I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a night I was to remember forever. I’m thinking about the night of June 13th,
1966. It’s my 10th birthday and I’m at a baseball game with my dad sitting in the right field stands of the
old Yankee Stadium. There’s the smell of beer, hot dogs, and french fries in the air. I have come not just to
see the New York Yankees, but to see my hero Mickey Mantle play,
and hopefully hit a home run that I will of course catch in my seat. It’s my birthday,
so it makes good sense to me.
The playing field is a perfectly manicured shade of what I can only describe as emerald green. It was a color
and texture of grass I had never seen before. It was so perfect I wondered if it was real. The bases were square
pillows of brilliant white, even from some 200 or so feet away. I remember even being impressed by the dirt
that made up the rest of the playing field. It was a rich brown, with not a rock to be seen, smooth and even.
There were groundskeepers on the field setting down white lines of powder with rolling machines that
made up the foul lines. Of course they were straight as an arrow.
The men were also spraying water on the field with long hoses which brought out its rich color even more.
A buzz of excitement filled the air.
The Yankees came out to warm up, wearing their famous white pinstripe uniforms with a large “NY” insignia
over the left breast. The uniforms looked even better than they did on my baseball cards. What I would have given
to wear one even for a few minutes. I spotted my idol Mickey Mantle playing catch with another Yankee near
their dugout, a giant imposing man with a large number 7 on his back. All of a sudden my father said something
I was to remember for the rest of my life.
“Son, I’m going to walk down to Mickey, and ask him to come out to the fence here and say hello to you and
He said it so calmly and confidently I knew it was going to happen. My father was a large powerful man also,
and could be quite charming. I remember feeling like I was the luckiest person among the thousands of fans.
He got up and began what I still remember as an agonizingly slow walk though a sea of people step by step
to the dugout. Finally, I saw him down by the railing just a few feet away from Mickey Mantle.
My heart was pounding rapidly and my hands trembled slightly. I was now watching my father like an animal
stalks its prey. I could see him shout something to Mickey. Again he shouted.
Then he cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted once or twice more. Mickey turned toward
my father and responded.
And then did it again! My father was speaking to Mickey Mantle!
If I thought the walk down was long, the walk back up to our seats seemed much longer.
My heart was now pounding so hard I could hear it in my eardrums. Mickey Mantle is going to say hello to
me and happy birthday!! Wait till I tell my friends.
What will I say to Mickey? I’m so nervous I may start stuttering.
Finally my father makes it back to the seat and sits down and says...nothing. I stare at the side
of his face. He might as well be an alien, because he’s acting very strange by just sitting there.
I never get angry or talk back to my father, but I begin to do a slow boil. I have figured out he’s
either teasing me by his silence or the news is bad.
Either way I do raise my voice when I say,
“Huh”? he says.
“Dad! Mickey! What did he say?!! He was talking to you!”
“Oh, no, son, he didn’t say anything,” he replied in an annoying calm fashion.
“Sure he did, I saw him turn and say something to you!”
“Oh, no, son, he was actually talking to the guy behind me.”
“Let’s just enjoy the game, son.”
I remember at first not quite believing him, but being young and naïve I had the gift
of ignorance being bliss. I was very disappointed but accepted it as the truth. I had to quickly accept
it with my young heart to settle in and enjoy the game, which I did.
Over the years, once in a while I would remember that night. I did not question what may have really happened.
I guess I had been conditioned to believe. I even found out as I got older that my hero Mickey was also
famous for being an obnoxious, rude drunk who was mean to family, friends, and fans. Still, I did not
ask myself what happened. I was eventually to find out without asking.
One night, more than ten years after the fact, I was sitting in a neighborhood pub having a few beers with
my dad. I was now in my early 20s. We were just shooting the breeze when my father began to laugh and
shake his head while staring at the ground.
"What’s so funny, Dad?"
“Well, son, I guess you are old enough now I can tell you”.
“Remember that night, I took you to the Yankee game and it was your birthday”?
"I told you I was going to have Mickey Mantle say happy birthday and hello?”
“Of course I remember,” I said.
“Well, son, I went down to Mickey and said, “Mickey! Mickey!”
He ignored me, so once again I said, “Mickey! Mickey! Please!”
“Son, he still said nothing”.
Finally I said, “Mickey, please would you come out and say hello and happy birthday
to my son”?
Well, Mickey turned around and said, 'Fuck you and your son!'”
By this time I knew what Mickey was really about, so I was quite angry and
called him some few choice words.
My father was still laughing and said, “Ah, son, forget it,” and waived his hand.
I couldn’t forget it, and I hated Mickey for many years. I remember thinking I was glad
my father did not tell me all of this that night in 1966. I failed to realize that I was taking it
too hard, considering the fact that I had developed a drinking problem myself and could be rude to anyone around me.
I thankfully did stop drinking years later with the help of, let’s say, many friends.
In the early 1990s, when I had decided to look at my own drinking habits, Mickey was just ending his,
although he was forced to. He had developed cirrhosis and Hepatitis C and needed a liver transplant,
which he received. Before that operation they discovered he had liver cancer, which had spread.
He was terminal. He faced the television cameras
and admitted he had often been cruel and hurtful to family, friends, and fans, and he was sorry and sought
to make amends. He implored young and old not to drink or do drugs.
He looked at himself shook his head and said, “This is a role model. Don’t be a role model.”
He created the Mickey Mantle Foundation to raise awareness for organ donations. I picked up one of his organ
donation cards in 1995, filled it out, and still have it in my wallet. So his message (this time a good one)
definitely reached me.
I think as I’ve grown older and continue to look at life without a drink in my hand, I’ve learned more about the
importance of good human traits, including tolerance, acceptance, and in the case of Mickey and me, a lesson in
forgiveness. Thanks for that, Mick. I’ve also learned, as an old wise saying goes, “Having a resentment against
somebody is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” So now when I think of Mickey Mantle,
I don’t think so much about his playing days, or his behavior off the field, but far more importantly of
the way he carried himself when faced with his own mortality.
It’s become clear to me that when it came to the end of the game of life, Mickey Mantle hit a home run,
and in a very real sense, I caught it.
©2011 by Anthony Richmond