Mickey Mantle's Greatest Victory
Forty-five years ago, my then 11-year-old brother Don named me, his new baby brother, after his favorite baseball player, Mickey Mantle. So, naturally, I was intrigued when I heard about the new HBO documentary Mantle, which premiered last month. (For a schedule of future air dates and times, click here.)
The film doesn't . . . attempt to sugar-coat Mantle's story at all. The seamier side of his life and character is laid out for all to see: the drinking and carousing, the boorish behavior and foul mouth, the neglect of his wife and sons, even a disdain for his fans at times, including those who were named after him. Mantle also examines his fear of dying young (Mantle was often quoted as saying, "If I knew I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself") and the pain he endured just to play the game he loved.
In the end, though, the film does show that Mantle, who died 10 years ago this week, eventually was redeemed as alcoholism and cancer ravaged his body. However, even though Mantle is billed as "The Definitive Story of Mickey Mantle," the film leaves out some of the details as to how he was finally able to overcome his old self and put on his new self (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Here's an account of his last days as chronicled in "Mickey Mantle: His Final Inning," by Ed Cheek, published by the American Tract Society:
In June of '95, doctors discovered that cancer had destroyed Mantle's liver. He was fortunate to receive a transplant, and for a while it seemed as if the greatest switch hitter of all time would live to fight another day. Then doctors found that cancer remained in his body, and he began chemotherapy. Mickey knew he was facing death. During the All-Star break in Dallas, he picked up the phone and called his old friend and teammate, former Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson—a committed Christian. Mickey asked him to pray for him over the telephone. A few weeks later when doctors had discovered that the cancer had aggressively spread, Mickey's family asked Bobby if he would come visit him. His death was imminent. To honor Mickey's long-standing request—one he had made at the funeral of Roger Maris nine years earlier—Bobby was asked to speak at the funeral.
After entering the hospital room, Richardson went over to Mantle's bed and took his hand. Locking his eyes on him, Bobby said, "Mickey, I love you, and I want you to spend eternity in heaven with me." Mantle smiled and said, "Bobby, I've been wanting to tell you that I have trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior." Faced with the crushing weight of his sin against a holy God and its dire consequence—eternal separation from God—Mickey had asked for and received the forgiveness he so desperately needed. For Richardson, news of his conversion felt like cool rain after a summer drought, and brought tears to his eyes. For years, he had talked to Mickey about the Lord Jesus, but to no avail. Now, in the final inning of his life, the Mick had won his greatest victory—more glorious than any of his tape-measure home runs.
When asked later how he knew he would spend eternity with God in heaven, Mickey, after some reflection, quoted John 3:16 from the Bible: "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."
At Mickey's funeral, Bobby Richardson told 2,000 mourners and a national TV audience that there are only two groups of people: those who say "yes" to Christ and those who say "no." He added that, since none of us knows when he will face his own final inning, saying "maybe" is really saying "no." The Bible confirms this when it says, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him" (John 3:36).
Here I am with my namesake, Mickey Mantle, in 1970 at the grand opening of Mickey Mantle Menswear at Holly Hill Mall in Burlington, North Carolina.