Mickey Mantle shown on the back 'front page' of the New York "Daily News” newspaper, April 18, 1953. Mantle is holding the home run ball he hit out of Washington, D.C.’s Griffith Stadium, estimated to have gone a distance of some 562 feet.
It was mid-April 1953. Dwight Eisen- hower was president, the Korean War was in its third year, and a young baseball player named Mickey Mantle was hitting some monster home run shots for the New York Yankees. One of these came in a game with the Washington Senators at the Senators’ home field at Griffith Stadium, Washington, D.C.
Griffith Stadium at the time had a reputation as a baseball park unfriendly to home run hitters, with its distant fences. The stadium’s dimensions, though varying over the years with changes to its structure, were roughly 400 feet down the left field line, 420 to center, and just under 330 to right. Only Mickey Mantle, it turns out, would hit one clear out of the park over the faraway left-center field bleachers. Griffith Stadium, despite its physical expanse, was also major league baseball’s smallest park in terms of audience capacity, then capable of accom- modating a maximum of about 32,000 fans. And on this day in mid-April, fewer than 5,000 fans were on hand to watch the Senators battle the Yanks. But Mickey Mantle would soon give them something to remember.
Pitching for the Senators that day was Chuck Stobbs, a southpaw. Stobbs had broken into the majors with Boston in 1947, was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 1952, and then to the Senators. In the fifth inning of the game that day, with the Yanks up 2-1, Yankee Billy Martin had led off, but popped out to second. Then Phil Rizzuto came to bat and grounded out to short. Yogi Berra was next, and Dobbs walked him. There were two outs. Then Mantle came to the plate. Mantle, a switch-hitter, batted right against Stobbs.
The path of the alleged 565-foot home run that Mickey Mantle was reported to have hit in a game against the Washington Senators on April 17,1953 in Washington, D.C.’s former Griffith Stadium. (Associated Press).
As the young center fielder dug in at the plate, there was some discussion on the Yankee bench about whether this “kid,” Mantle, then 21 and in his second full season, might be able to hit the ball as far as the big scoreboard in the left field bleachers. Jim Brideweser reportedly remarked to Yankee coach Jim Turner, “I bet this kid could hit that big scoreboard.”
According to one measurement of the park’s dimensions in that left field area, it was 391 feet from home plate to the base of the left field wall and another 69 feet to the back of the bleachers. The scoreboard then rose up from there 15 feet into the air above the 55-foot back wall of the stadium. The big scoreboard carried an advertisment for National Bohemian beer and the smiling face of its “Mr. Boh” logo. Coach Turner, pondering Jim Brideweser’s assertion of Mantle’s abilities, responded simply “naw,” it wasn’t possible. The kid couldn’t do that. “Nobody could do that,” said Turner. And as of that moment, nobody ever had.
Young Mickey Mantle at spring training, 1954. AP photo.
Mantle passed on the first pitch thrown by Stobbs. Ball one. “Stobbs had a nice, easy overhand motion,” Mantle would later say of the Senator’s pitcher. “I had gotten him once the year before for a homer. He threw hard but not too hard. He also had good control. He was always around the plate.” On the next pitch Stobbs came back at Mantle with either a fastball or a slider; he couldn’t recall when later asked about it. Which ever it was, the ball came in over the plate about waist high and Mantle unloaded on it with his full power. Mantle would always tell reporters in later years that he gave everything he had in his batting swings, always trying to hit the ball as hard as he possibly could — “swinging for the fences” as they say. “Some American League pitchers swore Mantle swung so hard he made the air dance,” observed former Washington Post writer Jane Leavy, who is also doing a biography on Mantle. But on this day in Griffith Park, Mickey Mantle connected solidly with that second Chuck Stobbs pitch, hitting the ball with explosive force. The ball was hit so high into the air that Senator’s infielder Wayne Terwilliger said “Mantle was at second base by the time it came down.”
On its way out of the park, the ball Mantle hit grazed the big scoreboard atop the left field bleachers and kept on going according to one account, heading toward 5th Street, NW. Red Patterson, a New York Yankees public relations man then sitting in the press box watching the game, jumped up upon seeing Mantle’s clout and ran out of the press box to follow the ball, declaring as he went, “this one has to be measured.”
Patterson returned some time later with a scuffed-up ball claiming it had traveled 565 feet, a distance that would make it the longest home run ever measured. Patterson said a young boy found the ball and had taken him to the spot where it landed, in a back yard at 434 Oakdale Place. Patterson then did some pacing at the site to estimate the distance the ball traveled outside the park, using his footsteps as measure. Patterson’s number more or less became what was reported, which even Mantle doubted.
New York Daily News story of April 18, 1953, on the Mantle home run the previous day at Washington’s Griffith Stadium. Story appeared on page 25.
The next day, the Washington Post headline said, “Mantle’s 565-Foot Homer Clears Leftfield Stands.” An Associated Press photograph that ran with the story had an arrow superimposed over the Griffith Stadium setting that traced the trajectory of Mantle’s blast. In the New York newspapers as well, there was much banter about Mantle’s prodigious shot. The New York Daily News put Mantle’s homer at 562 feet and also included a diagram of its trajectory leaving the park. In fact, the term “tape measure home run” is said to have come about as a result of the Mantle Griffith Stadium home run, though no tape measure was actually used. However, there would be some dispute and downplaying of Mantle’s home run by critics, some saying that a strong wind was blowing out to left field that day which aided Mantle’s efforts. Jane Leavy has reported that the Weather Bureau found that wind gusts in Griffith Stadium up to 41 mph blew toward the bleachers between 3 and 4 p.m.
