THE MICK -- A CLOSE ENCOUNTER
BY DAN MILLER
(originally posted October 20, 2004)
Mickey Mantle would have turned 73 years old today. He was a true American hero.... not always a role model..... but always a hero.
The giddy effect that Mickey Mantle could have on rational middle aged men is not easily explained.
But as the first baseball commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, said: "Every boy builds a shrine to some baseball hero, and before that shrine, a candle always burns."
Now, don't be misled. The baseball pictured here is not autographed to me by Mickey Mantle.
It's signed by his fellow Yankee Billy Martin..... but it was ALMOST signed by The Mick as well.
If only I'd stuck to my guns, it would've had both Mickey's and Billy's signature on it - making it a unique, even valuable, collectable.
Within days of Billy Martin autographing the ball, Mickey Mantle was scheduled to appear on the show I was working on in California.
I brought the baseball to the studio with the intention of getting Mickey to sign right next to Billy's name.
I stood there, within a few feet of Mickey, waiting for the dozens of autograph seekers and picture takers to thin out.
This crowd was made up of producers, writers, make-up artists, etc., people who are normally rather nonchalant about show guests.
But everyone kept on imposing on Mickey, and I finally backed away, fearing we were all just intruding on his time.... though he didn't really seem to mind. In fact, he seemed to expect it.
At Mickey's funeral, Bob Costas relayed a story Mickey used to tell on himself:
He pictured himself at the pearly gates, met by St. Peter who shook his head and said, "Mick, we checked the record. 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."
Mickey Mantle simply exuded magic. He was the drawl-speaking farm boy from Oklahoma, who became a reluctant legend in his time.
Next to Muhammad Ali, I can't think of any athlete whose mere presence had such an impact.
Someone once said, "the name Mickey Mantle represents more than a great baseball player, it represents a state of mind."
I should have waited in line a little longer.