“A great teammate”
Mickey Mantle, when asked what he wanted written on his tombstone.
To be honest, I didn’t have a plan for this post. But I knew I wanted to talk about Mickey Mantle. An online friend and I had been talking baseball recently…Washington Nationals baseball to be exact. A hot, young prospect made his major league debut on Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. You may have heard of him…Bryce Harper. He has said his favorite player of all time is Mickey Mantle.
This kid is no Mickey Mantle.
Not that he has to be, mind you, but if he idolizes The Mick he could sure do right by himself by learning to be more like him. What bothers me about Harper is his arrogance. I don’t know him, so in fairness I don’t know anything about him. But he presents himself with an arrogance that is off-putting. He says arrogant things in the press. He carries himself with an air of superiority.
That wasn’t Mickey Mantle.
Make no mistake, Mickey wasn’t perfect. He was a hard drinking man throughout most of his career. He was unfaithful in his relationship with his wife. He struggled being a good father. In short, he was human. Just like Harper.
But Mickey was a humble man. And more than that, he had respect for the game. He had respect for the fans and he had respect most of all for his teammates. He never once took the game for granted. In fact, he was given a second chance he didn’t think he had deserved.
At nineteen, the same age as Harper, Mickey struggled with the Yankees, and they sent him to Kansas to their minor league team to work on his skills. The demotion shattered him emotionally. He called his father, and in his mind, he had given up. He had quit. Mickey Mantle didn’t think he was good enough to play the game.
His father convinced him otherwise. Mickey went to the minor league team, put in the work he needed to improve and was promoted again that same year. The rest, as they say, is Hall of Fame history.
For me, Mickey’s life has many lessons to be learned. Both his personal and professional life. But the one thing that has always stuck with me is the lesson of humility. Though he wasn’t perfect, he was likable. Lovable, in fact, to legions of fans around New York and beyond. When I read about Mickey, I sympathize with his struggles. And maybe it’s a little easier to forgive his shortcomings because he was likable. How can you begrudge a man who always wanted to be a part of a team? Never to be singled out. Never to be fawned over or put on a pedestal.
But I guess in today’s modern world we need someone to root against as much as we need someone to root for. I guess baseball has become a soap opera, in need of a villain. It seems there are guys willing to play the part. I’ll love the game for the many guys who are willing to still be the heroes. The humble guys that respect the fans and their teammates and remember that baseball is still just a game. And games are supposed to be fun. For everyone.
I hope for all his hopes and dreams and desires that Harper’s attitude is simply youthful arrogance, and a healthy dose of reality will teach him that raw talent will only take him so far. At nineteen, he potentially has a long career ahead of him. I imagine it would be a difficult road if everyone hated you all the time. Maybe someday we can talk about the lessons he could teach the next generation…
Advice to the young kids, courtesy of Mickey’s long time teammate Yogi Berra;
“Baseball is 90% mental – the other half is physical.”
“You can observe a lot by watchin’”
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”
“If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”
“It ain’t over till it’s over”