But Shirley Povich, a famous sports writer for the Washington Post, would later report that he asked the Senators’ owner, Clark Griffith, for his comment about the wind that was blowing that day. Griffith’s answer: “I don’t care about that,” he said. “That consarned wind has been blowing for 100 years and nobody else ever hit one out of this ballpark like that.” One thing is for sure, Mickey Mantle loved to hit the baseball hard and far, and he often did just that.Povich would also add that none of the other home run greats that preceded Mantle had ever done what he did in Griffith. “Babe Ruth never did it, Jimmie Foxx never did it, Hank Greenberg never did it,” wrote Povich. Only Mantle.
Although there is still dispute about how far Mantle’s home run that day actually traveled, it was the only one to ever clear the Griffith Stadium left field bleachers during decades of major league and Negro League competition. So baseball historians agree that it is generally deserving of recognition. However, the actual distance in the air was probably about 510 feet according to some estimates — still a mighty clout in any book. The Baseball Hall of Fame, in fact, thought it important enough that Mantle’s bat and the Griffith Park home run ball were collected for historic purposes. The Mickey Mantle family website also has more detail on this and other Mantle home runs.
Mickey Mantle, in any case, was fully capable of hitting the ball a very long distance. Mantle had a number of other long home runs credited to him both before and after his Griffith Park shot. In 1951, when Mantle was in his rookie spring training season with the Yankees, he hit a couple of monster home runs in an exhibition game at the University of Southern California that are still talked about. Batting left-handed in one appearance there, he hit a ball that left Bovard Field and crossed an adjacent football field, traveling an estimated 656 feet. Some cite it as the longest home run in baseball history. A second home run in that game, with Mantle batting right-handed, cleared the left-field wall and landed on top of a three-story house well over 500 feet away.
Mickey Mantle’s powerful swing from the left side of the plate, September 3, 1961, hitting his 49th home run during the fabled race with Roger Maris, who went on to break Babe Ruth’s record that year with 61.
Throughout his career, Mantle would hit other memorable shots — including one alleged 600-foot-plus home run at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium in September1960. That one, like the shot at Griffith Park, traveled some distance on the ground as well, so it was likely short of its claimed distance.“Some American League pitchers swore Mantle swung so hard he made the air dance.” — Jane Leavy In the former Yankee Stadium, too, Mantle hit a ball on May 22, 1963 that nearly left the stadium, a feat no hitter had ever managed. The ball struck the facade on the right-field roof approximately 370 feet from home plate and 115 feet above field level. Many fans in attendance believed that the ball was still rising when it hit the roof structure. Some estimated it might have gone 600 feet plus had its flight been unimpeded. But experts say the flight of the ball observed by fans that day was an optical illusion and that the ball Mantle hit was already on its way down when it hit the roof, though still a singular accomplishment and memorable home run.
Mickey Mantle was a much loved baseball player, typically humble about his hitting abilities and not the boastful type when it came to claiming records or distance. But one thing is for sure, Mickey Mantle loved to hit the baseball hard and far, and he often did just that.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Mantle’s Griffith Shot, April 1953,” PopHistoryDig.com, February 12, 2010.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Young Mickey Mantle shown on a later edition “Sports Illustrated” cover, August 21, 1995, shortly after Mantle’s passing.
Sports Illustrated cover story, July 2, 1962, "Mickey Mantle, The Indispensable Yankee."
Mickey Mantle holding the ball he hit out of Griffith Park, April 17, 1953.
Maury Allen, Memories of the Mick, Taylor Pub- lishing: Dallas, Texas, 1997, pp. 54-57.
Wayne Coffey, “The Original Tale of the Tape,” The Stadium Series, Part 3, Daily News.com, 2007, p. 1.
“Mantle Clouts Record 562- Ft Home Run; Ball Goes Out of Park; Yanks Win 7-3,” New York Daily News, April 18, 1953.
“Mantle Hits 562-Foot Homer as Yankees Defeat Nats 7-3; Mickey’s Blow Sets Record at Washington,” Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1953, p. B-1.
Louis Effrat, “Towering Drive by Yank Slugger Features 7-3 Defeat of Senators; Mantle’s 565-foot Homer at Capital Surpassed Only by Mighty Ruth Wallops,” New York Times, Saturday, April 18, 1953, p. 12.
Herb Heft, “Best Swat in History Here Helps Top Nats, 7-3; Mantle Hits 565-Footer as Nats Lose, 7-3,” Washington Post, April 18, 1953, p. 13.
Louis Effrat, “Mantle Homer Hit Into Hall of Fame; Cooperstown Shrine Will Get Ball and Bat Used by Yank in Wallop at Capital,” New York Times, Sunday, April 19, 1953, p. S-1.
“Joe Dimaggio Hails Mantle,” Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1953, p. C-1.
“No Wind, Declares Judge, Helped Mantle Homer,” New York Times, Tuesday, April 21, 1953, Sports, p. 34.
Shirley Povich, “To Whom It May Concern,” Washington Post, April 26, 1953, p. C-1.
Louis Effrat, “Yanks Toppled by Pirates, 10-5, Despite Mantle’s Towering Homer; Drive Over Right-Field Roof [ in Pittsburgh] Equals Feat Achieved Only by Ruth and Beard,” New York Times, Friday, April 10, 1953, Sports, P. 27.
