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Article:Mickey Mantle Wanted Others to Excel

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by Harold Friend

Shawn Hanertea does not count the New York Yankees among his favorite teams, but Shawn is an extremely liberal individual. He recalls how the Yankees struggled in 1967, but Shawn grudgingly admits that he admired Mickey Mantle. After learning how Mickey's teammates felt about the player even Shawn ranked ahead of Willie Mays, Shawn Hanertea actually started to root for Mickey.

I don't like the New York Yankees. I never did, and I never will, but I became a Mickey Mantle fan. It was difficult, because when I pulled for Mickey, it meant I was rooting for the Yankees, but it was worth it.

A Great Teammate

On Aug. 25, 1996, I was among the 50,808 fans at Yankee Stadium to see the unveiling of a monument honoring Mickey. The first brief phrase inscribed on the monument explained why Mickey is admired, respected, and loved: "Mickey Mantle, a great teammate."

Mickey struggled his last few seasons, but as his difficulties increased, so did his stature.

Mickey was a private individual, which made it difficult for his fans to discover what he was really like, but a few baseball writers revealed the reverence that his teammates and opponents felt for him.

Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, and Bob Feller were some of the superstars of the Mickey Mantle era.

It was generally acknowledged that Mickey was the super star who was closest with his teammates, the super star most enjoyed by his teammates, and the most humble of all.

The others were highly respected, but Joe DiMaggio was silent, aloof, and prideful almost to a fault. Ted Williams was moody. He could be extremely charming or standoffish. Feller, Spahn, and Koufax were open and giving to their teammates, but all were reserved, self-absorbed individuals.

Stan Musial came close to Mickey, but most of Willie's teammates didn't feel great affection for him, despite respecting his leadership and ability.

A boyish, unassuming warmth pervaded Mickey's relationship with his teammates and opponents.

No less a great than Al Kaline, when he was taunted by a young fan who said, "You're not half as good as Mickey Mantle," replied, "Son, nobody is half as good as Mickey Mantle."

Mickey's Sense of Humor

Mickey had a wonderful, wry sense of humor that could break the tension of any situation.

When Phl Linz played his harmonica on the bus after the Yankees had lost a double header in Chicago, manager Yogi Berra yelled to Phil to knock it off. Linz asked Mantle, who was sitting near him, what Yogi had said, Mickey replied, "Play it louder."

A less well-known example of Mickey's humor occurred during the 1958 World Series. The Milwaukee Braves had beaten the Yankees in 1957, and were leading, three games to one, in 1958.

Mickey entered the clubhouse before the fifth game with a trick arrow that appeared to go in one ear and out the other strapped to his head.

"We're in tough shape, boys," Mantle said as he crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue. The Yankees looked at each and laughed. Manager Casey Stengel remained silent.

Bob Turley went to the mound, shut out the Braves, and when the teams returned to Milwaukee, the Yankees won both games to win the World Series. Did Mickey's kidding around help? Who knows?

Mickey sincerely wanted others to do well (except when it would hurt his team), and it has been written that he had a sense of modesty that bordered on inferiority. His message was that we are all human, we are all fallible, and we all can have some fun.

When he became manager, Ralph Houk told Mickey that he was going to be the team leader. Despite doubts and reservations, Mickey did become the Yankees' leader.

The fact that he has done as well as he has, with all the injuries he has endured, has been an inspiration, not only to other players, but to fans.

Public Image

To the public, Mickey was reticent, usually but not always polite, and undeniably distant and impatient. Mickey tried to act responsibly to autograph-seekers (this was before the present era of autograph shows), but it is not difficult to find a fan whom Mickey snubbed.

A New Mantle Book

After the monument ceremonies, I sat down to watch the Yankees.

Much to my delight, the Oakland A's beat them, 6-4, but during the game, I started speaking with a fan,Tom,who was in the next seat.

Tom revealed that he had business dealings with Mickey, which led to a solid friendship.

I discovered that Tom lived in nearby Westchester county, and that he was going to write a book about his and Mickey's experiences.

If the book, which has recently been completed, is as fascinating as the stories Tom has told me, it should be quite a reading experience.

References:

By LEONARD KOPPETT. (1967, May 14). Mantle a Superstar to Teammates :But He Is Reticent and Impatient Off the Field Humor and Modesty Are a Few Traits of Yankee Ace. New York Times (1923-Current file),p. S2. Retrieved March 13, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 107192376).

A Monument for Mickey

Mickey Mantle at Baseball Library

Molito, Tom and Harold Friend. Double Dating With Mickey Mantle.


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