He was known as a great baseball slugger.
He was known as the fastest man in the major leagues.
And he was known as a hell-raiser off the field.
But two of Mickey Mantle’s closest friends – Bobby Richardson and Pat Summerall – say that’s not how he died 10 years ago today.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Mickey Mantle’s name was synonymous with baseball.
Beginning in 1951, he played for New York Yankee teams that appeared in the World Series 12 of the next 14 years.
Inheriting the centerfield position from the legendary Joe DiMaggio, he won three American League Most Valuable Player awards and the coveted Triple Crown in 1956.
Mantle’s former New York teammate, and later the Yankee team manager, Billy Martin, once said, ”No man in the history of baseball had as much (baseball hitting) power as Mickey Mantle.” Mantle was inducted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame five years after his retirement from the major circuit in 1969.
Yankee buddies: Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson and Whitey Ford.
But despite all the triumphs and accomplishments, Mantle’s baseball career was hobbled by injuries and the ever-present real fear of an early death.
His father, Mutt, an alcoholic, died in his 40s of Hodgkin’s disease – a plague with a virulent family history.
From the mid-1950s until his death in 1995, Mantle developed a strong relationship with two professional athletes that would later have a profound effect on his life. One of those athletes was Bobby Richardson. Richardson was the Yankee second baseman and Mantle’s teammate from 1955 to 1966. Richardson had strong Christian convictions. He also had some outstanding years with the New York team, including winning the World Series MVP in 1960. Richardson described his friendship with Mantle as ”one that lasted a lifetime.”
Richardson always had the ear of his good friend Mantle.
”On numerous occasions Mickey would help me with various (outside) interests I was involved in,” Richardson told WorldNetDaily. Mantle participated ”in sports banquets, fund raisers (for the YMCA) and even a baseball instructional film event” from the University of South Carolina, where Richardson was head baseball coach in the 1970s.
During their years with the Yankees, Richardson had many opportunities to share his faith with Mantle. It appeared at the time, though, that Mantle never really took Richardson’s words of spiritual advice seriously. Most everyone who was closely associated with Mantle knew he had a reputation for playing hard and partying even harder. He also struggled with alcohol.
While Richardson never got discouraged in sharing his faith with his friend, he noticed that Mantle, with the realization of his own mortality, finally asked the questions that revealed he was open to spiritual things. In a television interview with Bob Costas long after he retired from the game, Mantle said he had ”a void in his heart and an emptiness inside” after the 1985 death of his friend and former Yankee great Roger Maris.
In the 1950s Mantle used the same locker stall as another New York professional athlete, Pat Summerall, but during different seasons. Summeral was the place kicker and tight end of the NFL’s New York Giants. Summerall recently recalled that he first met Mantle when they played minor league baseball together. Over the years Summerall and Mantle ”played a lot of golf and interacted socially.”
When Summerall entered the Betty Ford Center for Alcohol in the early 1990s, Mickey showed interest in the center. Summerall told WND, ”Mickey was concerned about his own alcohol consumption.”
After many long question-and-answer sessions with the Hall of Fame
baseball player, Summerall challenged Mantle to enter the clinic. Summerall was thrilled when his friend agreed to enter the facility, and did so on a day not normally reserved for new patients.
It was the policy of the Betty Ford Center to disallow outgoing telephone calls during a patient’s one month stay. Summerall remembers fondly how Mantle somehow got on the phone and called him a number of times, sometimes late at night. While this was a difficult period in Mantle’s life, both Richardson and Summerall agree their friend was later to become an outstanding spokesman for people everywhere who were suffering from alcoholism.
By 1995, Mantle’s health took a turn for the worse when it was discovered he had cancer – that on top of liver problems associated with alcoholism. While hospitalized, it didn’t take long for Mantle to call his friend, Richardson, and ask him to pray for him.
Richardson vividly remembers visiting Mantle a few weeks before his death Aug. 13, 1995. One of the first things that Mantle wanted to tell his former teammate was that he ”now trusted in Christ as his Lord and Savior.” Mantle assured him by quoting to Richardson and his wife one of the more famous verses from the Bible, John 3:16: ”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Years later Richardson found out that Mantle, while in the hospital, somehow listened to a Focus on the Family testimonial tape of NBA Hall of Famer Pete Maravich. Commenting on how this tape was instrumental in leading Mantle to Christ, Focus Vice President Kurt Bruner told WND that ”after achieving nearly everything that the world has to offer and finding that something was still lacking, Pete discovered Jesus Christ and never looked back.” Richardson felt that his former teammate identified with similar aspects of the basketball player’s life.
Now, 10 years after Mantle’s death, both Richardson and Summerall are more grateful than ever for their friendship with the former Yankee centerfielder.
Mantle is still adored by fans across America. His family still operates several ”Mantle’s” restaurants, and his baseball memorabilia is popular as ever.
Last month, HBO aired a special on his life. But Richardson and Summerall were disappointed that the producers failed to include some significant moments in Mantle’s life – including his spiritual conversion.