MANTLE: SEVEN VIEWS OF GENIUS
In all the hours he has spent watching baseball, nothing impressed Artist Robert Riger as deeply as the consistency and rhythm of Mickey Mantle's power. These sketches are a tribute to greatness
Power and precision are highlighted as Mantle leans heavily into a pitch. Mickey's powerful arm, shoulder, back and leg muscles all combine in one smooth flawless motion as he brings his bat around in a level arc to the ball's flight.
Take-off after successful swing shows Mantle flipping bat and taking first step from home plate. Fastest man in baseball going down the first base line, Mickey has been clocked at 3.2 seconds batting lefty and 3.3 hitting right-handed.
March 4, 1957
Digging in on the base paths with his head down and his arms pumping, Mantle resembles a dash-man exploding out of starting blocks. Possessing quick reactions and a perfect sliding technique, Mickey is always a threat to take the extra base.
Follow-through takes him halfway round in his powerful swing. He ends up with legs spread wide and eyes following flight of ball. The force of this swing has pulled Mickey's bat all the way around his body in a full, muscle-testing circle.
Throwing with one of the strongest arms in the major leagues, Mantle rarely allows runners to advance an extra base on him. With his wide range in center field, Mickey's defensive abilities are the less spectacular equal of his offensive genius.
Bunting left-handed, Mantle's feet are off the ground as he starts toward first base in the same motion. Because of his great speed, Mickey will sometimes gamble for a base hit by skillfully dragging a precisely placed bunt past the pitcher.
Leaning casually on bat in characteristic pose, Mantle studies his teammates in batting cage. The biggest attraction in baseball today, Mickey is watched by everyone, players and fans alike, when his turn comes to take his practice swings.
"...all ranks pay [homage] to the hero of the day.... Hear the shouts in the street! The people cannot see him enough. They delight in a man. Here is a head and a trunk! What a front, what eyes, Atlantean shoulders, and the whole carriage heroic, with equal inward force to guide the great machine!"
EMERSON : Uses of Great Men
The magic numeral 7 on his back, his right leg bandaged from ankle to thigh, a plastic shield protecting an arrested bone infection called osteomyelitis on his left ankle, the Hero began seriously to condition his great, powerful body this week in the warm, unfailing sunshine of St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Hero was 25 years old and already a legend. By his deeds and by his courageous triumph over his physical handicaps, he was Everyboy's dream miraculously come to life. He was being hailed as baseball's alltime superstar. He could do everything: he could run with the speed of a jack rabbit, he could throw strikes to home plate from deep in the outfield; a switch-hitter, he could blast a ball farther than any man who ever lived. He was Elmer the Great, Frank Merriwell and a blond Li'l Abner rolled into one. He was a Walter Mitty vision for every man to see. He was a baseball scout's favorite fantasy in the flesh: a sprig that had been found blooming on a sandlot in the back country, a free agent with no strings on him, a kid to whom $1,100 offered as a bonus for signing looked like all the money in Oklahoma.
That was what the Hero had cost the New York Yankees, the richest baseball club in the world. But if it had been a good deal for the Yankees, it had been a better deal for him. For baseball, as the Hero's dedicated father had meticulously and desperately planned it for his first-born son, had meant emancipation from the relative slavery of the lead mine or the mill. And the Yankees' kind of baseball had meant a great deal more. It had given the Hero a proper arena for his magnificent talents and a proud tradition for him to rise to, the uniform of Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio to inspire him and the incomparable baseball witchery of old Casey Stengel to draw out and to nourish his wondrous native skills.
He had come to these exalted Yankees, at age 19, cast in the role of a Ring Lardner rube. But innately, like his father before him, he was wise with a country boy's wisdom, sharp with small-town perception, keen with a peculiarly middle western brand of gentle wit. He had these qualities when he came to the city but, in his lack of city sophistication, he hid them and, in stark terror of saying something ridiculous, he resorted to the tactic of saying nothing at all. But sometimes, when he played badly, he betrayed himself in tantrums for what he was above all else: a boy, a kid traveling incredibly fast and far.
But that was yesterday. The Hero who began spring training in St. Petersburg this week was catching up with himself. Still reticent, still wary of strangers, nevertheless he had come a long, long way along the path that led out of the backyard in Commerce, Okla. where, as a toddler, he had swung his first broomstick bat.
