The 20th annual Mickey Mantle Classic — a wood bat tournament — begins Thursday and runs through Saturday with games at Mickey Mantle Field in Commerce and Joe Becker Stadium in Joplin, as well as additional consolation games Saturday at Wendell Redden in Joplin.
All of this, of course, will be weather permitting.
The Neosho Daily News coverage area will be represented by five teams: Neosho, Neosho JV, McDonald County, Diamond, and tournament newcomer East Newton.
East Newton and the Neosho JV will play in a third division, the Miners Division, and they are scheduled to open play against each other Thursday. Neosho and McDonald County make up the Missouri portion of the Oklahoma-heavy Triple Crown Division and Diamond’s in the Comet Division alongside five Oklahoma schools.
— The Wildcats are the defending Triple Crown Division champions, winning that title in 2017 with a rout of Wyandotte (Oklahoma).
What about last year?
Well, nobody associated with the Mantle Classic should ever forget what happened.
Mother Nature won last year’s tournament in both divisions. The official Mantle Classic list past tournament champions records the 2018 winners as “Frosty the Snowman” (in all caps), referring to the weather conditions that scrapped last year’s Saturday championship games. “Frosty the Snowman” also took both divisions’ MVP awards.
Neosho and the Haskell Haymakers both return as defending champions, Haskell in the Comet Division.
The Wildcats won its first of two Mantle Classic titles in 2014, propelled by MVP Trey Turner. Neosho catcher Marcus Crawford took MVP honors in 2017.
— The Mantle Classic has lined up former Baltimore Orioles slugger Jim Gentile, a.k.a. “Diamond Jim,” to be this year’s special guest.
The 84-year-old Gentile enjoyed his best season in only his second MLB season, 1961, as he finished third in the American League MVP race behind only Yankee sluggers Roger Maris and Mantle during one of those great baseball years.
In fact, all four top finishers in the MVP race mashed at least 40 home runs during that historic season: MVP Maris hit 61, runner-up Mickey Mantle 54, Gentile 46, and fourth place Norm Cash (Detroit) 41. All four sluggers drove in at least 128 runs: Maris and Gentile 141 each, Cash 132, and Mantle 128.
Detroit’s Rocky Colavito and Minnesota’s Harmon Killebrew finished eighth and 11th in the AL MVP race that year … consider their monster seasons. Colavito hit .290 with 45 homers and 140 RBI, Killebrew .288 with 46 homers and 122 RBI.
Gentile’s RBI total in 1961 benefited tremendously from his record five grand slams that season, a mark that stood until Don Mattingly hit six grand slams in 1987, another historic season for homers.
In his 1961 contract with the Orioles, it called for a $5,000 bonus if he led the AL in RBI. For many years, nearly five decades, Gentile finished second to Maris by just a single RBI. However, later research determined Maris had been incorrectly given a RBI during a July 5, 1961 game. Thus, Maris dropped to 141 RBI and that meant Gentile and Maris tied. The Orioles honored their contract with Gentile and presented him with a $5,000 check in a 2010 game at Camden Yards.
The same Society for American Baseball Research found that Mantle had been given one run scored too many, thanks to an error by the official scorer on Sept. 10, 1961, that had Mantle rather than Bill Skowron crossing home plate. That meant Mantle dropped to 131 runs scored and Maris finished solely in first at 132.
Over his nine-year career, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound left-handed slugger hit .260 with 179 homers and 549 RBI. Gentile did most of his damage in his first five seasons, beginning his career with a 98 RBI season in 1960; “Diamond Jim” finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year sweepstakes that season to Baltimore teammate Ron Hansen. In fact, Gentile tied for second with Baltimore pitcher Chuck Estrada.
Gentile lives in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Past special guests: Bucky Dent (2018), Bret Saberhagen (2017), Ron Guidry and Bob Shirley (2016), Andre Dawson (2015), Gaylord Perry (2014), Willie Wilson (2013), Craig Nettles (2012), Rollie Fingers (2011), Goose Gossage (2010), Juan Marichal (2009), Ferguson Jenkins (2007), Gossage (2006), David Mantle and Tom Tresh (2005), “Bullet” Bob Turley (2004), Don Larsen (2003), Johnny Blanchard (2001), and Merlyn Mantle, David Mantle, and Bobby Richardson (2000).
Danny and David Mantle, Mickey’s sons, are slated to attend this year.
2019 MICKEY MANTLE CLASSIC
TRIPLE CROWN DIVISION
HALL OF FAME POOL
WHIZ KID POOL
at Mickey Mantle Field, Commerce
Wyandotte vs. Afton, noon
Diamond vs. Quapaw, 2 p.m.
Miami vs. Neosho, 4:30 p.m.
Diamond vs. Commerce, 6:30 p.m.
at Joe Becker Stadium, Joplin
Fairland vs. Sarcoxie, 10 a.m.
East Newton vs. Neosho JV, noon
Fairland vs. Grove JV, 2:30 p.m.
Welch vs. Neosho JV, 4:30 p.m.
Grove vs. McDonald County, 7 p.m.
at Mantle Field
Quapaw vs. Commerce, 10 a.m.
Haskell vs. Afton, noon
McDonald County vs. Fort Gibson, 2:30 p.m.
Haskell vs. Wyandotte, 4:30 p.m.
Grove vs. Fort Gibson, 7 p.m.
at Joe Becker
Sarcoxie vs. Grove JV, noon
East Newton vs. Welch, 2 p.m.
Neosho vs. Sequoyah, 4:30 p.m.
Miami vs. Sequoyah, 6:30 p.m.
at Mantle Field
Miners Division Championship Game, 11 a.m.
Comet Division Championship Game, 1 p.m.
Triple Crown Championship Game, 3 p.m.
at Joe Becker
Miners Third Place Game, 11 a.m.
Comet Third Place Game, 1 p.m.
Triple Crown Third Place Game, 3 p.m.
at Wendell Redden
Miners Fifth Place Game, 11 a.m.
Comet Fifth Place Game, 1 p.m.
Triple Crown Fifth Place Game, 3 p.m.
— Times and sites could vary.