by David Sisler
Yankee Stadium may be called "The House that Ruth Built," but for 18 years, it was "The House that Mantle Filled."
When we heard that he had died, every baseball fan recalled his or her favorite Mickey Mantle stories.
I remembered four home runs I saw him hit.
The first one was the shot that cleared the 457 foot marker at Forbes Field during the 1960 World Series with the Pirates--he was the first right-handed batter ever to accomplish it. I saw that one on a small black and white television in my Mom and Dad's living room.
And I was in Yankee Stadium for a double header with the Chicago White Sox the day Mickey and Roger Marris hit seven homers between them. Roger hit four and Mickey, switch-hitting, launched three out of the park.
We all knew about the osteomyelitis, the bone disease that caused him to play through so much pain. Eighteen months ago, we learned about another kind of pain. That was when Mickey gave an interview to Sports Illustrated, and revealed 40 years of alcohol abuse. Mickey joked that if he had known he was going to live so long, he would have taken better care of himself--a reference not only to the alcohol, but also to the fact that his grandfather, father and uncle all died before age 41.
In spite of the bad legs, in spite of the booze, The Mick put together 18 major league seasons, the likes of which have rarely been seen in professional baseball.
In today's modern era, when lifetime .250 hitters make a million dollars, Mickey batted over .300 ten times. He won baseball's triple crown--best in homers, best in rbi's, best in batting average--in 1956. The New York Yankees won the American League pennant 12 of Mantle's first 14 years and won the World Series seven of those twelve. Mickey ranks 7th on the all-time list for home runs and has five individual World Series records, including most home runs and most runs batted in.
For all of that, and more, Mickey had his uniform, Number 7, retired in 1969, and he was elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1974, his first year of eligibility.
But my proudest memory of Mickey Charles Mantle will always be the courage that it took for him to look through the television lens to America's young people and say, "God gave me the ability to play baseball. God gave me everything. For the kids out there...don't be like me."
A former thief and tax collector named Matthew recorded one of Jesus' most famous parables.
A farmer took a look at his success and said, "I built my storage bins for a great harvest, but I've been successful beyond anything I could ever have imagined. These barns simply will not hold all that my fields have produced. I planned and planted and my yield is overwhelming. So in the morning I'm going to start a building program. I need more barns. I need bigger barns. What I have cannot hold my success."
That night God spoke to the farmer and said, "You are a fool. Your barns will not last. Your crops will not endure. But your eternal soul will live forever and you have made no provision for the next life. It is too late to prepare. Tonight, you die."
The man wasted everything--his time, his resources, his life. In the world's terms, he was totally successful. In God's terms, he was a total failure.
Jesus told another story. In it He talked about money, but the money was only used as an illustration. The parable of the talents is ultimately not about money. It is ultimately about using the gifts and abilities that God has given to each one of us for God. Only for God. Totally for God.
One man received five talents and through dedicated service, recognizing that his master was still the owner of the talents, earned five more. A second man received a trust of two talents and earned his master two more. A third servant received one talent and hid it, returning the single talent to his master, unused and without profit.
We are each given one opportunity. Only one life. We are each given at least one talent. Some, like Mickey Mantle, get more than one. But famous or not, we all get a minimum of one. Some use those talents far beyond anything anyone could ever have imagined.
Appearing on camera a few hours after his famous patient died, Dr. Daniel DeMarco said, "I think Mickey was ready to go."
I pray he meant that in a spiritual sense, that Mickey had placed his eternal trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Preaching Mickey's funeral, former teammate Bobby Richardson said Mickey had found the Lord. Here, then, the admonition, "Don't be like me," does not apply.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 8/19/95
Copyright 1995 by David Sisler
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