The Hero, Mickey Charles Mantle, had left the country boy far behind. The great center fielder of Yankee Stadium, the Home Run King, the Triple Crown winner and Most Valuable Player of 1956, the recipient of all the awards he cared to hold still for, now was also president of Mickey Mantle Enterprises, president of the Mickey Mantle Motel Corporation, vice-president of the Southwest Chat Company of Baxter Springs, Kans., dealers in railroad ballast. He drove a brand-new Lincoln. He lived in no ballplayers' hotel for spring training, but in a house out at the beach near St. Petersburg with his wife, Merlyn, and their children, Mickey Jr., 4, and David, one. He employed a maid for his wife, who had done all her own housework in the two-bedroom, red-cedar shingle house back in Commerce. In a bedroom closet of the beach house hung the first dinner jacket he has ever owned. In New York, he retained a personal agent to handle his television appearances and endorsement fees and a lawyer to advise him on how to invest an income that could reach $125,000 this year.
The boy who had come to New York at 19 and promptly signed away 50% of his outside income (it amounted to $45,000 in 1956) to a perfect stranger (a matter still in the law courts) now was well protected against exploitation. He had a great and good friend and adviser in Harold D. Youngman of Baxter Springs, Kans., the builder of superhighways who put Mickey on the payroll at $500 a month when, as a Yankee rookie, he needed an off-season job. In Tom Green wade, the Yankee scout who signed him, he had a paternal counselor from his own part of the country who spoke his language and talked as straight to him as the father who had died at 40. In Billy Martin., his roommate on the road, and Whitey Ford, the pitching star, he had pals who knew where the laughs were.
And yet, Mickey stood a little apart from them all. For, as he had learned along a sometimes torturous winter banquet circuit, he was now public property. Because of television, more people had seen him play than had seen Babe Ruth in his entire career; Mickey had unique responsibilities, and the banquet speakers did not hesitate to remind him of what they were. As they flattered him and extolled him, they also admonished him and instructed him and rebuked him. They called upon him to live every public and private moment in a manner that would dismay a saint. "We fathers can do only so much, Mickey," said one speaker, forgetting that Mickey is a father, too. "It is up to you to set the example for our kids." Other orators told him to watch his language, to curb his temper, to hold his head up after striking out, to eschew bad balls, to forgo so much as a kick at the dugout water cooler in anger—and to hit at least 61 home runs in 1957. Men clutching microphones called upon Mickey for a display of virtue to which few men dare aspire themselves. And a Broadway press agent, a man accustomed to the raw realities of life and sports, privately expressed off-mike horror at what he judged to be one of Mickey's falls from grace. What had Mickey done? He had inquired as to the cash value (about $10,000) of the Hickok Belt which he was awarded at a banquet in Rochester.
Like it or not, Mickey Mantle was stuck with the Hero's role. And this is a report on how he is taking it, written out of a long journey and many hours spent in the company of Mickey and the friends who know him best.
I started with his friends. I sat in an Oklahoma hotel lobby with Tom Greenwade, the lean, rawboned Yankee scout who is a part-time Missouri farmer and town school board president.
"To understand Mickey," said Tom, "you have to understand a little about his father Elven, or Mutt, as they called him. Now Mutt loved baseball, but he was no baseball nut. He wanted the best for his boy and he saw baseball as the best way to get it for him. Mutt had a lot of good, common sense and Mickey has, too.
"When Mickey made good with the Yanks, people down here in Oklahoma would come to his father and say, 'Those Yankees stole your boy!' Mutt would shake his head and say, 'No, I don't look at it that way at all. I consider Mickey was mighty lucky to get with the Yankees and if I had to advise him all over again, I'd tell him to do just what he did.'"
Tom Greenwade rubbed his chin and shook his head.
"I must admit Mickey himself has needled me more than once about that $1,100 bonus, but Mutt never mentioned it to me at all. Mutt was certainly a rare specimen. He never bothered the ball club or the managers, demanding this or that for his boy. Not that he didn't take the interest. Why, he saw every game when Mickey was at Joplin. He'd work all day in the mines and then drive the 20 miles or more over from Commerce. But he'd never interfere. The strongest words I ever heard from him on the subject of Mickey's progress was after Mickey had had a bad night in the field at Joplin. Mutt said to me, 'Tom, are the Yankees set on that boy as a shortstop?' I said, 'We've been thinking that way, yes.' Mutt nodded his head and then, after a minute, he said, 'You know, I wouldn't be surprised to see Mickey end up in the outfield. He gets a pretty good jump on a fly ball.'"