Joseph M. Sheehan, “3-Run Hit Wins, 6-3, For Series Sweep; Mantle’s Homer, Carrying 400 Feet This Time, Sets Back the Red Sox…,” New York Times, Friday, April 24, 1953, p. 31, 982 words
“Mickey Mantle Blasts 480 Foot Homer in St. Louis,” Washington Post, April 30, 1953, Sports, p. 25.
Close-up portion of full-page 1953 ad for a ‘torture tested’ Timex watch taped to Mickey Mantle’s baseball bat.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Timex, a brand-named wristwatch, became some- thing of an iconic American product through a long-running advertising campaign that used celebrities to pitch the product. Print ads, such as the one at right with New York Yankee baseball star, Mickey Mantle, were featured in the major magazines of the day. They showed Timex watches being subject to various kinds of “torture tests” to demonstrate their durability, shock resistance, and/or superior waterproof- ing. In the ad at right, the watch was taped to Mantle’s bat as he took batting practice.
The Timex “torture test” advertising was also used in TV ads, a series made popular by celebrity newscaster John Cameron Swayze who hosted the spots. A number of these ads also featured sports celebrities who doled out the tough treatment to the watches and/or supplied an endorsing statement. Swayze also hosted non-celebrity Timex ads in which the watch would be subject to other trials — whether placed in a washing machine or attached to the bow of a speed boat. Swayze had made a name for himself as a broadcaster and became a trusted national personality and a believable pitchman for Timex. For over 20 years — well into the 1970s — Swayze appeared in the advertising series with one kind of Timex watch or another being subject to various physical challenges to prove their durability, shock resistance, and/or superior waterproofing.
Full page layout of Mickey Mantle ad.
In the Mickey Mantle print ad, for example, the full-page version, shown at left, starts off with the following headline:
“AMAZING TEST BY MICKEY MANTLE PROVES TIMEX WATCHES ARE REALLY RUGGED…”
Two photographic panels then show Mantle in action swinging his bat, with one close-up of the barrel of the bat with the Timex watch taped to it. Then the ad’s text and a smaller headline run below the photos:
“Unusual Verified Shock Test Proves Timex Can Take a Beating Yet Keep on Ticking”
“At Yankee Stadium, Mickey Mantle, one of the great power hitters of modern baseball stepped to the plate. To the back of his bat was strapped a Timex Marlin watch. 50 times a ball was pitched to the Yankee slugger. 50 times, he sent scorching drives to all corners of the park. Then, in the presence of witnesses, Mickey examined the Timex watch. It was still running — and still on time! Here is dramatic proof of the amazing sturdiness, accuracy and dependability which has made Timex the watch choice of millions.”
Full-page Timex ad touting its watches in the ‘Saturday Evening Post,’ 1953.
Timex is an American watch company with roots that date to 1854 and the Waterbury Clock Company that began in Connecticut’s Naugatuck Valley. Waterbury became known as the “Switzerland of America” during the 19th century. Its sister company, Waterbury Watch, manufactured the first inexpensive pocket watch in 1880. By World War I, Waterbury began making wristwatches, which were just then becoming popular. In the 1930s, Waterbury became known for creating the first Mickey Mouse clock with Mickey’s hands pointing to the time.
During World War II, Waterbury Clock became U.S. Time Company and following the war, in 1950, it introduced the Timex wristwatch. At first, jewelers resisted carrying the watch because of its low 50 percent mark-up, as other brands offered 100 percent mark-ups. U.S. Time Co. then went elsewhere with its watches, setting up displays in drugstores, department stores, and cigar stands — mechanical displays that dunked a ticking watch into water and banged it with a hammer. Then the company began its magazine advertising, stressing its product’s durability, shock resistance, and waterproofing. Consumers soon began buying the watches. By 1951, the company had produced almost 2 million, gaining an 18 percent share of the low-priced U.S. wristwatch market.
1950s’ print ad showing turtles ‘testing’ Timex watches – ‘banged around all day on ten turtles underwater. They all kept running right on time...They all lived up to the waterproof, shock-resistant guarantee...’
Then in 1952-54, the company began a more focused advertising campaign, first with print ads using the torture tests — a la Mickey Mantle, race horses, swimming turtles, and more. Shortly thereafter, in 1956, it teamed up with spokesman John Cameron Swayze to do TV advertising, and sales took off. The company later became the Timex Corporation, then the Timex Group. To date, Timex has sold over one billion watches. But it was in the 1950s that the brand established itself, and in no small part due to its celebrity-assisted, “torture test” advertising, using the famous line, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
What made Timex watches so durable was their design and inner workings. Technically, the watch employed a special escapement which had a cone-shaped balance staff that rotated in bearings made of a very hard alloy called “Armalloy.” The balance staff is the most delicate component in a watch, the part most likely to be displaced by a jolt. Timex made theirs sturdier, which greatly enhanced the watch’s shock-resistance. In addition, the Timex movement had fewer parts than other watches, making it even more durable. The Timex watch was also priced right — with 1950s prices ranging initially from $6.75 to $7.95, then $9.95 to $12.95. And the watches kept reasonably good time, off only by a minute or two a day, according to one 1950s’ estimate. Consumers loved them, and they snapped them up in the millions.
Timex magazine ad of 1954 showing four sports stars who tested and/or endorsed Timex watches.
One round of ads in the print series appearing in 1954 featured sports stars in addition to Mickey Mantle. Ben Hogan, a top professional golfer in the 1950s, was also featured in some Timex ads during this period (see below, later), as was professional boxer Rocky Marciano, shown below in a separate ad. The Timex print ads also included female athletes putting the watch through its paces.
