Jackie Robinson again grips a bat, his muscles bulging through his suit jacket. Eight days after announcing his retirement from baseball, Mickey Mantle speaks in what surely was his first major public appearance since leaving the game. Willie Mays, always the entertainer, unintentionally prompts laughter from the studio audience.
These arresting images, all more than a half-century old, can be seen via streaming video on The Ed Sullivan Show’s official YouTube channel. Nearly everybody possessing or approaching senior-citizen status or who maintains ample pop-culture knowledge recognizes Sullivan’s impact. Celebrities boosted their profiles and aspiring performers vaulted from anonymity to stardom with even the briefest appearances alongside Sullivan, whose variety shows aired Sunday nights on CBS from 1948-71.
To celebrate Thursday’s opening of baseball’s regular season, SOFA Entertainment/UMe is releasing footage of Sullivan stints by Robinson, Mantle and Mays, who continue to inspire awe among today’s fans.
Robinson, whose video clip will be available beginning Thursday at 4 p.m. ET, offered what initially might have sounded like banal advice when Sullivan asked him to share a few hitting tips.
“Probably the most important thing for a youngster is to keep his eye on the ball, Ed, from the moment it leaves the pitcher’s hand until it comes in contact with the bat,” began Robinson, clutching a bat as a prop.
As Robinson continued, he hinted at the ever-present drive to reach one’s potential -- which was among the values he symbolized as he became the Major Leagues’ first black player in 1947. “Because if he takes his eye off the ball, he will lose sight of it, and therefore, he will not be the hitter that he ought to be,” Robinson concluded.
Mantle, whose appearance will be released on Friday at 2 p.m. ET, left no doubt about his decision to retire.
“I feel just about as good as I ever did,” said the oft-injured slugger, “but the last two or three years, I haven’t been able to run as good as I used to, or hit and throw. The young kids are just getting a little bit too fast for me. So I thought it was about time that I quit.”
Mays climbed into second place on the all-time home run list behind Babe Ruth 11 days before his Sullivan visit, which will be available on Sunday evening. That might have prompted Sullivan to ask Mays to analyze his swing.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know where [the ball] is, Ed,” said an affable Mays as the audience laughed. “I just swing and hope that I hit it.”
Robinson’s appearance originally aired on May 20, 1962. Mays and Mantle appeared on May 15, 1966 and March 9, 1969, respectively.