Tom took a cigaret and a light.
"Here's something about Mickey. Try to push him and he can be stubborn as a mule. When he was having the trouble with that knee, I took him to Dr. Dan Yancey there in Springfield. There were some X-ray pictures made, and when we went back to get the results Mickey stopped outside the doctor's door and said to me, 'No matter what Doc Yancey says, I'm not having any operation. That's final.' I said that was all right with me and we went in.
"Well, Doc Yancey showed Mickey the pictures and explained to him what the trouble was and said that he needed an operation, and if he didn't have it, he'd keep hurting the knee and make it all the worse. Mickey just sat there.
"Then Doc Yancey said, 'Mickey, I'd advise you to go back East to Johns Hopkins and have that operation. Or, if you don't want to go to Johns Hopkins, why the Yankees will get you a surgeon who can do the job. There are plenty of good ones back East."
Tom said Mickey looked at the pictures and then said:
"Why can't you do the operation?"
According to Tom, Dr. Yancey said he could do it all right, did it all the time. But, he said, Mickey would probably feel better having it done at Johns Hopkins or somewhere back East.
"Now," said Tom, "bear in mind that this was the boy who wasn't going to let anybody operate on him. Doc Yancey had handled him just right. Mickey stood up and said, 'Either you do the operation or nobody does!'"
Dr. Yancey did it.
I went to St. Louis and called on Bill DeWitt. Bill, formerly assistant general manager of the Yankees, is now administrator of the newly created minor league fund.
"I'll tell you something about Mickey," said DeWitt. "Last spring before I signed Mickey to his 1956 Yankee contract, I went to see him in the hospital. He had just had his tonsils out. We got talking and Mickey opened up with me. He said, 'Look, I was glad to see Yogi [Berra] get the Most Valuable Player award. There's no better guy in the world than Yogi. But I'm just wondering. What's a guy have to do to be considered most valuable?'"
Bill said that was the opening he wanted.
"Well, Mickey [said Bill], I'm glad you asked me. Maybe, when the baseball writers are deciding who's been most valuable, they take other things into account. Maybe a ballplayer has to do more than have a good season on the field. Maybe he has to win a little personal popularity. Maybe he has to put out a little effort. Maybe he can't brush off every newspaperman who approaches him or just clam up on him. Maybe he must make a real effort to be a little cooperative."
Bill said Mickey took all that in. Then Bill went on:
"Mickey, I think you're going to be the greatest star there ever was, you're going to break every record in the books, but you've got to realize that a star has some obligations, too. If you make an effort and keep out of jams, there'll be no stopping you. But you've got to do your part. You've got to come out of that shell."
Now a year later, Bill had just seen Mickey at the baseball writers' dinner in Chicago.
"The change in the boy is fantastic," he said. "I have never seen anybody gain so much confidence in so short a time. He wasn't supposed to make a speech at that Chicago dinner. Casey Stengel was the guest of honor. But before the dinner Mickey came to Bob Fishel, the Yankee publicity man, and said, 'I wouldn't mind getting up there and saying a few words about Casey.' And so they called on him and he made a nice little talk. A year ago, the very idea would have terrified him. He certainly wouldn't have volunteered to talk."
I went to Rochester and watched Mickey get the Hickok award. Before the belt was finally handed to him, he had posed for innumerable pictures, handled a large press conference artfully, signed literally hundreds of autographs (getting only a few mouthfuls of dinner) and then had sat through four solid hours of oratory.
In Milwaukee, Mickey received the Associated Press award at a dinner given by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. He sat at a table on the stage and was able to eat an entire meal before the autograph seekers closed in on him. The speeches were short and there was a poignant moment when Toastmaster Joe E. Brown called an unscheduled speaker up out of the audience. It was the man for whom Mickey was named, Mickey Cochrane himself, who predicted that "My namesake will break the Ruth record as sure as I'm standing here." Mickey responded with the longest little speech of the whole banquet circuit, and it was clear now what Bill DeWitt had been talking about.
