Home » Life Lessons Learned from the Life of “The Mick.”

Life Lessons Learned from the Life of “The Mick.”

In his 18 seasons in the big leagues, Mickey Mantle scored 1,677 runs, but he went home for good twenty years ago today.

Out of all the brushes with greatness that I’ve somehow stumbled upon over the years, meeting Mickey Mantle is my favorite. I never got to see him play in person. I’m not a Yankee fan. It was just a brief encounter, but the life lessons I was reminded of that day, and later while watching the transformative final months of his life, have stuck with me over the years.

In December 1989, a cheap airline ticket to New York City pretty much fell into my lap. I decided to check-off the bucketlist goal of ringing in the New Year in Times Square. There was time to kill until the ball dropped, so on New Year’s Eve day, which also happened to be my 24th birthday, my favorite football team, the LA Rams, were playing the Philadelphia Eagles in a playoff game. I decided to watch the game at a sports bar, and the first one I thought of was Mickey Mantle’s Bar and Grill on Central Park South.

I was sitting at the bar eating lunch and enjoying the Rams’ lead, when I glanced up and noticed none other than Mickey Mantle himself walk into the restaurant!

I couldn’t believe it! My body kind of went limp. Then I remember thinking to myself that I had to get a picture with The Mick, but I had left my camera in my hotel room about a mile away. (Life Lesson Reminder #1: The Boy Scout Motto: “Be Prepared”).

It was a drizzly day, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet an American sports icon, so I quickly paid my tab and took off running through Midtown Manhattan, all the way back to my hotel to get my camera, and then all the way back to the restaurant.

Nowadays, I’d hail a cab, but back then when travel dollars were tight, the thought of paying for a taxi, even in the rain, didn’t even cross my mind.

Luckily for me, when I returned, Mickey was still there. He was sitting at a table with a woman in a back section of the restaurant that was not being used for customers at the time. He was methodically signing a stack of postcard-sized photos of himself from his playing days.

I wasn’t the least bit nervous about approaching him, maybe it was the adrenaline built-up from my run, but I walked right up to him and asked if I could take a picture with him. He agreed. He was pleasant, but reserved. I thanked him, and let him finish his signing.

That night, I picked up a copy of the New York Times and discovered the reason that Mickey was in town. He had come to serve as a pallbearer at the funeral of one of his best friends and former Yankee’s teammate, Billy Martin. (Lesson Reminder #2: Dedication to old friends).

Billy had died earlier that week in an icy-road truck accident. An overflow crowd of 6,500 people attended the funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral including Mickey, Whitey Ford, Ron Guidry, Don Mattingly, George Steinbrenner and former President Nixon.

When I returned home from the trip and got my photos developed, I could clearly see the sadness in Mickey’s eyes. Although brokenhearted, he had done his duty and forced a smile for this fan’s once-in-a-lifetime chance to met “The Mick.” (Lesson #3: You gotta play hurt.)

In the years that followed my chance meeting with Mickey, he would be in the news again. He checked himself into The Betty Ford Center and kicked his alcoholism. He had liver transplant surgery, and shared his story as a warning to anyone who would listen.

He was the quintessential example of the reluctant and flawed hero. Shy by nature, he spent 42 years awash in booze to muster the courage to play the part of “Mickey Mantle” in public. He admitted to extra-marital affairs, to not being a good father for his four boys, to being short-tempered on occasions with fans, and wasting his God-given gifts.

I find the life of Mickey Mantle to be a fascinating tale of contrasts and eventual redemption. A country boy from Oklahoma thrust onto the biggest sports stage in the country. He struck out over 1,700 times, but he also hit 536 home runs.

He lived hard because the men in his family had all died in their 30’s and as Mickey said, “I wanted to make sure that I didn’t get cheated.” He ended up living to be 63 years old and often used the line, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”

Like Mickey, I believe that none of us completely live up to our true potential, and that we all fall short of God’s Glory. In the end, Mickey Mantle became a born-again Christian, aided by his friend and former Yankee teammate Bobby Richardson, who had become an ordained minister.

At a press conference after his liver transplant surgery, Mickey Mantle addressed his comments to the kids watching. “God gave me the ability to play baseball. God gave me everything. Don’t be like me,” referring to his years of excessive drinking. “I want to get across to the kids not to drink or do drugs. Moms and dads should be the role models, not ballplayers.”

Mickey may have thought that he wasted the life God gave him, but hopefully the lesson of his life will live on for the benefit of others. (Lesson #4: Share your story.)