Monday, July 18, 2005

Mickey Mantle


Today I watched an HBO special on Mickey Mantle. He came along at just the right time for me, when I was ten or eleven years old and in love with the game of baseball. Nobody I knew in Mexia, Texas, had ever seen a major league baseball game, but a lot of us kids listened to the games on the radio (Al Helfer and the Game of the Day) and collected baseball cards. Mantle's cards were the ones we prized most highly, and for some reason they were the hardest to find. I remember going to various little mom and pop stores around town (Goodrich Grocery, Trantham's Grocery, Hall's Grocery) and spending a nickel in each place, trying to get a Mantle card.

Mantle was a hero to me and to most of the kids I knew. We had no clues about what he was like off the field, and it was probably just as well. Some of us learned about things like that later of course, and watching the HBO program, I was saddened again to see what a broken, bitter man he became at one point in his life. I guess I still want my heroes to live up to my expectations, which he did at the very end of his life. I just wish he could have found the courage to kick the drinking habit about fifty years earlier than he did.

Life's hardly ever what we want it to be, I guess. Anyway, in my memory at least, he'll always be the Mickey Mantle of the '50s, hitting for power, beating out a bunt, roaming centerfield in Yankee Stadium.

4 comments:

  1. For me it was Clemente...

    I grew up in Arizona - we had no pro team then - but my grandfather was from Pittsburgh and would tell me stories of the great Pirate teams of yesteryear.

    I remember watching the Saturday game of the week on TV whenever the Pirates played, and listening to Pirate games on Grandpa's ham radio.

    Yes, I know they were some better (not many), but Clemente will always be "the Greatest" in my eyes.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My love of baseball can be traced to my grandfather. When I visited in the summer, I slept on a pallet on the floor--no guest rooms in a simple farm house, and it was early to bed; early to rise. At night Papa would turn on the radio and I'd lay awake in my cozy little bed in the dark and listen to the baseball game.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Mantle was my hero, too. Without him I'm not sure I would have watched baseball, and when I moved to New York in 1960 it was a treat to be able to see the Yankee games on TV every day. When I was older, in 1966, I made a trip to Yankee Stadium so I could say I saw him onc before he retired.

    Another thing about being a Yankee fan back then was being able to rub it into the faces of my Dixie friends, who still had a chip on their shoulders about that Civil War thing.

    Oddly enough, I never had any trouble getting Mantle's baseball card. My trouble was keeping them (and all the other players'). I could put the kids through college on what they're worth today.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I tire of these movies that put the clay feet on my heroes. To be honest, I don't need them humanized. They were just fine as heroes. What am I supposed to do with this information? Want to grow up to be an alcoholic?

    ReplyDelete