My Time with Mickey Mantle

13 Aug
2010

Wracked with sorrow and regret for all the people he’d hurt and all the promise he’d squandered, Mickey Mantle was broken and contrite when, at a press conference in June of 1995, knowing he was near death, he urged anyone who might be listening:  “Don’t be like me.”

Two months later–fifteen years ago today–Mickey Mantle passed away.

I know all the stories as well as anyone else.  A living-legend superstar on the baseball field, Mantle, even by his own admission, could be a legendary lout outside the ballpark.  Often reckless, frequently obnoxious, the off-field Mantle was, at times, a rowdy, immature, philandering drunk–traits that hurt his career and, in the end, contributed to his untimely demise at the too-young age of 63. 

I know all the stories, I know they’re all true, and I know they bespeak a narrative of hurt and disappointment.  But though clouded by time and filtered through the eyes of an adolescent, the story of my brief time with Mickey Mantle was different.

It was the summer of 1970.  I was 13 years old, living in North Miami Beach, having moved from New York with my family in ’69 (the year Mantle retired).  I’d grown up a Yankee fan, I was still–despite the move–a Yankee fan, and I still–despite his retirement–idolized The Mick. I therefore nearly jumped out of my skin that summer morning when I read an announcement in the local paper that Mickey Mantle would be appearing at a free baseball clinic for kids at Flamingo Park on Miami Beach. 

I corralled my 12 year old brother, we grabbed our mitts and our father’s Polaroid Swinger instant camera, and a short bus ride later we were there. 

I’d seen Mickey Mantle in person before, but always as a fan from the stands in Yankee Stadium, always one of thousands of screaming kids trying (and failing) to get his attention.  This time was different.

Way different.

Anticipating a throng of screaming acolytes, and hoping, at best, to snag an autograph before the afternoon was over, I was stunned and delighted when we arrived to find that maybe–maybe!–twenty other kids had shown up (such was the sorry state of baseball fever in South Florida forty years ago), and that standing right there among those kids . . . on the same patch of earth . . . with no barricade or bodyguard . . . saying hello and shaking hands . . . asking everyone their names . . . wearing his home-team pinstripes with number 7 on the back . . . was none other than the real . . .  live . . . Mickey Charles Mantle!

Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle, Flamingo Park, 1970, photographed by your writer with a Polaroid Swinger instant camera

Sure, he’d put on a few pounds.  And sure, he looked tired.  But on that hot, sunny, summer afternoon in South Florida, the legendary Mickey Mantle spent an unhurried few hours laughing, smiling, signing autographs, and talking baseball with a small group of  starstruck kids–and I was one of those kids!  For nothing other than the cost of bus fare, I got to stand in front of Mickey Mantle, baseball bat in my hands, and have him tell me to lift my right elbow a little higher, and bend my knees a little more.  I got to field a slow ground ball he tossed directly toward me.  And when I said, “Thanks, Mickey,” I got to soak up the thrill of having him look right at me and say, “Sure, kid.”

When my brother and I left Flamingo Park that day, I left with hands that had shaken The Mick’s hands, a half-dozen instant pictures, and more autographed pieces of paper than I could fit in my pockets–Mickey signed anything and everything, graciously.  A photo he autographed hangs on my wall to this day.

Did Mantle, before that day, have a reputation for selfish, even boorish, behavior?  Definitely.  And did he continue to behave selfishly and boorishly after that day?  Again, definitely. 

But to this fan, on that day, Mickey Mantle was everything a kid could ever want his idol to be.

29 Responses to “My Time with Mickey Mantle”

  1. Don Royster August 25, 2014 at 11:21 pm #

    Congratulations. You are now one of Uncle Bardie’s Band of Merry Followers. We rob from the miseries and give to the joys. We laugh and we cry but we are mostly entertained by Uncle Bardie. He’s a hoot. And thank you for following his blog.

  2. Don Royster August 25, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    What a wonderful story. There was a time when big league baseball players like The Mick were legends–and heroes. Despite all his flaws, he was one of the greats. When I think of all the joy he brought so many fans, his flaws seem so small. It makes me those times when baseball was America’s past time, and boys wanted to grow up to play with the big boys.

    • Kenn Shapiro August 25, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

      Thank you, Don, for your heartfelt comment. I was very lucky, not merely to have a hero as a kid, and not merely to meet that hero—but to have that hero, for the brief time I spent in his presence, live up to my image of him. So glad you enjoyed my reminiscence of that time.

  3. universobeisbol August 18, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    Great story:

    Reminds me of the time when I was a kid myself and I jumped into the Calixto Garcia Stadium in Holguin, Cuba, after a victory of my home team against then champions Villa Clara. As a kid, all I wanted was to get a close look at Showman Victor Mesa, and I did, and he shaked hands with me. There were about two dozens of people around him and I was probably the only one he shaked hands with before getting lost with his stuff into the safety of the club house.
    Mickey Mantle told kids not to be like him, but can you tell people not to be human beings? He was selfish, that’s for sure, and had a very reckless off-field life. What we can deny is that he was one of the all-time greatest in the game, and, as the above article shows, he could be nice too.

  4. bronxboy55 August 18, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    I’m almost embarrassed about how much I worshipped Mantle as a kid. I had a scrapbook and would buy a sports magazine just so I could cut out one picture of him, then I’d throw the rest of the magazine away. I still have the NY Daily News when he hit number 500. But I never got closer to him than the view from a box seat at Yankee Stadium. Thanks for a great post, and sharing a priceless memory.