In the ad copy at right — with a headline billing Timex as “The Action Watch for Active People” — four panels show a selection of athletes who tested the watches. In ad’s top half, skater Barbara Ann Scott is shown in the left photograph, and golf star, Babe Didrikson at right. Scott won North American, World and Olympic figure skating honors between 1945 and 1948 and was the first female to land a double lutz when she was 13. Didrikson, a phenomenal Olympic track star in the 1930s, later turned to a successful career in professional golf. Scott and Didrikson, like Mantle and Marciano who are also shown here, were also featured in separate magazine ads as well as this composite.
Saturday Evening Post ad, June 1954, featuring Rocky Marciano.
One version of the Rocky Marciano ad appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of June 1954. Marciano was then the World Heavyweight Boxing Champ. In the ad, the headline and text ran as follows:
The Watch ‘The Rock’ Couldn’t Stop!
“The Timex Waterproof Marlin rides Rocky Marciano’s smashing, jolting punches on the body bag, the rapid, bouncing blows in the light bag, then a hot and cold shower. At the end of this workout, Rocky checked and said: ‘Still running, and right on time. It’s true that Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking — a true champion’.”
Then in 1956, Timex moved its torture-test advertising campaign to television, teaming up with John Cameron Swayze.
John Cameron Swayze The News & Timex
John Cameron Swayze, NBC Radio.
In the person of John Cameron Swayze, Timex found a perfect pitchman — a much-liked and confident newsman with a “crisp but folksy voice,” as one New York Times writer would later describe him. Swayze, working with Timex, received about twenty years’ worth of national TV exposure in the ad series and he became a familiar celebrity and something of a household name as a result.
Swayze was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1904. He aspired first to the Broadway stage and had attended drama school in New York, but in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the dismal economy foreclosed acting possi- bilities. He threw in his lot as a newspaper reporter, working in Kansas City, shortly becoming a radio broadcaster there. He then moved to Hollywood in 1944 landing a desk job with NBC’s Western News Division. In 1947 the network moved him to New York, where Swayze proposed a radio quiz program, Who Said That, in which a panel tried to identify people behind a famous quote. NBC liked the idea and so did his listeners. NBC later appointed Swayze to moderate their televised coverage of the 1948 Republican and Democratic national conventions — the first ever such coverage. The following year he became one of the first “news anchormen,” hosting the Camel News Caravan, a 15-minute news program sponsored by Camel cigarettes that was broadcast five times a week on NBC ( later sponsored on alternating nights by Plymouth automobiles, called the Plymouth News Caravan).
John Cameron Swayze in TV news studio, 1949.
At the time, newspapers and newsreels were the primary sources of news. The News Caravan shows replaced the old newsreel format, becoming the forerunners of the modern TV newscast. The show included live news events, interviews with entertainers and government officials, and roundups by commen- tators from different cities. Swayze would later be described by New York Times writer Randy Kennedy as bringing ” a light, jaunty touch to the news.” He would also be accused by some as being more interested in pictures and personalities than hard news. Swayze would later say that part of his role was “making people feel good.” In any case, the news show became quite popular, and Swayze with it, becoming one of TV’s first “news celebrities.” In addition to the News Caravan, Swayze appeared on other programs during the early ’50s including as a permanent panelist on the NBC quiz show Who Said That? where he impressed viewers and colleagues with his encyclopedic knowledge of current events. He also hosted a show for kids called Watch the World.
Swayze at torture test with outboard motor.
On the evening news show, Swayze built up huge ratings as an energetic and confident newscaster. He wrote most of the scripts and memorized them so he could look directly as his audience. Those who worked with him said he had a terrific memory. However, by 1956 as his rating slipped, Swayze had fallen out of favor and was dismissed as NBC brought on a new anchor team Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Swayze then moved over to Timex, essentially bringing his newscasting style to “reporting” the gospel according to Timex, becoming known for the trade-marked ‘keeps on ticking’ catch-phrase at the end of each spot. Swayze did the Timex TV ads for about two decades. He appeared in advertising for other products as well, including Camel cigarettes and Studebaker cars. Swayze also made a few movie cameos during his career, but he is most remembered for his Timex spots. John Cameron Swayze died in August 1995 at his summer home in Sarasota, Florida, having moved there from Connecticut after falling into ill health. He was 89.
Swayze & Timex
The Timex TV ads — with Swayze setting up the action and reporting on the results — showed Timex watches being strapped to the propeller of an outboard motor, taped to a lobster claw in an underwater tank, or being held fist-first by a famous Acapulco cliff diver going head first into the sea from high cliffs. In these action spots, Swayze would retrieve the watch after the test and show it close up, or the camera would otherwise zoom in on the watch in its attached position so viewers could see the sweep hand moving over the watch face. Swayze at that point would typically add something like: “Incredibly, the watch is still working after taking that pounding — Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Americans loved the ads, and many wrote in by the thousands, suggesting new ways to torture the Timex pieces. One Air Force sergeant even offered to crash a plane while wearing a Timex watch. But the torture tests were selling those watches. By the end of the 1950s, one out of every three watches bought in the U.S. was a Timex.
1950s Timex ad with pro golfer, Ben Hogan.
Among other tortures that Timex watches endured and survived in these demonstrations were the following: being placed in a paint mixer, frozen in an ice cube tray, spun in a vacuum cleaner, placed on the leg of a race horse, attached to ice skater’s boot above the blade (see video above ), tossed over the Grand Coulee Dam, attached to an archer’s arrow tip that was shot through a pane of glass, attached to the blade of an outboard motor, strapped to a tackle line and cast off a deep-sea fishing boat, attached to the pontoon of a plane that landed on water in Hawaii, and swallowed by a farmer’s cow in Texas. However, there was one reported incident of an elephant crushing a Timex — a board with a Timex affixed to its underside, then stood upon by the elephant in a one-leg pose.
