Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It Is Mickmas Day

video clip from "Mickey Mantle In His Own Words"
My lifelong friend Richard Karney, a fellow Mickey Mantle worshiper, who converted himself into a switch hitter (solely in baseball terms) always reminds his friends when Mickmas Day occurs (the anniversary of Mickey's birth, October 20, 1931) and posts Bob Costas' stirring eulogy:
The Mick would not be pleased that on this great anniversary the Yankees would let us down. Let's win this one for the Mickster. and btw, wouldn't it be classy for some public address announcement be made prior to today's game that it is Mickey's birthday.
from Rich:
Happy Mickmas!  Today we celebrate the Mick's 79th birthday.  I wish all a very happy holiday.

Although this year's festivities are potentially muted, let's not forget the Mick-led comeback from a similar brink in 1958 against Milwaukee, and a lot more formidable staff led by Spahn, Burdette and Buhl.  C'mon, Lee, Wilson and Lewis?  The Mick recorded the final putout that year and would remind us that all can be recovered.

While the Mick never met a woman or single malt he didn't like, it is too early to let the good times roll.  We can celebrate his birthday just the same, savoring a good and substantial outing by Carsten Charles and not joining others already on the golf course.  Sadly, playing the last game of the season on Mickmas Day itself has occurred in a prior debacle, but let us plan our trip back to DFW and be prepared for Friday and Saturday contests.  We should still raise a glass or two today to celebrate the birth of the Mick, while keeping our hands to ourselves, and praise His wonderment and career, but not necessarily the abundance, recently highlighted, of trysts and days of stupor.


You know, it occurs to me as we're all sitting here thinking of Mickey,
he's probably somewhere getting an earful from Casey Stengel, and no
doubt quite confused by now.

One of Mickey's fondest wishes was that he be remembered as a great
teammate, to know that the men he played with thought well of him. But
it was more than that. Moose and Whitey and Tony and Yogi and Bobby and
Hank, what a remarkable team you were. And the stories of the visits you
guys made to Mickey's bedside the last few days were heartbreakingly
tender. It meant everything to Mickey, as would the presence of so many
baseball figures past and present here today.

I was honored to be asked to speak by the Mantle family today. I am not
standing here as a broadcaster. Mel Allen is the eternal voice of the
Yankees and that would be his place. And there are others here with a
longer and deeper association with Mickey than mine.

But I guess I'm here, not so much to speak for myself as to simply
represent the millions of baseball-loving kids who grew up in the '50s
and '60s and for whom Mickey Mantle was baseball.

And more than that, he was a presence in our lives-a fragile hero to
whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied
logic. Mickey often said he didn't understand it, this enduring
connection and affection-the men now in their 40s and 50s, otherwise
perfectly sensible, who went dry in the mouth and stammered like
schoolboys in the presence of Mickey Mantle.

Maybe Mick was uncomfortable with it, not just because of his basic
shyness, but because he was always too honest to regard himself as some
kind of deity. But that was never really the point. In a very different
time than today, the first baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain
Landis said, "Every boy builds a shrine to some baseball hero, and
before that shrine, a candle always burns."

For a huge portion of my generation, Mickey Mantle was that baseball
hero. And for reasons that no statistics, no dry recitation of the facts
can possibly capture, he was the most compelling baseball hero of our
lifetime. And he was our symbol of baseball at time when the game
meant something to us that perhaps it no longer does.

Mickey Mantle had those dual qualities so seldom seen-exuding dynamism
and excitement, but at the same time touching your heart-flawed,
wounded. We knew there was something poignant about Mickey Mantle before
we know what Poignant meant. We didn't just root for him, we felt for

Long before many of us ever cracked a serious book, we knew something
about mythology as we watched Mickey Mantle run out a home run through
the lengthening shadows of a late Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

There was a greatness about him, but vulnerability too. He was our guy.
When he was hot, we felt great. When he slumped or got hurt, we sagged a
bit too. We tried to crease our caps like him; kneel in an imaginary
on-deck circle like him; run like him, heads down, elbows up.

