The greater the athlete, the tougher it is to leave the arena. History is filled with examples of players, in pretty much every sport, who should have hung up their spikes, or their skates, or their racquets long before they finally retired but simply would not — could not — leave at the top of their game. Brett Favre, Michael Jordan, Willie Mays, Gordie Howe — in the eyes of so many fans, the legacy of these and countless other Hall of Famers would have been far brighter if they had finally left the locker room a few years earlier.
Granted, one can also point to a number of greats who left at the top of their game — Jim Brown, Steffi Graf, the amazing Sandy Koufax — but the list of those who stuck around for too long is far lengthier, and for sports fans, far more fun to debate. (Did Emmitt Smith really retire later than he should have?)
One name high on most lists of players who dragged it out a little bit at the end is that of legendary Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle. By all accounts one of the greatest natural talents to ever play the game, Mantle could do it all — and for several years, from the mid-1950s through the early ’60s, he was a dominant force on the diamond. A seven-time World Series champ, three-time MVP and one of only 17 Triple Crown winners, Mantle still holds records for, among other things, the most World Series home runs (18), RBIs (40) and total bases (123) and is remembered not only for his blazing speed and his stellar glove, but for the almost unbelievable power he packed into his 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame.