RIP to Jack Reed, a backup Yankees outfielder who earned the nickname of “Mantle’s Legs” because he frequently replaced Mickey Mantle in the late innings of ballgames. Reed, a resident of Silver City, Miss., for most of his life, died on November 10 at the age of 89. He played for the New York Yankees from 1961-63.
John Burwell Reed was born in Silver City on February 2, 1933. He was the third and final child of Burwell and Hallie Reed. Burwell was a prominent cotton farmer in the area as well as a member of the Humphreys County Board of Supervisors for more than three decades. Jack attended high school at Gulf Coast Military Academy in Gulfport, Miss., where he starred at both football and baseball. As an all-purpose back on the Cadets football team, Reed was a scoring threat. In a game against Ridgewood Prep of New Orleans on October 14, 1949, Reed ran for a 45-yard touchdown and threw a 51-yard touchdown pass as well. Reed lettered in football, baseball, basketball and track at GCMA and attended the University of Mississippi when he graduated in 1950. In doing so, he broke a family tradition, as his father and older brother had been student athletes at Mississippi State.
Reed was a quarterback/safety at Ole Miss, but he continued to play whatever sport he could, He became a rare double letterman when he earned a letter for two 1952 spring sports simultaneously, baseball and track. He was the baseball team’s regular first baseman, and he also earned nine points at a track meet with Mississippi State. In 1953, he and the rest of Old Miss played in the Sugar Bowl, losing to Georgia Tech 24-7. On the baseball diamond, Reed moved to the outfield and led the Southeastern Conference in batting for most of the season before finishing in second place with a .400 average. His 4 home runs were tied for the lead in the SEC. That August, Reed announced his intentions to forego his senior year at Ole Miss and sign a professional baseball contract. He signed with the Kansas City Blues of the American Association, an affiliate of the New York Yankees, and played in a handful of games in 1953.
Reed began his first full season of professional baseball in 1954 with the Winston-Salem Twins of the Carolina League and the Quincy Gems of the Three-I League, both of which were Class-B leagues. Between the two teams, he hit .287 with 5 home runs. He raised his average to .308 with the Binghamton Triplets of the Class-A Eastern League in 1955. He added 6 home runs and 13 triples while stealing 20 bases, too. Reed’s upward momentum in the Yankees organization was stopped for two years, as he entered the Army and missed the 1956-57 seasons.
Reed returned to professional baseball with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1958. He picked up right where he left off, with a .308 batting average, and he blasted a career-best 19 home runs, thanks to the short left field fence in New Orleans. Following that success, the Yankees moved him to the Triple-A Richmond Virginians in 1959. Reed spent most of three seasons there, as his batting averages dipped into the .250s and the Yankees tried to figure out just what to do with him. The concern was, 19 homers in ’58 aside, Reed just wasn’t a power hitter, and the Yankees liked their power-hitting outfielders. But as one unnamed baseball professional said of Reed, “Look, you’ve always got to give a player who can run a chance.”
“I guess I’m not considered the Yankee type by a lot of people,” Reed said. “But I sure hope they give me a chance to prove whether I am or not… everybody wants to play with the Yankees.”
Reed’s hitting may have stalled out with Richmond, but his speed and defense didn’t waver, so he became useful to the Yankees as a very specific role player. Starting in 1961, manager Ralph Houk used him as a late-inning defensive replacement or a pinch-runner, particularly for Mickey Mantle. Reed replaced the other Yankees outfielders as well, but Mantle was a special case. The famed slugger had infamously terrible legs, so to keep Mantle as productive as possible, Houk frequently took him out of games early. Thus, Reed became “Mantle’s Legs.”
Reed debuted on April 23, 1961, working an inning in center field to give Mantle a rest. He did the same for Hector Lopez on May 21, when Reed played the last two innings in left field. He was a pinch-runner for Mantle on May 22 and later scored on a grand slam home run by Clete Boyer. And on it went. Reed didn’t get to actually bat until the first game of a May 28 doubleheader against the White Sox. He pinch-ran for Mantle and scored on a Yogi Berra homer, and then he flew out to center against Billy Pierce a couple of innings later. In 28 games with the Yankees in 1961, Reed had a total of 14 plate appearances. He didn’t get a hit until the team’s 160th game of the year on September 27. Mantle was past the point of being able to top Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, so he rested his bad legs over the final few games of the season. Reed, getting a rare start in center field, singled off Baltimore’s Steve Barber. He added another hit in the October 1 game off Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard, which was not the most notable hit Stallard surrendered that day. Yes, this is the game where Roger Maris hit his 61st home run. Reed finished the season with a .154 batting average — 2 hits in 13 at-bats.
Reed almost became a goat after manager Houk had him replace left fielder Yogi Berra in a game against Cleveland on June 15. The game was tied at 2 when Reed went to left field in the eighth inning, and the first batter, Bubba Phillips, hit the ball in his direction. Reed tripped, and the ball bounced over the fence for a ground rule double. Starting pitcher Ralph Terry got out of the inning, and when Reed got back to the dugout, Houk greeted him by saying, “I make my first big move of the year, and you mess it up.” “I’m glad I can laugh about it now,” Reed told reporters after the game.