Billy Crystal is here today. Billy says that at his bar mitzvah he spoke
in an Oklahoma drawl. Billy's here today because he loved Mickey Mantle,
and millions like him are here today in spirit as well. It's been said
that the truth is never pure and rarely simple.

Mickey Mantle was too humble and honest to believe that the whole truth
about him could be found on a Wheaties box or a baseball card. But the
emotional truths about childhood have a power that transcends objective
fact. They stay with us through all the years, withstanding the
ambivalence that so often accompanies the experience of adults.

That's why we can still recall the immediate tingle in that instant of
recognition when a Mickey Mantle popped up in a pack of Topps bubble gum
cards-a treasure lodged between an Eli Grba and a Pumpsie Green.

That's why we smile today, recalling those October afternoons when we'd
sneak a transistor radio into school to follow Mickey Mantle and the
Yankees in the World Series.

Or when I think of Mr. Tomasee, a very wise sixth-grade teacher who
understood that the World Series was more important, at least for one
day, than any school lesson could be. So he brought his black and white
TV from home, plugged it in and let us watch it right there in school
through the flicker and static. It was richer and more compelling than
anything I've seen on a high-resolution, big-screen TV.

Of course, the bad part, Bobby, was that Koufax struck 15 of you guys
out that day.

My phone's been ringing the past few weeks as Mickey fought for his
life. I've heard from people I hadn't seen or talked to in years, guys I
played stickball with, even some guys who took Willie's side in those
endless Mantle, Mays arguments. They're grown up now. They have their
families. They're not even necessarily big baseball fans anymore. But
they felt something hearing about Mickey, and they figured I did too.

In the last year, 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. And Mickey Mantle got from something
other than misplaced and mindless celebrity worship. He got something
far more meaningful. He got love. Love for what he had been, love for
what he made us feel, love for the humanity and sweetness that was
always there mixed in the flaws and all the pain that racked his body
and his soul.

We wanted to tell him that it was OK, that what he had been was enough.
We hoped he felt that Mutt Mantle would have understood that Merlyn and
the boys loved him. And then in the end, something remarkable happened,
the way it does for champions. Mickey Mantle rallied. His heart took
over, and he had some innings as fine as any in 1956 or with his buddy,
Roger, in 1961.

But this time. he did it in the harsh and trying summer of '95. And what
he did was stunning. The sheer grace of that ninth inning, the total
absence of self pity, the simple eloquence and honesty of his pleas to
others to take heed of his mistakes.

All of America watched in admiration. His doctors said he was, in many
ways, the most remarkable patient they'd ever seen. His bravery so stark
and real, that even those used to seeing people in dire circumstances
where moved by his example.

Because of that example, organ donations are up drastically all across
America. A cautionary tale has been honestly told and perhaps will
affect some lives for the better.

And our last memories of Mickey Mantle are as heroic as the first. None
of us, Mickey included, would want to be held to account for every
moment of our lives. But how many of us could say that our best moments
were as magnificent as his?

In a cartoon from this morning's The Dallas Morning News. Maybe some of
you saw it. It got torn a little bit on the way from the hotel to here.
There's a figure here, St. Peter I take it to be, with his arm around
Mickey, that broad back and the number 7. We know some of what went on.
Sorry, we can't let you in, but before you go, God wants to know if
you'd sign these six dozen baseballs."

Well, there were days when Mickey Mantle was so darn good that we kids
bet that even God would want his autograph. But like the cartoon says, I
don't think Mick needed to worry much about the other part.

I just hope God has a place for him where he can run again. Where he can
play practical jokes on his teammates and smile that boyish smile,
'cause God knows, no one's perfect. And God knows there's something
special about heroes.

So long, Mick. Thanks.


Alphonso said...

I have a pin striped Yankee bathrobe which I received from my daughter and son-in-law a couple of Xmases ago.

My daughter had asked me the previous summer, in an off-handed kind of way, " Dad. who was your favorite Yankee ever?'

When I opened the Xmas present, #7 was on my back.

Anonymous said...

Buck Foston says,

I don't celebrate Mickmas, I follow Jeterisim

Anonymous said...

Buck Foston adds,

Although the Mic was a great man. I follow WWJD, what will jeter doo

Joe De Pastry said...

I always thought that stood for Who Would Jeter Do.