It is still a popular pastime, especially by those in the media, to claim that we will never know how great Mickey Mantle might have been.
Fine, but it is much better to remember his greatness, and of greater importance, how he was and is still loved and respected.
Mickey exhibited self-destructive behavior, was obsessed with the belief that he would die of Hodgkins disease, and treated fans badly as often as he treated them well. Some have hypothesized that he didn’t take care of himself because of fear dying young.
Former New York Yankees’ catcher Johnny Blanchard related a revealing incident.
He and Mickey were watching “The Honeymooners” at the St.Moritz Hotel. Mickey asked Blanchard if he had ever thought about dying. Mickey didn’ answer. He continued watching Jackie Gleason.
No one who ever played the game was treated with greater respect or more affection by his fans or his teammates than Mickey Mantle.
Actor Ed Harris was not afraid to expose his feeling or embarrass himself when he made a short quatrain he wrote about his idol.
From a pinstripe shirt his arms do come
Like massive stone they appear to some
For those are arms that compare with few
On a normal man, one would make two.
How corny can one get? But Mr. Harris is not alone.
From friend and business partner Tom Molito, who has written a magnificent, ground-breaking book, Double Dating With Mickey Mantle that chronicles his friendship with Mickey, to fans who saw him play, to youngsters who were born after Mickey passed away, there is almost universal love, affection, and respect.
No individuals have expressed the nostalgia and the defensiveness with respect to Mickey more than Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra.
In 2005, a cable television station made a documentary about Mantle. When an interviewer asked Berra to relate some Mantle drinking stories, Yogi suggested that she speak with Ford. Of course, Whitey simply refused.
Teammates knew how good he was.
Dr. Bobby Brown:
“We were fortunate to have him on our side. He could hit the ball farther right-handed than the other team’s best and he could hit the ball farther left-handed than their best. He could also outrun their fastest man and throw better than their best arm.”
Manager of the 1961 and 1962 World Champion Yankees, Ralph Houk:
“I played with DiMaggio before I played and managed Mickey. Nobody, but nobody, could hit a ball as hard and as far from both sides of the plate as Mickey could. He was just awesome.”
St. LouisCardinals great Marty Marion :
“There’s one thing he can’t do very well. He can’t throw left-handed. When he goes in for that, we’ll have the perfect ballplayer.”
Yankees shortstop Tom Tresh:
“We never thought we could lose as long as Mickey was playing. The point was, we had Mickey and the other team didn’t.”
There have been greater Yankees than Mantle, only Mickey has come close to equaling the love and respect fans and the media have for Lou Gehrig.
Heffernan, Virginia. “A Boy’s Own Hero With Man-Sized Problems.” New York Times. 13 July 2005. p. E3.
Sandomir, Richard. “HBO Sports Steps Up to the Plate With ‘Mantle'” New York Times. 13 July, 2005.
Mickey and Willie One More Time. Harold Friend, Bleacherreport