Two days later, I sat in the paneled office of Harold D. Youngman in Baxter Springs, Kans., a town just a few miles away from Mickey's home in Commerce, Okla. It was in Baxter Springs that Mickey, playing with a local team called the Whiz Kids, first attracted the attention of the New York Yankees.
Wearing a felt hat, Harold Youngman himself sat at a big desk. He is a friendly, quiet-spoken, low-pressure man in his 40s, whose success in the contracting business enables him to keep his own plane and pilot and big houses in Baxter Springs and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. One of his subsidiary companies is Southwest Chat, of which Mickey is vice-president.
Youngman showed me the architect's drawing of a 56-unit motel that he and Mickey were building at Joplin, Mo., 17 miles away. He pointed out the projected swimming pool and restaurant and showed me where a supper club would be added later on. The motel will be known as Mickey Mantle's Holiday Inn and will cost $350,000.
"Mickey is due here any minute," Youngman said. "He has to take a medical exam for an insurance policy in connection with this motel investment."
In a moment Mickey appeared. He was wearing a toothpick, a su√®de jacket and a fur cap that had been dyed a bright green and had some kind of insignia on it. I told him he had certainly made a fine speech in Milwaukee.
He turned to Youngman.
"Spoke about 15 minutes," he said, taking the insurance papers Youngman held out to him. He scanned the documents suspiciously and then said:
"Well, let's get this physical over with."
Youngman said he would see me a little later, and as we walked out, I took another look at Mickey's green fur cap and remarked:
"Is there anything special about that fur cap, Mickey?"
"Nope," said Mickey.
We passed a man in the hall.
"Hi, Mick," he said. "That's one hell of a snazzy cap."
"Yep," said Mickey. "The jet pilots gave it to me when I was up in Alaska with Bob Hope."
I walked on down the street and turned in at the Empire Hotel, the only hotel in town. As I signed the register, I asked the lady behind the desk, "Did you know Mickey Mantle when he was playing ball here with the Baxter Springs Whiz Kids?"
"Why, certainly I did," she said. "He had a room two doors down. And, oh, he was a holy terror."
"How do you mean?" I said.
"Why, I'm just thinking of what he and another boy on the team did one night."
"What did they do?"
"Why," said the lady, "they got in this terrible pillow fight. The landlady was picking up feathers for a month after. I believe she asked them to leave the rooming house."
I sat down in a row of intercity truck drivers who were watching television. The highways were sheets of ice and the big trucks had been ordered off. I thought back to what Tom Greenwade had said and what had just happened in Youngman's office. Then it became clear to me. You don't ask an Oklahoma man like Mickey nosy questions about his fur cap. What you do is tell him it's a snazzy cap and then, if there's anything special about it, he'll tell you.
I turned to a truck driver.
"Where can I get some lunch?" I said.
"Well," said the truck driver, "there's several places, but the place is Bill Murphey's down on the main street."
When I got to Bill Murphey's, I saw Mickey and Youngman standing outside. Their backs were turned, so I just slipped into the restaurant, took a toothpick from the cashier's counter and sat down in a booth. I picked up the menu and read: "Three slices fried mush, 35. Ozark ham platter, 95." When the waitress came over, I ordered the Ozark ham.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mickey and Youngman walk in. They sat down on stools. Nobody made any fuss over Mickey, nobody asked for his autograph. The waitress brought the Ozark ham and I started to eat, opening the menu again to have something to read.
I kept my eyes on my plate and the menu, and then I was suddenly aware that there was somebody slipping into the booth with me. I looked across the table and there sat Mickey and Youngman.
I just nodded. The waitress brought them bowls of bean soup. I kept eating my Ozark ham and said nothing. Finally, Youngman said:
"Mickey and I are going to drive over to Joplin to break ground for the motel. Do you want to come with us?"
I sensed I had it figured now. Be nosy and be pushy and you got nowhere. I chewed my ham slowly and trimmed another piece with the delicacy of a brain surgeon. Mickey was sipping his bean soup steadily, his head bowed over the bowl. I let the silence linger on.
Harold Youngman looked at me in a puzzled way. Mickey kept sipping his soup. I was dying to go to Joplin. Finally, I spoke up:
"Oh," I said, "I don't know about going to Joplin."
