Sandia Preparatory School, NM
America, Baseball, and Historical Memory
in 1956: The Way We Never Were
In the late summer of 1995 as Mickey Mantle was dying from cancer. letters
poured into his Dallas hospital expressing the writers’ admiration for Mantle and the
America of the 1950s when the Yankee outfielder dominated the sport.
Correspondents (many of them white males) recalled lost youth and yearned
for an America free from crime, decaying morals, culture wars, economic insecurity, and
racial conflict. In short, to many Mantle epitomized the good ole’ days before America
got off track in the 1960s. Mantle encouraged this perspective with a book of memoirs
co-authored by Phil Pepe. In My Favorite Sumner 1956, Mantle recalls his most successful
season, winning baseball’s triple crown, and describing America in terms of affluence
and consensus (although these are academic terms not exactly in Mantle’s vocabulary).
But was that the reality of baseball and America in l956?
A detailed reading of The Sporting News, which continued to serve as a trade
paper for baseball in 1956, indicates considerable economic insecurity and an insensitivity
to the winds of racial change which were gathering force in the late 1950s. For example,
as minor league attendance continued to decline and major league baseball failed to
recapture the postwar boom crowds, there was considerable concern among the baseball
establishment regarding issues of expansion, Congressional oversight. and the role of
television. Players were becoming more restive, and the Major League Baseball Players
Association, representing what The Sporting News termed as the hired hands, confronted
baseball owners over the issues of pensions and minimum salaries. While an effort was
made to maintain the rhetoric of consensus, it was evident in 1956 that the players. led by
Cleveland star Bob Feller (who would later be very critical or jealous of the players).
were on a collision course with management, whose position was often articulated by
former player a