  5. missbee12 August 15, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

    That was really great. Sounds trite after all the comments above me but it speaks beautifully to our ideals of sports and our heros.

  6. sadyec August 15, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    Great Post! I didn’t grow up with watching baseball but now that im Older I do watch it. I found this fascinating. I did learn about Micky Mantle when I was younger but this really is wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  7. ODWO August 15, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    Good Story! Thanks for sharing.

    I’m in Houston, Tx. WHen the Astrodome was finished being built, and the Mick came to town to play in the “8th wonder of the world,” our little league team was at the game he hit the 1st homerun to be had in the Astrodome. Sadly, I think I was getting a drink or hot dog, but I remember the lighted scoreboard blazing away and everyone shouting …. that was a long time ago.

    Mickey Mantle. The legend. And without steroids or anything else that would tarnish the great ones reputation. He didn’t need it.

  8. BG August 15, 2010 at 7:11 am #

    Wow! great post! I am a big Yankee fan as well. Growing up playing the game through high school and college Mickey Mantle is still one of my all time favorites.
    http://www.TheRealBG.com

  9. Nitin Jain August 15, 2010 at 4:48 am #

    u must be lucky!

  10. Kenn Shapiro August 15, 2010 at 12:34 am #

    To all of you who’ve commented (and to anyone who comments after this note), thank you–I’m flattered and humbled by the response, and by all the kind words. Writing is usually a one-way street–the reader always knows what the writer is thinking, but the writer rarely knows what the reader is thinking–so any feedback is a treat. Positive feedback, of course, is the sweetest treat of all. Again, thank you.

    I hope you’ll all continue to pop in on Fresh Rhetoric every now and then (I post about six times a month). And to those of you with blogs of your own, I’ll be reading!

  11. munley August 14, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    Great story. The fact that there were only about 20 kids there to greet the Mick is incredible. Congrats on being ‘Freshly Pressed’.

  12. Sarah @ Shades of Sarah August 14, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

    Wow, great story! And congrats for being on Freshly Pressed. I’m from South Florida, and I grew up a Yankee and Marlins fan, so I can definitely appreciate this. He was one of kind. And now I want to rent 61*.

  13. Tom August 14, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    Great story. thanks for sharing. Always nice to get different perspectives on Yankee legends.

    my blog is at http://fridaynite yanks.wordpress.com
    (just a couple of guys in the upper deck).

  14. Jeff Jackson August 14, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

    Great story! You’ve inspired me to write a blog about the time I happened to run into two of my baseball heroes at a food court in Minnesota when I was a kid. Thanks for the inspiration and the great story.

  15. Computer Repair August 14, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    Interesting story, will be remembered.

  16. Steve August 14, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    Love the story. Thanks for sharing your personal history with us.

  17. Harry Elliott August 14, 2010 at 6:58 am #

    Thanks for the great piece on one of my childhood
    idols as well. When we all found out about his
    “adult” problems we would gladly forgive him as human.

    One of the greatest interviews ever was his interview
    with Charlie Rose a few years before his death. His
    stories about Casey Stengel putting the “Stengalese”
    on Congress, Yogi’s conversation with Mary Lindsay,
    and the story of his hunting trip in Texas with
    Billy Martin are priceless. It is easy to see
    why he was a media darling as well as a star. He
    just had that certain type of likeability and charisma
    that you can’t describe.

    Now as an adult, I realize now more than ever who
    the REAL heros of sports are. Let’s start with
    Walter Peyton. Peyton died of a similar liver
    cancer that claimed Mickey’ life, and at an earlier
    age of nearly twenty years. Walter’s illness
    never was caused by the excesses of alchoholism either.
    When told he could “jump” the list like Mickey did
    for a liver transplant because he was Walter Peyton
    he refused saying that it wouldn’t be fair to those
    that had waited and were on the list before him.
    That’s why the NFL Man of the Year award is called
    the Walter Peyton award. Do a google search on some
    of that award’s multi winners like Warrick Dunne’s
    achievements.

    In baseball, how about my other hero Roberto Clemente?
    He died in a plane crash on New Year’s Day, 1972,
    on a humanitarian effort to aid earthquake victims
    in Nicaragua. Also there is a reason that Jackie
    Robinson’s number 42 is retired in every major league
    stadium. Still Mickey Mantle was such an essential
    part of the American Cultural fabric of the 50’s
    and 60’s that still endures. I remember the video of
    Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”
    in 1987 and my (then) seven year old daughter asking
    me “who’s that”, when Simon struck out “the Mick”
    in a stickball game. It was like trying to
    explain to her who the Beatles or Elvis were,

  18. Mark August 13, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    Very timely as I was just having a discussion about The Mick with a neighbor of mine.

    Congrats on being “Fresh Pressed.”

  19. Route66News August 13, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    Good story about the affable but flawed Mick. But unlike others, I’m not as sorrowful hear about the foibles of our heroes. To me, these faults show that these supposedly bigger-than-life characters are human beings like the rest of us.

    And it shows that we, even as flawed people, own the capability of rising to heroic levels ourselves.

  20. lookingforsomethingtofind August 13, 2010 at 12:10 pm #

    Great story, it pretty much sums up I think everything we fans of all ages love about baseball.

  21. CrystalSpins August 13, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    Wow…what a GREAT story. It goes to show that none of us are just one thing. Mickey might have had some big problems, but he was still able to be your hero in person. So great!

    Crystal
    http://www.crystalspins.com

  22. Tulum August 13, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    Great story pal. Yeah he was a bit of a lout, but like you say moments like that for a young kid go a looong way :)

  23. angryflatcap August 13, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    Great piece of writing.

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