Mickey looked up from his soup, startled. He stared at me a minute and then said:
"Well," I said, steering a piece of bread through the ham gravy with my fork, "I just came from Joplin."
"It's not far," said Mickey.
I swallowed my gravy bread and wiped my mouth with my napkin. Then I leaned back and rummaged in my pockets and pulled out a toothpick. I started picking my teeth. Mickey put down his soup spoon.
"You said up in Rochester you wanted to talk to me," he said. "This would be the best time. I'm going to Tulsa tomorrow."
I turned to Youngman.
"How are the road conditions between here and Joplin?"
Before he could answer, Mickey said, "They're thawed; I just drove over from Commerce and they're all right."
"Good," I said, "I'll go to Joplin with you."
Ken Underwood, an officer of Youngman's company, joined us as we got into the brand-new Lincoln parked at the curb. Youngman and Underwood got into the back seat and I sat up front with Mickey.
We sat on loose-fitting plastic seat covers and there was brown wrapping paper to protect the floor against our muddy feet.
"Hell of a snazzy automobile," I remarked as we pulled away.
"I've got it on approval," said Mickey. "It's the third one they've sent me to try out. It really gets up and goes. But I don't know about the color."
"What is it," said Youngman, "tan?"
"Yeah," said Mickey.
"Wouldn't show the dust," I said.
"See this button here?" said Mickey. "Push that and you grease the whole car."
We passed the Baxter Springs ball park.
"There's where I played ball with the Whiz Kids," said Mickey.
"And that's where Tom Greenwade signed you for the Yankees," I said.
"Right there near the entrance," said Mickey, "sitting in a car with me and my father in the rain."
We had left the town behind and Mickey opened up the car a little. I had been reading in the paper about cars hitting ice slicks and going off the road. I watched the speedometer, and it went to 60 and 70.
"Watch this," said Mickey. He reached down and touched a button and the seat tilted back like a sleeper chair on a plane. Mickey looked around with a delighted grin. He had the fingers of one hand resting lightly on the steering wheel.
As I looked at him, big and strong and utterly relaxed, I forgot about the ice slicks. I never felt so comfortable in my life.
"Mickey," I said, "I've been wanting to tell you something. I heard you in a couple of press conferences along the banquet circuit and I want to say that I think what you said about Duke Snider having a better chance to break Ruth's record was a very smart thing to say."
"Why?" said Mickey.
"Well," I said, "first of all, it gave the sportswriters in every town something to write about. Second, it seemed to me that if you kept thinking that way it would take some of the pressure off you for the start of the season. And third, you're talking salary to George Weiss now, and I imagine it must kind of throw a man off balance when his biggest star plays himself down. I mean, if you take the attitude that there are better hitters than you around, why the Yankees are put in the position of having to say, 'But you're the best there is.' Then you say, in effect, 'Well, if I'm the best, why don't you give me what I'm asking?' Tell me, did you plan all that out ahead of time?"
"I didn't plan anything," said Mickey. "I meant it. Any home run hitter's got a chance to break the Ruth record. I think you have to come up to September with 50 home runs, though. That's why I stopped going for the home run in September. I was watching Williams and Ka-line and going for the hits and the RBIs."
We pulled off the road at the motel site. The photographer and several city officials were there. The pictures of Mickey breaking ground were taken quickly, and soon we were heading back to Baxter Springs.
"I hope the Associated Press picks up that picture for the Wirephoto," said Harold Youngman.
I turned around and said importantly: "Oh, they undoubtedly will."
"No, they won't," said Mickey, sounding like a man who knows about such things. (The A.P. did pick it up, but I certainly wouldn't have bet on it after what Mickey said.)
We got to recalling the banquet circuit again.
"How was Yogi Berra's speech up at Rochester?" asked Youngman.
"Oh, old Yogi, he was bragging on me," said Mickey. "He got up and said something about asking Mr. Hickok how many times a fellow could win the belt. Mr. Hickok said there wasn't any limit and Yogi said I was apt to just take charge of it from then on. He kept bragging like that."
"How about that Joe Garagiola?" I said. "He's terrific, isn't he?" (Garagiola is a former big league catcher who now telecasts the Cardinals' games.)
"Yeah, he's real good," Mickey said.
"He's got perfect timing," I said. "He's really a professional comedian."
"He's good," said Mickey. "He stole some of the stuff I was going to use, though. You know, about Yogi getting all the money from Mr. Weiss before I got to him. I was going to say that."
