- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bill Fischer had spent eight seasons in the major leagues with five clubs, so he was no dummy when it came to baseball strategy. The Kansas City Athletics right-hander threw four curveballs to Mickey Mantle in the 11th inning and then figured he just might sneak a fastball past the famed New York Yankees slugger.

Bad guess.

Very bad guess.

Mantle unleashed his customary all-out swing, and a loud crack ensued.

“There it goes!” teammate Yogi Berra shouted in the Yankees’ dugout, and indeed it did. The ball headed on a majestic line for the right-field seats and continued to rise, rise and rise some more until it struck the frieze atop the third deck and rebounded all the way to the infield.

The date was May 22, 1963. In an otherwise insignificant game, Mantle had come within a few feet of becoming the first and only man to hit a fair ball out of the original Yankee Stadium.

It was the third “tape-measure” home run of switch hitter Mantle’s career. Seven years earlier, during his Triple Crown season, Mickey nearly achieved the same feat with a blast off Washington Senators right-hander Pedro Ramos. In 1953, batting right-handed, he cleared the distant bleachers at Washington’s Griffith Stadium with a shot estimated at 565 feet off Senators left-hander Chuck Stobbs.

This one, though, might have been the granddaddy of all super swats. Said Mantle after the game: “That’s the hardest ball I ever hit. I usually didn’t care how far the ball went so long as it was a home run. But this time I thought, ‘This ball could go out.’ ”

Forty-six years later, the question of how far the ball went still intrigues some. One fan, claiming to base his estimate on the law of physics and computerized data, put its distance at 734 feet. That seems excessive, but one fact remains undisputed: It was a home run for the ages.

As recently as 2008, 13 years after Mantle’s death from liver cancer, Fischer was discussing the homer with a sense of history, if not quite pride. And why not? A journeyman whose nine-year career produced a 45-58 record, he would not be remembered today except for that one ill-advised fastball.

“I fired it in there,” Fischer, 77, told the Kinston (N.C.) Free Press in 2008. “He wasn’t looking for anything, I don’t think.”

Any belated second thoughts about his pitch selection?

“I maybe would’ve [curved] him again,” Fischer said with a laugh. “The funny thing was, one of them [earlier] hooks, the ball just rolled down to first base real slow, and then it turned foul. … It’s a matter of - what do you call it? - fate, I guess.”

There were not many eyewitnesses. The paid attendance was merely 10,312, although the Yankees were on their way to their fourth straight pennant and 13th in 15 years. The customers saw a weird game in which New York blew a 7-0 lead and was forced into extra innings when the A’s scored six runs in the eighth and one in the ninth.

Mantle was hitless in two official trips but had drawn three walks as he led off the 11th. In those days, he was the Yankees’ biggest star, and now he lived up to his reputation as the game’s most dangerous power hitter.

“He gets $100,000 a year, and he must be making it for some reason,” Fischer said philosophically of The Mick’s moon shot, as gigantic homers were called in those days.

A’s manager Eddie Lopat, a teammate when Mantle reached the major leagues in 1951, didn’t see him go very, very deep.

“I just turned my back,” Lopat said after the game. “I knew the sound.”

For Mantle in 1963, the homer off Fischer was a lonesome highlight. In June, he broke an ankle in a game at Baltimore and missed two months. He finished his 13th season batting .303 with 15 home runs and 35 RBI in 65 games.

Following one last big year in 1964 (.314, 35 home runs, 111 RBI), it was all downhill for the oft-injured Mantle and the Yankees. He was a part-time player after that until his retirement during spring training in 1969 as his team plummeted to the nether regions of the American League.

But while their long run of success lasted, no one was bigger than The Mick and the Yanks.

“He ought to have a league of his own,” teammate Norm Siebern said the day after Mickey Mantle almost sent a horsehide screaming out of Yankee Stadium and into the streets of the Bronx. “He’s too much for everybody else.”

Just ask Bill Fischer.

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