After I hit a home run I had a habit of running the bases with my head down. I figured the pitcher already felt bad enough without me showing him up rounding the bases. – Mickey Mantle
If there’s a better illustration of character, than the quote above gives, I’d love to see it. In an era where most athletes love nothing more than gloating and showboating, Mickey Mantle could teach everyone a thing or two (or a gazillion) about what it really means to have character as well as talent. After all, the talent will fade eventually whereas character never has to go anywhere.
As we lead up to Baseball season (I’m as big a baseball fan as you’ll ever find – whether it’s my St. Louis Cardinals or any random team, if there’s a baseball game on tv or the radio, you’ll know where to find me), I thought it’d be fun to look at a different baseball player each week and learn a little more about them. I’ve pulled out some fantastic quotes and stories from some of these men and I know you’ll enjoy them, whether you’re a baseball fan or not. (If you aren’t a baseball fan, please don’t tell me. I… I… don’t want to see you like that.)
Mickey Mantle: The Man Behind the Legend
Mickey Mantle was born in 1931 in Spavinaw, Oklahoma – a small town put on the map by the baseball giant. Mickey’s parents were Elvin Charles Mantle and Lovell Mantle. Mickey’s dad, a huge baseball fan, named his son after Mickey Cochrane, a Hall of Fame catcher for the, then, Philadelphia Athletics.
Mickey Mantle always spoke very highly and lovingly of his father, calling him the bravest man he ever knew. “No boy ever loved his father more,” he said. Tragically, his father died of cancer in 1952 at the ridiculously young age of 39. To compound the tragedy, he died just as his son’s amazing career was just getting started.
“A team is where a boy can prove his courage on his own. A gang is where a coward goes to hide.” – Mickey Mantle
Mickey Mantle was called up to the majors on April 7, 1951. How’s this for high praise? – Joe DiMaggio, in his final season, called Mantle, “the greatest prospect I can remember.”
After a bit of a slump, Mantle was sent down to the Yankees’ top farm team, the Kansas City Blues. Possibly due to frustrations and putting too much pressure on himself, Mickey struggled and became so overwhelmed that he was ready to throw in the proverbial towel. He even called his father one day and told him, “I don’t think I can play baseball anymore.” Like any good father would, his dad drove up to Kansas City that very day. When he arrived, Mickey remembered that he said, “I thought I raised a man. I see I raised a coward instead. You can come back to Oklahoma and work the mines with me.”
The mines never saw the younger Mantle.
Mickey immediately broke out of his slump and after 40 games, he was called back to New York. For good.
The great number 7 was retired by the New York Yankees in Mickey Mantle’s honor and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974, as soon as he was eligible.
“I hated to bat against (Don) Drysdale. After he hit you he’d come around, look at the bruise on your arm and say, ‘Do you want me to sign it?'” – Mickey Mantle
Unfortunately, even great baseball players have their demons and Mickey’s was alcoholism. He sought treatment and got the upper hand on the demon. Sportscaster Pat Summerall was one of the main people who urged him to go to The Betty Ford Clinic.
Mickey Mantle spoke with great, deep-seeded remorse and heartache about his alcoholism in a 1994 Sports Illustrated story. He said that he was telling the same old stories, and realizing how much of them involved himself and others being drunk, and he decided they weren’t funny anymore.
“It was all I lived for, to play baseball.” – Mickey Mantle
He acknowledged that alcohol had caused him to often be hurtful or neglectful to his family, friends, and fans, and that he wanted to make things right.
Mickey Mantle became a born-again Christian thanks, in part, to his former teammate Bobby Richardson, an ordained Baptist minister who shared his faith with him.
Mickey died in Dallas on August 13, 1995. During the first Yankee home game after his death, Eddie Layton played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the organ because Mickey had once told him it was his favorite song.
In his eulogy, sportscaster Bob Costas described Mickey Mantle as “a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic.” He added: “In the last year of his life, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally came to accept and appreciate the distinction between a role model and a hero. The first, he often was not. The second, he always will be. And, in the end, people got it.”
“Somebody once asked me if I ever went up to the plate trying to hit a home run. I said, ‘Sure, every time.'” – Mickey Mantle
See Also: Quotes by Mickey Mantle