As last summer's tale of failed miracles, heroics, and redemption
played itself out at Baylor University Medical Center, I struggled
to explain to my teenage daughter why Mickey Mantle's liver cancer
(and the bottom-of-the-ninth transplant that pushed the game into
extra innings) was front page news.
"Why is he so important to you guys?" she asked, meaning
people in their 40s and 50s. I tried to put it in terms of mythology
and innocence and loss of innocence, but it finally came down
to a cliché: You had to have been there, had to have grown
up in the 1950s as a boy, or as a girl with a sports mad brother.
A Leather Glove
Growing up in rural Texas, my brother had little choice but to
teach his kid sister to hit and field. Once on his birthday, he
asked for an expensive leather baseball glove--for me--so that
we could play catch together. That glove transformed itself over
time, developing a deep "pocket" for snagging fly balls.
The '50s brought television into our lives--Ed Sullivan, Ernie
Kovacs, and the game of the week. That was how we knew the New
York Yankees--Yogi, Whitey, and especially Mickey, with his perfect
swing from either side.
It was some 30 years later that I actually met the great Yankee
slugger with the famous arthritic knees. My office in New York
had received an invitation to a press conference to announce a
new NSAID, and Mantle was the featured speaker.
Another editor, who had no interest in baseball, was given the
assignment, but she graciously let me take her place in the lineup.
She did want an autograph for her husband, so I bought four "official"
American League Rawlings baseballs, to bring along just in case.