In most of the tests — some done live — Swayze was always his buoyant self and rarely at a loss for words, filling in with appropriate banter when need be — as he did when one Mexican cliff diver was being banged around in rough surf after completing his dive with a Timex. In another live commercial, broadcast in 1958 during The Steve Allen Show, a watch that had been fastened to the blade of outboard motor being run in a stage tank, came off during the test and Swayze could not retrieve it. “Without missing a beat,” explains New York Times writer, Randy Kennedy, Swayze reported that the watch was probably “still ticking” at the bottom of the tank.
Timex ads in more recent years have sought a hipper image, with various plays on one’s use of time, here for the Ironman triathlete type (2009).
In May 1960, Swayze and Timex received some special exposure when three Timex TV ads ran on the much-watched Frank Sinatra Timex Show — Welcome Home Elvis. That show starred Sinatra and his “Rat Pack” group of friends and entertainers who were welcoming Elvis Presley back from his stint in the U.S. Army. In one of the ads during that show, Swayze stood by as the dolphin “Nellie” tested the watch in a series of jumps at Marine World in Florida. Timex, meanwhile, continued to do well in sales, and was soon at the top of the U.S. and world markets. By 1963, nearly half the watches sold in the U.S. were from Timex. By 1967, it was the world’s best-selling watch brand.
In the 1970s, the American watch and clock industry was devastated by the arrival of cheap mechanical watches from the Far East, as well as the development of digital quartz watches pioneered by the Japanese. Timex survived the 1970s and 1980s and began a comeback. It phased out mechanical watch production in favor of digital watches and also introduced new lines. In 1986, its “Ironman Triathlon” watch, jointly devised by athletes and industrial designers, became America’s best-selling watch, later adding a full line for men and women to become the world’s largest selling sports watch well into the1990s. Timex remains profitable and competitive today, although its primary market remains the U.S. and Canada. The company sells a number of other brands such as Guess, Nautica, Ecko, Opex and is also in the luxury watch market with Versace. It also manufactures the Timex Datalink series of PDA-type watches, GPS-enabled watches, heart rate monitor exercise watches, and other high-tech devices.
1991 Timex ad touting survival abilities of its wearer and also the ‘keeps-on-ticking’ slogan in red lettering that encircles description, below.
1991 Timex watch ad description of Helen Thayer.
“Ticking” in 1990s
John Cameron Swayze and his Timex ads, meanwhile, remained a staple of the company’s TV advertising through the mid- to-late-1970s, then being phased out. However, in 1989, about a decade after the ads had ceased, Timex decided to bring back the famous slogan — and also Swayze’s recorded voice — to use in some newer TV ads. Swayze at the time was then in his 80s. Timex desperately wanted to modernize its image at the time and not return to the past. However, research convinced Timex otherwise, showing that baby boomers who grew up with the ads had a fondness for them and remembered Swayze and the lines. Timex asked 2,000 consumers what they remem- bered most about the watch maker. “Just about everyone said, ‘It takes a licking and keeps on ticking’,” said Timex advertising manager Ron Sok in1989. “Keep in mind, we hadn’t used that slogan in our ads for 10 years.”
So Timex dusted off its old slogan, added some funny plot lines, and launched their new TV ads for 1989-1990. One featured Timex watches strapped to the bellies of Sumo wrestlers — with the watches surviving. Another showed a psychic with mind power that could bend a fork, but couldn’t stop a Timex watch. A third had an opera singer’s shrill voice shattering every object in the opera hall — except the Timex watch. And at the end of each of these ads came Swayze’s voice assuring the viewers that, indeed, Timex watches “keep on ticking.” In print ads too, Timex featured individuals who endured /survived rugged physical challenges — i.e., took a licking, but kept on ticking — as shown in the 1991 sample ad at right. But in these ads, Timex also found a way to keep using its venerable slogan, “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” printed in red to encircle the descriptive ad copy.
Timex has since revamped its advertising strategy a few times, using newer and hipper themes — though departing from its classic slogan with some trepidation. In 2003 or so, it tried “Timex: Life is Ticking” and more recently it has used, “Timex: Be There Now,” as in the ad sample for the Ironman watch shown above earlier. Still, in the pantheon of memorable advertising, the “keeps on ticking” line remains one of the top rated ad campaigns — ranked No. 40 by Advertising Age on its list of the top 100 campaigns of the 20th century. The classic Timex campaign of the 1950s and 1960s is also a good example of the use of novelty action and celebrity association in advertising.
To see additional stories on advertising and marketing at this website, go to the “Madison Avenue” category page which lists thumbnails and more story choices. See also the “Annals of Sport” page or the “TV & Culture” page for stories in those categories. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle
Rocky Marciano, in full-page advertisement for Timex Watches at training camp, Saturday Evening Post, June 1954.
Isadore Barmash, “The Mainspring of Timex; Lehmkuhl Pins Hope On Quartz Watches,” New York Times, Sunday, December 5, 1971, Business & Finance, p. F-7.
Randall Rothenberg, The Media Business: Advertising, “Some of Those Slogans Just Keep On Ticking,” New York Times, Friday, December 9, 1988.
Bruce Horovitz, “It’s Commercial ‘Deja Vu’ As Old Ad Slogans Become the Latest Thing,”Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1989.
