Like any man who is involved in a long-term relationship with a woman, I am used to being told how wrong I am. Maybe that’s why it bothers me so little when readers of the Tribune contact me about something that I inaccurately wrote in an article. I actually appreciate having the opportunity to correct any mistakes I make.
This happened recently when an eagle-eyed Tribune reader found a novel way to tell me that I may have gotten something wrong. He proved his point by sending me a copy of a book that he wrote. I was glad to get some quality reading material sent to me, now that I can neither hang out at Mel’s Southside nor follow the catfight between Neosho County and Ash Grove. I needed some new quality summertime entertainment.
This gift was sent because someone objected to a sentence in an article about the efforts to renovate the baseball stadium at Katy Park. A group of local volunteers is busy preparing that legendary sports venue for an American Legion Opening Day event now scheduled for Sunday, June 7.
When referencing the long and storied history of that well-loved landmark, the article stated, “It is a local legend that New York Yankee great Mickey Mantle played his first professional game at the stadium, although there is some historical dispute about this.”
At the time I wrote it, I felt it accurately represented the debate about the role the stadium may have played in Mantle’s early career. I know that in conversing with fellow baseball fans here in Chanute, some emphatically insist that Mantle started his career with a game here and others insist that isn’t true.
I am not a Chanute native and was born well after Mantle retired from his Hall-of-Fame baseball career, so I had no authority to determine which of these views was correct. Truthfully, all I really knew about Mantle before I moved to Chanute was that he had a general public reputation as being a surly alcoholic womanizer throughout most of his life. Those may be great qualities if someone aims to be a local newspaper columnist, but probably not for professional athletes who seek widespread public admiration.
With my lack of specific expertise on Mantle, I wrote this part of the article in a way that let both sides have their say in this debate. However, Tribune reader John G. Hall apparently knows much more about Mantle’s playing career than almost anyone. When he was nine years old, Hall worked as a bat-boy in the Kansas Oklahoma Missouri League in which Mantle played very early in his career. Chanute had a team in this league that played at the Katy Park stadium, and most other similarly-sized cities in this region had teams as well.
Being involved with a baseball league that included such a historic figure eventually inspired Hall to research Mantle, interview many of his former teammates, and write a book called “Mickey Mantle: Before the Glory.”
The book covers Mantle’s childhood in Commerce, Oklahoma, and his early baseball career before he played for the New York Yankees. Mantle apparently spent plenty of time in southeast Kansas early in his life, playing for teams in Baxter Springs and Independence.
Hall sent me an autographed copy of this book, and included a note to look at Chapters 14 and 15. These chapters detail how Mantle signed with the Independence Yankees to play shortstop (he eventually switched to the outfield, playing centerfield for most of his Major League career) and includes an account of Mantle’s first professional game. Hall provides some evidence to show that this game did indeed occur at Chanute’s Katy Park Stadium on June 14, 1949.
Hall’s book provides a scorecard, showing that Mantle went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in Independence’s 12-2 road victory over Chanute that day at Katy Park. It also includes an account of the game that ran in the Independence Daily Reporter newspaper, praising the hitting and fielding of the “newest addition to the Yank roster.”
So it seems the Katy Park baseball stadium really was the site of the first professional game played by legendary Hall-of-Famer Mickey Mantle. It is a real piece of history and one of the reasons that should justify the local effort to restore the stadium to its past glory. It would be wise to install a plaque somewhere on the stadium stating that Mantle started his professional baseball career there, as well as listing some of the other historic baseball figures who have graced its playing field. I would also hope that area baseball coaches would use this to teach their players that great things can occasionally happen for those willing to dream big and work hard to develop their talents, even if they’re just starting to play in a stadium in small-town Kansas.
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