If you follow the APBA Baseball Facebook group page, you’re probably aware that a particular Mickey Mantle APBA card was recently a topic. It wasn’t The Mick’s ’56 Triple Crown card, nor was it his ’61 card when he and Roger Maris were chasing the Bambino. No, it was his 1968 card, which happened to be the last of his eighteen seasons (1951-1968). From that Facebook discussion a new idea was born: Final Card Friday. There are many great players who could have been picked to debut Final Card Friday…Mickey Mantle is as good as any.
It is hoped that Final Card Friday will celebrate significant ballplayers for their intangibles at the ends of their careers when they weren’t at peak productivity and/or highlight individuals who went on to make other contributions in baseball after their playing days.
At first glance, this card is substandard for Mantle, who’s average MLB season saw him hit .298 with 36 home runs and 102 RBI. However, one needs to consider the context of this card…1968, the year of the pitcher. The MLB batting average in 1968 was .237; it was .230 in the American League. Carl Yastrzemski won the AL Batting title with a .301 average, and the New York Yankees hit a Major League low .214 for the season. So, Mantle’s .237 mark looks pretty good in context. When you figure in his .385 OBP (third in the AL in 1968) and .782 OPS (ninth in the AL in 1968), this isn’t a terrible card. As a matter of fact, it’s a pretty good swan song for The Mick.
Upon closer inspection, this card has several positives. First, it has a 66-1 and an 11-6. If you’ve played any amount of games with the 1968 set, you know those numbers have significant value. Second, this card has seven 14s. Added to the 53-20 (which is one of the best error numbers), this card should produce an excellent .385 OBP, which was third in the AL in 1968. Next, it has a 15-10. Even with his bad knees, Mantle managed to steal six bases and not earn a (S) speed rating, which some commentators on Facebook found a bit unbelievable. Considering defensively he only played first base in 1968 and earned a (2) rating while making fifteen errors (second most for AL first basemen), there is reason to think that the average speed rating was generous.
The Facebook discussion turned toward where to bat this card in the lineup. Many thought it’d be a good card for the two hole. As a matter of fact, Mantle did hit second in the lineup eight times in 1968. However, as you might expect, his primary batting position was third, with 122 starts in that spot. Considering the lack of offensive the Yankees showed in 1968, Mantle probably was their best bet to hit third. He obviously still created fear in opposing managers and pitchers because he drew 106 base on ball (second most in the AL in 1968), seven were intentional.
In retrospect, 1968 was the perfect year for Mickey Mantle to pick as his last. With divisional play and expansion coming after the 1968 season, Mantle was a player from a bygone era. Granted, if the designated hitter would have been instituted five years earlier, Mantle would have been a perfect fit. He might have reached 600 career homers and 3,000 career hits. Yet, there is something to be said for knowing when it’s time to go. Thankfully, Mantle knew it was time, and upon closer analysis, produced a solid final season and final APBA card.