John Cameron Swayze also did advertisements for Camel cigarettes in the 1950s, as Camel sponsored his news show. In that day, however, celebrities of all stripes -- actors, TV personalities, even sports stars -- did tobacco ads.
Brian Jenkins, “John Cameron Swayze Dead at 89,”CNN, August 16, 1995.
Randy Kennedy, John Cameron Swayze, 89, Journalist and TV Pitchman,” New York Times, August 17, 1995.
“Top 100 Advertising Campaigns: The Advertising Century,” AdAge.com, (Advertising Age maga- zine), viewed, August 16, 2009.
Timex Torture Test TV Ad (1950s), “Extreme Cliff Diving,” Timex TV Ad with John Cameron Swayze featuring Champion Cliff Diver, Raoul Garcia at the La Perla Cliffs, Aculpulco, Mexico, on You Tube. (2:23 minutes).
Timex Torture Test TV Ad (1960), “Nellie The Dolphin,” Timex TV Ad with John Cameron Swayze at Marine World, Florida, on You Tube (2:05 minutes)
Timex Torture Test TV Ad (1971), “Champion Skater,” at Sun Valley, Idaho with John Cameron Swayze,on You Tube. (1:30 minutes)
Barbara Matusow, The Evening Stars, New York: Houghton-Mifflin Co.,1983.
Jeff Alan, Anchoring America: The Changing Face of Network News , 2003, 426pp.
More recent Timex ad: ‘Before you yell ‘Surf’s Up!’ make sure you know what you’re talking about. The Timex E-Instruments E-Tide & Temp provides tidal trend and air or water temperature readings all with the push of a button.’
Stuart Elliott, The Media Business, “Advertising: ‘Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking’ Is On The Way Out at Timex. Now, it’s ‘Life is ticking’,” New York Times, August 26, 2003.
1955 TV Newscast With John Cameron Swayze (Sample 1), Plymouth News Caravan of April 18, 1955, You Tube ( 8:42 minutes). Note: This early TV newscast bears little resemblance to today’s more sophisticated product, but it does show the early origins of TV news and format. Stories covered in this example include the death of Albert Einstein and some earlier statements by Einstein on camera. Also includes commercials.
1955 TV Newscast with John Cameron Swayze, (Sample 2), Plymouth News Caravan of April 21, 1955 (14+ minutes). Plymouth News Caravan alternated with Camel News Caravan on Tuesday and Thursday nights, 7:45-8pm, Eastern Time.
Detroit Tigers infielder Don Wert watches Mickey Mantle circle the bases after hitting his 535th career home run, September 19, 1968.
America was not in the best of moods in the fall of 1968. The country was still convulsing from events near and far that would mark the year as one of the most tumultuous in the history the 20th century. The Tet offensive in Vietnam came in January. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not run for re-election in late March. Martin Luther King was killed in April. Bobby Kennedy struck down in June. Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops crushed Czechoslovakia’s “Prague Spring” in August. The Democrats’ National Convention in Chicago that month became a spectacle of political ugliness, both inside the hall and on the streets, with clashes and confrontations over Vietnam and the nation’s future. But then, in the midst of all this, there was still baseball, the national pastime; the one constant thing; an oasis of predictable pace apart from the turmoil. Baseball was there in those dark days, in the background perhaps, but doing its thing; playing its games, day after day, from April thru October.
One of the game’s old lions at the time, Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees, was nearing the end of his storied career. On September 19th, as the regular season was winding down, the Yankees were playing the Detroit Tigers in Detroit. The Tigers had already won the American League pennant that year, propelled there in part by ace pitcher Denny McLain, and were headed to the World Series. But in this game, Mantle hit his 535th home run, then putting him on the all-time homer list at No. 3, behind only Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. Mantle hit this homer off Denny McLain, who still picked up his amazing 31st win that year, as Detroit beat the Yanks, 6-2. It was Mantle’s 17th home run of the 1968 season — not the 30 or more he would normally hit each year during his prime. Mantle’s final career homer — #536 — came the next day on September 20, 1968 off Boston’s Jim Lonborg. Mantle in those games, with his season-ending home runs, was in the last days of his career, though his official retirement announcement would not come until the following year, on March 1, 1969. These were his last games.
'Mickey Mantle: Born for The Majors,' cover story, Time, June 15, 1953.
In later years Mantle would joke half heartedly about his hobbled, late-career performance: “Hitting the ball was easy,” he’d say. “Running around the bases was the hard part.” Those who played with Mantle, however, knew it wasn’t funny. In the above photo, you can almost see him wincing as he ran the bases.
Mantle had been a baseball sensation when he first came up in the early 1950s, a player with a rare combination of speed and switch-hitting power the game had not seen in years. Through the 1950s and early 1960s, he became one of baseball’s most feared hitters, and his speed on the base paths and in the outfield made him an all-around player, especially in his early years. Mantle played his entire 18-year career with the Yankees, winning three American League MVP titles. He was also selected to play on 16 American League All-Star teams. With the Yankees, Mantle played on 12 pennant winners and 7 World Series champions. As of 2007, he still held the records for most World Series home runs (18), RBIs (40), runs (42), walks (43), extra-base hits (26), and total bases (123).
