Monday, July 18, 2005
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.