"Joe Garagiola is as good as anybody on television today," I said firmly. "He's as good as Bob Hope."
"No, he's not," said Mickey.
I lit up a cigaret and pushed a button to lower the window a little.
Mickey pointed up at the sky.
"Look at the ducks," he said.
"You always see them out of season," said Harold Youngman.
The talk turned to hunting and one thing led to another until the subject of wild turkeys came up.
"I guess, when you get right down to it, crows are really the smartest birds there are," I said.
"No, they're not," said Mickey. "Wild turkeys are the smartest."
We pulled up in front of the Empire Hotel in Baxter Springs and I got out and said I'd see them all at the American Legion Hall that night. Mickey had promised to answer questions for the local Little Leaguers.
At 7 o'clock there were more than 150 Little Leaguers waiting for Mickey in the American Legion Hall, all of them scrubbed and shining, pushing, pummeling each other, shouting at new arrivals, crowding together until one of the Legionnaires had to get up and try to restore some order. "All right, boys," he yelled, "quiet!" He had authority and the boys quieted down immediately.
When Mickey arrived, the Legionnaire came to me and said, "We'd like you to sit up at the head table next to Mickey."
I thought to myself, that would be pushy. So I said no, I'd rather sit on a sofa over against the wall where I could take some notes without being conspicuous.
It didn't occur to me that any visitor from New York covering a Little League affair in Baxter Springs would be classed as a celebrity and I was startled to hear Ken Underwood, wearing his Legion cap, get up and start the session by introducing not Mickey Mantle, but me.
"He's writing a story about Mickey and is going all over everywhere with him," Ken told the boys. Then he called over to me: "Now when will that story appear?" I called back, "It's due to appear in the March 4 issue."
Mickey nodded approvingly and then he called out: "Well, why don't you stand up so's they can get a look at you?"
I felt myself getting red in the face, but I stood up and bowed and the boys applauded.
"This fellow," said Mickey to the boys, "has been following me all the way from New York City. And this is the first time anybody's ever introduced him!"
Everybody laughed and I sat down and Ken Underwood called for questions.
Every boy shot up his hand whether he had a question or not and usually the boy Mickey called on had to think one up fast. The first boy Mickey pointed to stammered a few seconds and then blurted: "What would you do if you were caught between first and second?"
"Why," said Mickey, "I'd try to get back to one of 'em." He pointed to another youngster.
"Do all ballplayers chew gum?" asked the boy.
"Gum or tobacco usually," said Mickey. "That's so you won't drink too much water."
The questions jumped all around the room:
"Who's the toughest pitcher for you, Mickey?"
"Herb Score, I guess."
"Are you ever nervous up there at the plate?"
"Pretty nervous, yes."
"Do you eat Wheaties, Mickey?"
"Yes, I do."
A boy in the back was caught completely unprepared as Mickey pointed to him. He flushed and then desperately called out: "What position do you play?"
Everybody laughed loudly and the boy ducked his head, mortified.
Mickey waited until the laughter died down and then he said gently: "Outfield."
"What other positions have you played, Mickey?"
"Well," said Mickey, "let's see. I've played second base, third base and shortstop."
"Why don't they let you pitch?"
Mickey smiled and then said softly: "I just don't know."
"What was the hardest ball you ever tried to catch?"
"That was in 1951 when I was in the Yankee rookie camp out in Phoenix," said Mickey. "I was a shortstop then, but Casey put me in the outfield one day. I didn't know how to work those sunglasses and Ray Boone hit a long ball to me and I was fussing with the sunglasses and running to make the catch and the next thing you know I got the ball—right between the eyes."
The boys laughed and one of them cried out: "Do you use Gillette Blue Blades?"
Mickey laughed and let it pass and pointed to another questioner:
"Mickey, who's the best catcher on the Yankees?"
"Well," said Mickey as though he had to think about it, "I guess you'd have to say Yogi Berra."
"Mickey, is there any kind of food you're not supposed to eat?"
"Well," said Mickey, "we're supposed to go easy on the chili and hot dogs."
"Mickey, are you going to give us autographs tonight?"
Ken Underwood stepped up and shook his head.
