Mickey Mantle, the great baseball player for the New York Yankees, was asked if there was ever a time when he walked up to the plate with the sole intention of hitting a home run. He answered yes… every time.  That answer captures the essence of Mickey Mantle. He was funny, bold, a great story teller and larger than life.

Mickey Mantle was also a complex person, part hero and great friend but he could also be bad father and husband. Tonight I am going to discuss 3 aspects of Mickey’s life organizing it into 3 categories. First I will discuss his athletic accomplishments as a baseball player. Then I will talk about some of the fun times Mickey had by telling a story Mickey liked to tell. I will conclude my talk by discussing the last years of Mickey’s life as he came to terms with his accomplishments and failures.

Let’s begin with Mantle’s athletic accomplishments. Mantle who was born in Oklahoma was a great all-around athlete. He was offered a football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma. But he signed with the New York Yankees and spent the better part of the 1950’s and 1960’s playing for the Yankees. Mickey Mantle was voted the American League MVP 3 times. In 1956, his best season, he won baseball’s Triple Crown – leading the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. He holds the unofficial record for the longest home run in a game. In 1960 he hit a ball 643 feet over the Tiger Stadium roof in Detroit. Mickey played in 12 World Series and was on the winning side 7 of those times.  And in 1974 he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

So these accomplishments are a big part of the legend of Mickey Mantle. But Mickey’s reputation as a fun loving and adventure seeking man who loved to tell stories of his escapades is also a big part of the Mickey Mantle story. To highlight this point I will share with you a story that Mickey liked to tell about a hunting trip with his best friend Billy Martin. The story shows Mickey to be fun loving and a joker but also shows the strong friendship and loyalty he shared with Billy.

Mickey lived in Dallas after he retired from baseball. His friend Billy Martin had been hired to manage the Texas Ranger baseball team. So Billy and Mickey had time to spend together. Billy had been given a hunting rifle as a present and one day he asked Mickey if he’d like to go deer hunting? Mickey said no Billy you wouldn’t like it. We’d have to get up early and drive down to the hill country. But Billy was perscestant and Mickey agreed to set up the trip. Mickey knew a man in central Texas who had a big farm with lots of land that was perfect for deer hunting. So they got up really early and drove down to the man’s farm. When they got there Mickey told Billy that he needed to tell his friend that they had arrived and were off to go hunting. So Mickey got out of the car and walked across the barn yard that was full of farm animals cows and chickens and an old mule. The man was delighted to see two great baseball legends – Mickey at his front door and Billy Martin waiting in the car.  The friend said it would be great for them to hunt but as Mickey was about to say thanks the man said he had a favor to ask of Mickey. He told Mickey about his mule. They mule was old and sick and needed to be laid to rest. He said I have had that mule for so long and I don’t want him to suffer anymore but I don’t have the heart to shoot him myself.  Could you do me a big favor and shoot him for me. Mickey said come on I can’t do that but the man talked him into it.  As Mickey was walking through the barn yard to get to the man’s house he started to think about all the times Billy had played practical jokes on him. So he got an idea for a joke to be played on Billy. Mickey storms back to the car and said  “give me one of those rifles”. Billy said what’s wrong. Mickey said we got up so early and drove all the way down here and now that guy says he is not going to let us hunt on his land. I’m so mad at him I am going to shoot his mule. Billy said no Mickey you can’t do that. We’ll get in trouble and be in the newspaper it will be a big disaster. Mickey said I don’t care I am going to kill his mule anyway. So Mickey took the rifle, takes aim at the mule and bag shot him dead. But the next thing he knows he hears two more shots ring out. Mickey turned around and Billy said “I got two of his cows”.

Many more of these types of stories have been told but it was Mantle’s history with alcohol that adds a dark side to his life’s story. F Scott Fitzgerald once said “show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy “- His alcohol abuse led to a failed marriage and strained relations with family and friends. Underlying these troubles were two problems. First Mickey never thought he, like the rest of the men in his family, would live past his 40th birthday. All the men in his family including his dad had died an early death. They were miners who died of various occupational hazards of that type of work.  Mickey did not think he had much to live for so he lived like there was no tomorrow. The second thing that Mickey always had trouble understanding was his fame and popularity. It made him uncomfortable that so many people would do anything to get his autograph or shake his hand. He never thought he was that great. He was very hard on himself and always said he could have been a better player. Many times he said that he wished he was never famous. Drinking was a way for him to escape the pressure that came with the high public expectations.  Mickey began to come to terms with his problem in 1994 when he checked himself into rehab. In 1995 he received a liver transplant – the result of hard living – It was during this time that Mickey was able to come to terms with his fame but he continued to be hard on himself.  He famously said “if I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself”

Mickey said, “You talk about a role model — this is a role model. Don’t be like me. God gave me the ability to play baseball and that’s what I wanted to do. God gave me everything and I just wasted it”. Mickey died in 1995.

None of us think that Mickey wasted it but he did live a complicated life shaped by his baseball accomplishments, his fun loving story telling ways and his attempt at the end of his life to address his problems.

Mickey wanted to be remembered as a great teammate and in fact that is the inscription on his plaque at Yankee Stadium.

A complicated man that tried to hit a home run every time he went to bat.