I’m going to use this post to continue one series — admittedly one I’ve let lapse a bit — and kick off a new series.
First off, the new series. Earlier this season, I was reading the comments on an article that had something to do with the Yankees, and someone said that Gleyber Torres was the best Yankees prospect since Mickey Mantle. This got two immediate reactions from me: 1) Hyperbole from a Yankees fan? How shocking… and 2) I’m in my 44th season of following baseball and I’ve seen my share of “Next Mickey Mantles” come and go.
But then I paused and thought that it might be fun to do an occasional series on the various “Next Mickey Mantles” who – spoiler alert! – were not Mickey Mantle. We’re going to start off with Tom Tresh, who was before my time but was among the first, if not the first “next Mickey Mantle”.
Going into the 1962 season, the Yankees learned that starting shortstop Tony Kubek would be called into active military duty, and Tom Tresh won the starting job in spring training. Tresh had a breakout rookie season, batting .286 with 94 runs, 93 RBI, 26 doubles and 20 homers, even while shifting to left field in August because of Kubek’s return. Along with his impressive rookie stats, Tresh would make the All-Star team, win Rookie of the Year and continue his performance into the postseason where he hit a game-winning homer in Game 5 of the World Series and making a key catch off of Willie Mays in Game Six.
Tresh stayed in the outfield for 1963, spelling Mickey Mantle when the HOFer was injured, made another all-star team and hit two homers in the World Series against St. Louis.
Over the next few years, Tresh would win a Gold Glove and maintain his hitting prowess, but the Yankees dynasty was crumbling around him as the team went from pennant winners in 1964 to basement dwellers in 1966 (cue Edith & Archie Bunker: “Those were the DAYS!”) During Spring Training of 1967 Tresh tore up his knee but had been asked/told to play through it. This turned out to be a turning point in his career as his performance during the season would suffer greatly and even after post-season surgery, he would never be the same.
…And now to the “Guy Before The Guy” part. During Tresh’s 9 years in pinstripes, he wore #15. His Yankee career ended in June 1969 when his request to be traded to the Tigers was fulfilled (Tresh was from Michigan). A couple of months later, the Yankees gave #15 to a promising young catcher they’d called up to fill in while backup catcher Frank Fernandez was fulfilling his military obligation… That prospect would go on to be the 1970 A.L. Rookie of the year, 1976 A.L. MVP, a 7-time all-star and 3-time Gold Glove winning Thurman Munson.
The Yankees retired Munson’s number after his tragic death in 1979, so Tom Tresh is the player who had a number before the player for whom the number was retired…. in other words, Tom Tresh was “The Guy Before The Guy”.