"Boys," he said, "this is Mickey's last night at home and he made a special effort to drive all the way over from Commerce. Now he wants to get back and have a little time with his family. You'll understand that, I'm sure, and so let's give Mickey a big send-off."
The boys cheered and Mickey waved and made his way through them to the door.
Next day, Mickey piloted a two-car caravan of relations (he had decided to buy the Lincoln he tried out the day before) down to Tulsa for the banquet of the Old Timers Baseball Association at which he was to receive an award as Oklahoma Athlete of the Year. The first thing he did on arriving in Tulsa was to take his wife to a jeweler's. They bought a setting for a diamond which he planned to take out of the Hickok Belt so Merlyn could wear it as a ring.
Later in the afternoon, Mickey paced the Mantle suite in the Adams Hotel. His 20-year-old twin brothers, Roy and Ray, were there and so was Tom Greenwade, the Yankee scout.
The twins, as shy about public appearances as Mickey himself was a couple of years ago, were stating the terms by which they had agreed to attend the dinner that night.
"We said we weren't going to sit at any head table," said Roy. "We said we weren't getting up on any stage."
"They said we could sit down with the reporters," said Ray, "and all we'd have to do is get up and take a bow."
"We're not going on any television program," said Roy.
"We may take a notion not to go at all," said Ray. "They're liable to doublecross us and call us up on that stage."
"Let's not go," said Roy.
Mickey nodded and looked defiantly at Tom Greenwade.
"A little bit more and I wouldn't go myself," he said.
The twins looked at him admiringly. "Let's not any of us go!" cried Ray.
"Oh, what are you talking about, Mickey!" exclaimed Tom Greenwade. "I think you're beginning to like this speechmaking."
Mickey looked at him and grinned.
"Getting pretty good at it, too," he said. "You ask Bob Hope."
That night, before 1,200 guests assembled in the Cimarron Ballroom, Mickey took part in a sketch modeled on Ralph Edwards' This Is Your Life television program, and his mother and Merlyn and Tom Greenwade and Harry Craft, his manager at Joplin, came on stage to tell about various phases of Mickey's career. Mickey's mother said he had been "quite a good scholar" in school and Merlyn confessed that she always liked football better than baseball. The twins, Roy and Ray, jumped up from the press table and bobbed their heads and Hugh Finnerty, the M.C., kept his bargain and didn't try to lure them up on the stage.
Mickey went down the stretch of the banquet circuit like a miler letting go with his final kick. He flew to New York for three more affairs, and in accepting the Player of the Year award at the annual banquet of the New York baseball writers, he added short, choppy, Harry Trumanlike gestures to his talk and made news by announcing he had come to terms with the Yankees at (it was guessed) about $60,000 for the 1957 season.
He thought it was all over. But when he flew down to Florida and went out to play golf with his friend Billy Martin, the newspapermen found him on the 15th tee at Miami Springs and began grilling him with the very questions he had been answering all winter long. At last he blew his top, and next day a headline in one of the Miami papers ran across six columns: MANTLE ON BASEBALL: TIRED OF THAT BULL!
Next morning Mickey called up his friend Harold Youngman at Fort Lauderdale and asked if he and Billy could come up and play the course at Coral Ridge, Young-man's club. Youngman said they certainly could, and when he hung up the phone, I put down my coffee cup and said I had to go someplace.
"If you'd like to see Mickey this afternoon," said Youngman, "I'd suggest you be out at Coral Ridge at about 3:30."
Working the formula that I had learned in Baxter Springs, I said I might just possibly be able to make it.
I was glad I did, for I got the chance to ride around in a golf cart with Billy and Mickey and keep score and see Mickey enjoying his first real respite away from home. Neither Billy nor Mickey has ever taken a lesson and their game is relaxed and informal with bad lies easily remedied by a well-aimed kick. They played in the 90s. Billy got a birdie 2 on one hole, and a couple of times Mickey's power happened to coincide with a perfect swing and the ball went screaming off the tee. Once, he pointed to a woman making a short approach to the green far down the fairway on a long hole and said: "I believe I'll knock that lady's hat off." It seemed perfectly safe to drive, but this was one of the times Mickey did everything right—and he had to duck his head in embarrassment when the woman near the green jumped as the ball came bounding by her.
