Friday, July 29, 2011

Felix Mantilla: Forgotten Star

As a kid growing up in Boston, the early sixties were dismal days to be a Red Sox fan. Ted Williams was gone, and the team muddled through second division finishes in '63, '64 and '65—losing 100 games in the last year of that run.

The sometime 2B/SS/utility infielder on those teams was Felix Mantilla. He was not a star, but, on his 77th birthday, it might be a good time to look back on his Boston career. It actually started with different Boston laundry—that of the cross-town Braves. Drafted out of Puerto Rico by the Braves in 1952, he roomed in the minors with a guy you might have heard of—Hank Aaron. By then, they were both Milwaukee Braves and came up together in 1956. They won a ring together in 1957—beating the Yankees in seven games. He was also the batter that spoiled Harvey Haddix's perfect game in 1959—reaching base on a fielding error in the 13th inning.

Mantilla came to the Red Sox from the Mets in 1963—in exchange for Boston's first African-American player, Pumpsie Green. It's safe to say that Felix liked the change of scenery.

In '63 he hit .315 in just 66 games, then .289 with 30 home runs in 1964. But in 1965, he hit his stride. Playing in 150 games that year (mostly at 2B), he made his first All-Star team. He hit .275, with 18 home runs and a career-best 92 RBI. He actually knocked in ten more runs than Tony Conigliaro and twenty more than Yaz. But when your team finishes in last place, losing 100 games, no one remembers.

On his 77th birthday today, let's remember Felix Mantilla and what he did for the Red Sox.