 in 1963.  May 23, 1963: traded by the New York Mets to the Washington Senators for Jim Piersall.  At the age of 39 Hodges became the third Washington manager in 1963:

Mickey Vernon (14-26), Eddie Yost (0-1) and Gil Hodges (42-79) 
GMGeorge Selkirk

Hodges managed Washington through 1967, then became the Mets manager 1968-1971, winning the World Series in 1969.  Jim Lemon managed Washington in 1968, then Ted Williams 1969-1970 and their first year as the Texas Rangers in 1971.

It was a day game in Washington, probably later than 1964, maybe 1966 or 1967.  Mantle was batting lefty and I recall watching on TV and seeing Hodges putting three infielders on the right side but not throwing strikes to Mantle.  Finally for at least one pitch, I recall all four infielders on the right side.  Mantle never took the bait, never showed bunt and eventually walked.

Maybe Hodges was toying with Mantle.  Maybe Hodges was trying to have some fun but that seems unlikely.

In his last season Mickey must have been desperate.  In 1968 Mantle was 1 for 10 bunting with five strike outs, his only bad season bunting.  Even that talent had deserted him by then.  Mantle's bunts:


Click this link to view a lot of details about Mantle's bunts, including bunt hits and homers in the same game.

Mickey Mantle hit homer 500 against the shift. Tuesday, May 26, 2015

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