“The Kid From Joplin” (From David Halberstam’s October 1964)
The Mantle legend, which began with his signing, grew during a special rookie camp the Yankees had…in 1950. There, some of the old-timers in the organization got a sense that they were seeing something rare; a true diamond in the rough. Mantle’s potential, his raw ability, his speed, his power from both sides of the plate, were almost eerie. If his talent were honed properly, they thought they were quite possibly looking at someone who might become the greatest player in the history of the game. There were some fast players in that camp, and one day someone decided that all the faster players should get together and have a race. Mantle, whose true speed had not yet been comprehended, simply ran away from the others. What had made some of the stories coming out of the camp so extraordinary was the messenger himself, Bill Dickey — the former Yankee catcher, a Hall of Fame player, and a tough, unsentimental old-timer who had played much of his career with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and [Tommy] Henrich. He was not lightly given to hyperbole. Dickey started talking about Mantle to Jerry Coleman, the veteran second baseman, with superlatives that were unknown for him: “Jerry, he can hit with power righty, he can hit with power lefty, and he can outrun everyone here.”. . .
“He’s going to be the greatest player I’ve ever seen,” Dickey added. A few days later Dickey grabbed his old teammate Tommy Henrich. “Tom, you should see this kid Mantle that played at Joplin. I’ve never seen power like that. He hits the ball and it stays hit. He’s really going to be something.” Even the sound of his home runs, Dickey said, were different, mirroring something Ted Williams would say years later: the crack of the bat against the ball when Mantle connected was like an explosion. Henrich simply shook his head — it was one thing to hear about a coming star from an excited journalist, but quite another to hear it from someone like Bill Dickey.
With Two Good Legs?
Some of Mantle’s teammates and competitors, as well as sports writers and fans, have often wondered what he would have been like had he not been plagued by injuries throughout his career — especially the leg injuries. Mantle had collected some of his injuries early in life, beginning with a leg infection as a high school football player that nearly resulted in an amputation. Still, when he reached the major leagues in 1951, his running speed was among the best in baseball and his power simply awesome. In his early career, some thought him a rare kind of baseball god, possessing both power and speed.
In 1951, when Mantle was first coming up with the Yankees, his prowess was fully apparent. In an exhibition game at the University of Southern California during his rookie spring training season that year, batting left-handed, he hit a home run ball that left Bovard Field and crossed an adjacent football field, traveling an estimated 656 feet. Some cite it as the longest home run in baseball history. Mantle, in fact, hit two home runs that game — a second, right-handed shot cleared the left-field wall and landed on top of a three-story house well over 500 feet away. Throughout his career, Mantle would hit other memorable shots — including a 565-foot home run at Griffith Stadium in Washington in April 1953 (said to have coined the term “tape measure home run”); a 643-foot homer at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium in September1960; and one that almost left Yankee Stadium, which no hitter has ever done. But those who saw Mantle hit during his rookie spring training year of 1951, remember the distinctive crack of the bat when he tore into the baseball; they knew there was something special about this “hayseed from Oklahoma,” as some called him.
Mickey Mantle, 1950s. Photo by Bob Olen.
But leg injuries plagued him from nearly the beginning of his Yankee career. As a 19 year-old rookie in his first World Series game in 1951, Mantle tore the cartilage in his right knee while running for a fly ball when his cleats caught a drainage cover in the outfield grass. His knee twisted awkwardly and witnesses reported him going down “like he had been shot,” hitting the ground instantly. He was carried from the field on a stretcher. Mantle would never play pain-free after that, but play he did — and play well. In 1952, he took over center field duties from retiring Joe DiMaggio, and completed one of his best seasons at the plate. But as the years went by, he would have knee surgery four times, and would apply thick wraps to both of his knees in something of a pre-game ritual. By the end of his career, simply swinging a bat caused him to fall to one knee in pain.
Still, even with his injuries and impaired performance, Mantle managed to compile a record that most professional players can only dream about. During his career with the Yankees, he played more games as a Yankee than any other player (2,401), won three Most Valuable Player awards (’56, ’57 and ’62). In 1956, he won baseball’s Triple Crown with a .353 batting average, 52 homers and 130 RBIs. He led all of major league baseball that year in all three categories. His 536 career home runs was the third highest ever when he retired, behind only Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx, and the most ever by a switch-hitter.
Mickey Mantle with U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) on Sept 18, 1965, ‘Mickey Mantle Day,’ when Mantle played his 2,000th game. Photo by Martin Blumenthal of SPORT magazine.
Indeed, with two good legs, Mickey Mantle might have been a good bet to have broken Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs, and perhaps sooner than 1961 when Roger Maris did it. Mantle may have also compiled a career home run total closer to, if not exceeding 600. His career batting average would probably have bettered .300 as well; with more runs scored and RBIs up too, and perhaps a Gold Glove or two for fielding. All speculation, of course, and “what might have been.” Yet many of his admirers wish it could have been so; that the fair-haired kid from Oklahoma might have had a bit more luck with the health of his legs.
Jack Doyle, “Mickey Mantle’s 535th–September 19, 1968,” PopHistoryDig.com, June 18, 2008.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Mickey Mantle – here in his young “Greek god” body – captured by Life magazine during a celebratory locker room scene, October 1952.
Life magazine cover story, June 25, 1956: “The Remarkable Mickey Mantle,” with story inside: “Prodigy of Power: Mickey Mantle Comes of Age As a Slugger.”
Young Mickey Mantle shown here with wife Merlyn and their two young boys. They would have four sons.
1965 Life magazine photo of Mantle throwing batting helmet in frustration – but check out those forearms!
Mickey Mantle on the cover of Life magazine, July 30, 1965, then at age 33 and in his 15th season with the NY Yankees. “Mantle’s Misery,” read the cover tagline, “He faces physical pain and a fading career.”
