"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mickey Mantle: solid sheen of a superstar

Mickey Mantle was receptive to making commercial endorsements in his prime of stardom. I still remember, all these years later, taking the subway around New York City in 1964 and seeing pictures of the smiling Mick, endorsing things. Given that baseball players were still chattels, relatively speaking, before Marvin Miller came along, I congratulate Mantle and other stars on making money by whatever extraneous means possible.
Mantle was the definition of celebrity. His mere name promoted awe. Recently I have written some posts about other Yankees of the early '60s, guys for whom we need a reminder of who they were. Like Tom Tresh. Mantle is still ingrained in our consciousness.
The Mantle I remember was mature in terms of being up in years. I didn't pay much attention to baseball until 1962. I became intrigued by seeing baseball cards on cereal boxes. I also got some of the regular baseball cards, with that bubble gum that we always discarded, at those neighborhood grocery stores in Morris. Today we have "convenience stores" where you get gas too.
Mickey Mantle! Such a superstar, and yet he had a common air about him. He actually was rather a country hick. Sorry for the coarseness but it fits. Mantle might have been pigeon-holed by the NYC media as such, but he became friends with the street-wise Whitey Ford. Ford was the superlative pitcher of that era.
We see a movie scene where Ralph Houk (played by Bruce McGill) has a private conversation with Mantle (Thomas Jane) at the start of the 1961 season. Houk tells Mantle he has to be a leader. One of the problems is that Mantle set no example with his lifestyle. This has become famous, making Mantle into rather a caricature. Could Mantle be a leader for a pennant-contending team? This was not in Mantle's nature. The post I recently wrote about Phil Linz confirmed that.
Mantle could have completely prevented the "harmonica incident." Manager Yogi Berra told Linz to knock off his harmonica playing in the bus. Linz asked Mantle "What did he say?" Mantle, behaving like the character we all sensed he was, responded: "He said to play louder." Linz doubted that but he kept playing. The rest is history. While the incident seemed at the time like a black mark, revisionist history took over. The biggest reason for that was the Yankees started winning. They came from behind to win the pennant. They nearly won the World Series vs. St. Louis.

The New York-centric attitude
David Halberstam saw fit to write a whole book about the 1964 baseball season. Halberstam saw way too much symbolism in certain things. I have to chuckle when I realize that such a book had as a prerequisite, a New York City team being in the Series! Oh yes. Let's talk about "media bias" here outside the political realm. I consider it a fact, not an allegation.
Take the script for the 1991 World Series in which our Twins dramatically beat the Braves. Had a New York team been in that, movies and books would proliferate about it.
It's probably not as bad today as it was in the '60s or the next couple of decades. The new media with its democratization has leveled the playing field, as it were.
When I was a kid, it was rare to see a televised baseball game that didn't include the Twins. We looked forward to the "Game of the Week" on NBC with Curt Gowdy and former Yankee Tony Kubek. Kubek must have been in his playing prime before I became a fan - all I remember about him is that he was injured. On the Game of the Week I'd get rare glimpses, as if I'd come upon a rare bird, of players who I mostly just read about in the paper. What did they look like at the plate? I could finally find out watching TV on Saturday afternoons.
The young fans of today take for granted seeing baseball games on TV that include a great many different teams. Think of scarcity and marketing. There is nothing scarce about seeing prime baseball talent on TV anymore. The All-Star Game and even the World Series aren't what they used to be. People buy baseball entertainment by just going to the ballpark - they aren't mesmerized by the "big games" as much anymore.
Mantle drank too much. He admitted his flaws at the end of his life. I remember him saying: "They say I'm a role model. I'm a role model all right, don't end up like me."
Mantle began his decline in 1965, the year our Twins won the pennant. Roger Angell of The New Yorker wrote a book in which he had a chapter about this: "West of the Bronx." New York City was always his point of orientation. The Yankees fell down to sixth place in 1965. It got worse in 1966: last place! Amazing. It was sad to see some of the stars of the past still sticking with it in the field in '66. Mantle hit for a respectable .288 in 1966 with 23 home runs and 56 RBIs. He was still worth the price of a ticket. He became a first baseman after '66, so to be gentle with his knees.
Mantle's final season was 1968. That season became famous for how pitchers took over the game. Mantle batted .237 with 18 home runs and 54 RBIs. He was chosen an All-Star and pinch hit in the All-Star Game on July 11.

Honoring the man with music
I have written a song and lyrics about the great Mickey Mantle. Perhaps I was inspired by all those signs I saw in New York City with Mantle's picture as he endorsed things. His smile was in fact effective and endearing. So I titled my song "That Mickey Mantle Smile." I don't know if I'll have it recorded. The verse portion has a halting quality with syncopation. The next section is not really a chorus because it presents new lyrics every time it's sung. So I'll just call it the 'B' section. The letter 'B' normally denotes a bridge. My song does have an actual bridge which is sung just once. I like the bridge because it incorporates a name that has probably never appeared in any other song: Bobby Richardson.
I invite you to read through my song which is a paean to cherished times. It begins with a Cold War reference.
"That Mickey Mantle Smile"
by Brian Williams
We feared the bomb
So much alarm
But life had to go on
We heard "play ball" right into fall
So nothing could go wrong
'Cause we could see that Mickey Mantle smile
When he would hit that ball a country mile
He was always one of us, truly marvelous
And we just loved to see him smile
He drank too much
It was his crutch
He only needed space
He had the feel out in the field
Right in the pennant race
In '62 I saw that pennant fly
I saw that Number 7 in his prime
He could hit both left and right, show his homer might
But we just loved to seem him smile
There was Whitey Ford and Yogi
Bobby Richardson
Roger Maris swingin' hard
Giving us that fun
And we could see that Mickey Mantle smile
And from the cheap seats we could see his style
It was go, go, going gone, when his bat was on
But most of all we loved that smile
We loved that Mickey Mantle smile
© 2016 Brian R. Williams

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