Between holes, Billy Martin said of Mickey, "People don't realize the pressures that guy is under. He was the biggest star in the game at 24 and it's not easy to get used to suddenly finding that you can't even sit down and eat a sandwich without being surrounded. They say it's the price of fame and he's getting well paid for it. But still, coming out of a small town out in Oklahoma, it takes a little time to learn. Mickey's learned fast and he's grown up fast. Another thing people are apt to forget is that he plays ball under some tough physical handicaps. And he never complains or mentions it. You ask Casey."
At the final tee Lew Worsham, the Coral Ridge pro, drove up in a cart and asked Billy and Mickey if they'd like to do a little skeet shooting when they were through. They said they would.
For the last hole, Martin suddenly became a radio announcer, describing "the ever confident Willie Martin going down the stretch against his highly regarded opponent, Charles Mantle." Billy drove and sliced and Mickey said, "The ever confident Willie is so confident he's playing the wrong fairway."
After the skeet shooting, I stood with Mickey and Billy and Youngman outside the locker room. It was the end of a long winter trail. Harold Youngman turned to me and said, "Isn't there anything you want to ask Mickey?"
I thought hard. What would I ask him? The old, old questions about the Ruth record, how he felt in the slump last year, the teams the Yankees had to beat, the condidition of his knee, how much he actually got out of George Weiss? None of them seemed right. Mickey stood waiting. Finally, I had it.
I reached in my pocket and pulled out the golf card on which I had been keeping score. Then I asked the question, the ultimate banal question that is at once the exasperation and the final tribute to the Hero.
"Mickey," I said, "would you please autograph this card?"
EPILOGUE BY CASEY: In a corner of the dining room of the Soreno Hotel in St. Petersburg, Fla. Casey Stengel eyed a breakfast egg and stared it down. "Oh, yes," he said, "so I hear. He's got this confidence. I saw him in Chicago and he's down in the crowd and they ask him to come up and speak and he comes to the head table and says, "This is the first time my manager has heard me speak." Which is true except that I see him on the television and he looks very good. His grammar is very good. He's known all over now, everywhere he goes they know him and want his autograph. They know him in North and South Dakota."
Casey finished his egg and got up and walked into the lobby and sat down on a sofa. "What I want to know is where is my trunk? I'm wearing this winter suit for five days down here and nobody can tell me where my trunk is. I've got to get some action on that."
He took a cigaret and puffed on it.
"Yes," he said. "He has this confidence and maybe it will help him. But that's now. What about two, three, five years from now? What happens? This third baseman at Milwaukee [Eddie Mathews], I liked him very much, but I don't know. Other ones around, big stars and then what? This boy could get hurt, he could get too big across here." Casey drew a hand from shoulder to shoulder. He's very powerful up there, and he could get too big and lose power. It's happend to some others. Like [Johnny] Mize, only he went into the Navy and got thinned down again."
Casey ground out his cigaret.
"Suppose they walk him a lot. All right, what does he do? This boy is fast. He may lead the league in stolen bases. This boy has a great arm. He may lead the outfielders in assists. You got to be fast and strong to play center field in Yankee Stadium. About the knee, I'm surprised when he says in New York that the knee doesn't bother him as much as hitting right-handed. That's odd. You'd think, being the right knee, it would be the other way."
Casey called out to a passing porter: "Any sign of my trunk?"
"I'll go see, Mr. Stengel," said the porter.
"There was a boy on a quiz program," said Casey. "'What do you want to be when you grow up?' they ask him. 'Center fielder on the New York Yankees,' the boy says. That's the way it goes. They know him everywhere now. But here's what people don't realize. The big thing about this boy is he likes to play baseball. The knee bothers him and still he comes to me and says, 'Let me play.' Sometimes I let him when I shouldn't. I shouldn't have let him play in the All-Star Game. But he says, 'You got to let me play, Casey.' So I give in. I'm wrong, but I let him play. That's what people don't know. With all the other things, dancing on the television and making speeches and going for the records, there's this big thing about this boy. This boy loves to play baseball."
with kid brothers, sister
As a senior in high school
Wearing his first pro uniform
Playing cards with family: late father in sweat shirt
With his idol, Joe DiMaggio
He shares spotlight with Stengel at banquet in New York
He helps Teresa Brewer record the song, "I Love Mickey"
He meets a young admirer in Chicago
He poses Swimmer Pat McCormick
He rehearses with Singer Perry Como