Mickey Mantle winces in pain during batting practice at spring training, 1967.
Maury Allen, Memories of the Mick, Taylor Publishing: Dallas, Texas, 1997, 183 pp.
David Halberstam, October 1964, Villard Books, New York, 1994, 380 pp.
“The Remarkable Mickey Mantle,” cover photo, and story: “A Prodigy of Power: Mickey Mantle Comes of Age As a Slugger,”Life, June 25, 1956, pp. 99-102, 105-107.
Roger Kahn, “Remembering Mickey” (cover story), The Sporting News, August 21,1995.
Shirley Povich, “Mantle’s Critics Swing, Miss,” Washington Post, June 19, 1995.
Note: Many of the news stories below mention Mickey Mantle injuries in their headlines, underscoring his hard times with injuries that often took him out of play.
“Mantle to Miss Finale in Boston and Yanks’ Game Here Tomorrow,” New York Times, Monday, May 26, 1952, Sports, p. 28.
“Mantle Rejected for Draft Again; Yanks’ Outfielder Ruled Unfit Because of Injury to Knee Suffered in ’51 Series,” New York Times, Tuesday, November 4, 1952, Sports, p. 34.
Joseph M. Sheehan, “Mantle Is Lost for Final Drive; Skowron Also Sidelined by Injury Suffered Friday. . .,” New York Times, Sunday, September 18, 1955, Sports, p. 2.
John Drebinger, “Ford’s 5-hitter Halts Boston, 7-1; Mantle Clouts 3-Run Homer for Yanks Before Leaving Game With Leg Injury. . .,” New York Times, Saturday, April 21, 1956, Sports, p. 12.
Deans McGowen, “Mantle Injury Held Not Serious, But He’ll Be Out 2 or 3 Days; Sprained Knee Ligaments Troubling Yank Slugger; Physician Orders New Brace; Mickey’s All-Star Role in Doubt,” New York Times, Friday, July 6, 1956, p 24.
“Mantle Hospitalized Five Days For Treatment of Shin Splint,” New York Times, Saturday, September 7, 1957, Sports, p. 27.
John Drebinger, “Braves Have Health and Hitting; Yanks Face Series, With Doubts About Mantle, Skowron,” New York Times, Monday September 30, 1957, Sports, p. 49.
Louis Effrat, “Bombers Face Prospect of Losing Mantle for Fifth Series Contest; Shoulder Injury Handicap to Star; Mantle’s Inability to Throw with Usual Strength Leads to Removal in Tenth,” New York Times, Monday, October 7, 1957, p. 31.
Louis Effrat, “Mantle to Stay out of World Series Opener Unless His Condition Improves; Yankee Slugger Weak and in Pain; Club Doctor Says He Thinks Mantle Can Play, However; Houk Also Confident,”New York Times, Tuesday, October 3, 1961, p. 47.
“Mantle’s Thigh Injury Expected to Sideline Him 2 to 4 Weeks; Star Center Fielder Resting Comfortably but Bombers Are Uncomfortable; Injured Mantle Out 2 to 4 Weeks,” New York Times, Sunday, May 20, 1962, Sports, p.1.
“Mantle on Bench With Knee Injury; Yankee Star Doesn’t Know When He Can Play Again,” New York Times, Tuesday, July 31, 1962, Sports, p. 21.
Louis Effrat, “Mantle Is Forced to Quit in Third; Injury Still Hobbles Star; Bombers Get 14 Hits off 4 Hurlers; Lopez Excels,” New York Times, Saturday, August 4, 1962, Sports, P 13.
John Drebinger, “Mantle Is Hurt in 6-to-1 Victory; Yank Ace Reinjures Muscle in Side,”New York Times, Sunday, April 14, 1963, Sports, p. 167.
Gordon S. White Jr., “Mantle Fractures Left Foot in Yank Victory at Baltimore; 4-3 Game Marred by Star’s Injury Mantle Crashes into Fence Chasing Oriole Homer and Will Be out a Month,” New York Times, Thursday, June 6, 1963, Sports, P. 56.
Leonard Koppett, “Mantle Sidelined Indefinitely with Knee Injury; Yanks Bow to Angels, 5-0; Star Could Miss Rest of Season; Loose Cartilage in Mantle’s Knee Probable Aftermath of Foot Injury on June 5; Injuries Plague Career,” New York Times, Friday, July 26, 1963, Sports, P. 17.
Leonard Koppett, “New Role for Mantle?; Full Time as Pinch-Hitter Is Urged For Ailing Slugger of the Yankees,” New York Times, Sunday, January 23, 1966, Sports, p. 182.
Leonard Koppett, “Mantle Suffers Pulled Muscle after Hitting His 475th Homer; Yankees Bow, 4-2; Mantle Injured,” New York Times, Sunday, May 15, 1966, Sports, P.1.
Joseph M. Sheehan, “Mantle Suffers Injury to Left Leg as Yankees Are Beaten by Red Sox, 5-2; Bomber Slugger Is Hurt Sliding; Injury Termed Not Serious but First Baseman Will Miss Couple of Games,” New York Times, Thursday, March 23, 1967, Sports, p. 41.
“Mantle Ends 18-Year, Injury-Ridden Baseball Career,” New York Times, Sunday, March 2, 1969, p.1.
A graphic of Mickey Mantle’s injuries from:“Mantle's Breaks—and Yours,” Popular Science, October 1964, pp.100-103.
Pop culture and the history & businesses of pop culture, with emphasis on media & entertainment, including sports, politics, advertising & marketing as these relate to media, entertainment & popular culture.