Though he was technically ineligible to appear in the World Series against the Reds because he had been in the minor leagues at the postseason roster deadline, Commissioner Ford Frick granted the Yankees permission to add Reed to the postseason roster. Outfielder Bob Cerv was disabled because of knee surgery, and Reed was his replacement. He appeared in 3 games, taking over as the center fielder in Games One, Three and Five. Reed would be on the roster for the World Series in each of the next two seasons, but he never made another postseason appearance. For his work with the Yankees in 1961, Reed received a full share of the team’s postseason bonus, which amounted to $7,389.12.
As far as Houk was concerned, Reed made the play of the World Series. He talked about it in a 1963 article in the Daily News. “It was the third game, I think, in Cincinnati, and we had a one-run lead in the ninth inning. [Leo] Cardenas hit a tremendous drive off the scoreboard. Reed took the ball off the wall and threw to the cutoff man as beautifully as I’ve ever seen it done. As a result, Cardenas was held to two bases.” Houk said that the next batter hit a ball deep to shortstop for a ground out, but if Cardenas had been on third base, he would have easily scored and tied the game. “In the condition we were in physically at the time, with Mantle in bad shape, losing that game could have meant losing the Series. If Reed had made a poor play, well…”
Reed appeared in 88 games for the Yankees in 1962, but he only started four games. He pinch-ran 40 times and played evenly across all three outfield positions. In the rare times that he batted in a game — he had 48 plate appearances — he hit the ball well. Reed slashed .302/.362/.465, with 2 doubles, a triple and a home run in his 13 hits. That one home run was one of the biggest hits of the entire Yankees season, because it won a marathon 22-inning game — the longest game in major-league history to that point.
The Yankees got off to a quick start on June 24, scoring 7 runs in the first two innings off Detroit Tigers starter Frank Lary. The Tigers roared right back, knocking Yankees starter Frank Lary out of the game after five batters and tying the game at seven against relievers Jim Coates and Bill Stafford. After six innings, the game was tied at 6… and that’s how it stayed for 15 innings. Yankees rookie Jim Bouton entered the game in the bottom of the 16th and threw 7 shutout innings. Mickey Mantle started in right field for the Yankees and was 1-for-3 with a walk and 2 RBIs. He was relieved by Joe Pepitone in the seventh inning. Pepitone himself was lifted for pinch-hitter Phil Linz in the 13th inning, and Reed replaced him in the field in the 14th. Reed grounded to the pitcher in the 15th inning, struck out looking in the 18th and grounded out to third in the 20th. Then came the 22nd inning, with the Yankees facing Detroit’s Phil Regan. With one out, Roger Maris walked, and Reed tried to bunt him to second but fouled the ball off. On the next pitch, he belted a home run to left field to make the score 9-7. Bouton retired the Tigers in the bottom half of the inning to bring the game to a close, after seven hours. It was just Reed’s fourth hit of the season; he’d gone hitless for the entire months of April and May.
“He gave me a good fastball right down the middle,” Reed said. “Maybe they were thinking I was going to bunt again.” Houk rewarded Reed by giving him a rare start the following day, in center field in place of Maris.
Despite the lack of playing time Reed had, Houk knew his value. “I need him,” the manager said of Reed in the spring of 1962. “He’s got to go in there for Mantle in the seventh and eighth innings. Maybe you don’t realize how important that is, but I do. He’s Mantle’s legs.”
The Yankees manager appreciated Reed for his professionalism and his attitude, and the respect went both ways. “Sure I’d love to be playing regular,” Reed said in the spring of 1963. “Sure I’ve thought about it. But now I realize I have a job to do here with the Yankees and I’m doing it to the best of my ability. It’s a privilege to work for an organization like this and play under a man like Mr. Houk.”
Reed saw the most action of his big-league career in 1963, appearing in 106 games and getting 82 plate appearances. Unlike ’62, he wasn’t able to take advantage of his opportunities to hit and batted just .205. He stole a career-best 5 bases, and he didn’t commit a single error in 268 innings in the outfield. Still, on October 17, the Yankees outrighted him to their farm team in Richmond. The headline in the Daily News read, “Mantle’s Legs (Jack Reed) sold to minors.” It was the end of his major-league career.
Over parts of 3 seasons, Reed appeared in 222 games and had 144 plate appearances. He slashed .233/.308/.326, and his 30 hits included 5 doubles, 2 triples and 1 memorable home run. He scored 39 runs and drove in 6. His fielding percentage was .958 in left field, .967 in center and 1.000 in right, but those below-average percentages are the result of a small sample size. He was an above-average defender at all three positions.
Reed played one more year in the minor leagues, batting .171 in 77 games for Richmond in 1964 as a player-coach. He was being groomed by the Yankees for managerial duties — something that Houk believed he was well-suited to do — and he spent 1965 through ’67 managing in the minors. After that time, however, Reed returned to Mississippi to help manage the family cotton farm following the death of his father. He became an active member of Silver City’s business community, and he also coached youth sports, spoke at public events and sang at his local church. He and his wife, Mabel Louise, had met in college and were married for 68 years. Reed is survived by his wife and four children.
When his major-league career had ended, he was asked if he minded being known as Mantle’s Legs or Mantle’s Caddie. “You have to look at whose place you’re taking,” he replied. “Mantle’s a great player. I know I’m not in his class. I’d like to be; who wouldn’t? But I’m satisfied with what I am.”
For more information: Yazoo Herald