"I Miss Mickey"
My childhood finally ended on August 13, 1995; I was 44 years old and Mickey Mantle had just died. It’s now been eighteen years since he left us, but I can still close my eyes anytime I like and see that swing of his. Even though I knew it at the time, he really was something to watch. The truth is never pure and rarely simple, but Mickey Mantle was born to be a baseball player and nothing else. He was a genius in spikes, a comet with a hat on. Even the name (Mic-key Man-tle) worked in his favor. If you were teaching a foreigner how to say baseball in English you would just say Mickey Mantle. At the end he finally realized that what he did on the field of play mattered to a lot of people. There have been so many things written about Mantle, but it still doesn’t seem to me to be enough. I am so glad I got to see him play and meet him in person. I wish my kids and grandkids could have done the same. When I see his smile in my mind, I also remember the tremendous exertion on his face when he uncoiled his bat at an oncoming pitch. It has been said that he treated each swing as if it were to be his last. You could actually hear him grunt as he swung at each pitch. That face was handsome, like your newspaper boys, with country bumpkin written all over it. His voice was smooth and southern, like molasses. His forearms were like anvils, large and hard. His body was compact with a low center of gravity. Those legs, although injured, were solid and quick. He was explosive and it was his speed made him different from other stars. I smile when I remember how he ran around the base paths, after a home run. His head, always up and bouncing, his arms bent at a forty-five degree angle, with his elbows in by his sides, but pointed straight out behind him. I always thought he ran with respect for the pitcher and the game, after hitting a homer. In the outfield he seemed to run differently after a ball, more reckless, but always with good results. I guess he will always be the one player I think about first when speaking about the game of baseball. I think what I’m missing is the excitement he generated in the sport on a daily basis. I miss the way people began to stand when he approached home plate. The anticipation of something incredible about to happen was tangible and filled the air. It made me feel good to watch him play, dashing, graceful and what power. Very little about today’s game moves me like that. The 2012 season had been loaded with personal records and achievements, but they seemed to pale in comparison to Mantle’s accomplishments. So why do I feel so empty when I see or read about these special events happening this year? This reminds me of a song by Bob Dylan entitled, “I used to care, but things have changed.” Yes, they have changed in the game of baseball, and I wrestle with whether or not I care. I assume I do care, because I’m writing this piece. I have always defended baseball and the game, but things are changing and we have no control. Most all the changes in the past have centered in and round the game itself. Dimensions of the park and playing surface, expansion, the equipment used, the expanded media environment, inventions of new pitches like the slider, and new play-off formats are some examples. But now it’s different. The players themselves have changed and I’m not talking about bigger, faster, or stronger. I’m talking about changes in the level of performance enhanced through the use of money and drugs that make a mockery out of the first 100 years of this game. It’s almost like watching robots play. The owners, players, commissioner’s office, players’ union and fans have been duped. We have all allowed this great game to become tainted by greed and drugs, and I don’t think it can ever be changed or fixed back like it used to be. As a friend of mine used to say, “It is what it is.” So, if you’re into 9 to 8 scores with five home runs, or teams making it to the World Series with a .500 record, then I guess you don’t mind paying $40.00 for a seat behind home plate. But you know what? It isn’t the same game that I fell in love with, never will be again. It’s true that most teams set attendance records last year which means that entertainment value is high on most folks’ list, but if they could just go back with me, just for an afternoon and watch one game played during the fifties, sixties or seventies; if they could just see Mantle, Mays, Clemente, Williams, DiMaggio, Aaron or Berra hit; if they could watch Koufax, Seaver, Gibson, Ford, or Marichal pitch; if they could witness, Sparky, Stengel, Lasorda, Weaver or Durocher manage…well, then they would get it. They would understand why I’m writing this piece. The game was better then than it is now. It was pure, safe and right with the world. It was the game of the people, the American Pastime. So, as for me, more than ever, I still miss Mickey Mantle and what he stood for in the game of baseball. I’m reminded by the words of the “Bambino” himself, Babe Ruth, who once said, “The only “real” game, I think, is baseball.” Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him atwww.purvisbooks.com, or