Safe At Home
Bobby Richardson had a Mickey Mantle moment once. Bobby was the little second baseman that played for the Yankees in the late 50’s til the mid 60’s. Bobby was a light hitter without much power. Usually in clutch situations just as he was going to bat he would hear his manager Casey Stengal holler “drop that gun.” It meant that someone was going to pinch hit for Bobby. The Yankees had just loaded the bases and Bobby was walking up to the plate. It was the World Series of 1960 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bobby was sure that he would hear Casey’s voice one more time and was shocked when Casey’s crackling voice didn’t fill the air. Apparently Casey had a feeling that it was Bobby who would come up with a big hit. Bobby was thinking about how he could punch a ball into right field and perhaps get an opposite field hit. Surprisingly the pitchers pitch was on the inside corner of the plate and Bobby turned on it and ripped it down the left field line. Amazingly the line drive sailed over the left fielders head and into the seats just fair! Bobby had hit 1 home rune through the whole 162 game regular schedule so his dramatic grand slam on the biggest baseball stage was shocking! He trotted around the bases just like Mantle had done 40 times in the regular season. It was truly a Mickey Mantle moment.
When Bobby was 14 years old he had an experience that felt like that grand slam he hit in the World Series only it lasted the rest of his life. His plans were to be outside playing the game that he loved so much (baseball) when his parents had another idea. Bobby was to be home when their church pastor made a visit. Although the Richardson’s were regular church attenders Bobby discovered that day that there was something missing in his life. The pastor pointed out to young Bobby that all had sinned and come short of the glory of God. Bobby realized that he needed to accept Jesus Christ into his heart and the pastor led him in the sinners prayer. From that day forward there was a new peace in Bobby. That decision changed his life as far as the decisions that he made while he was a major league baseball player and the years after he retired from the game. Bobby would become a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes which emphasized sharing the Christian faith from their athletic pedestal.
Mickey Mantle knew all about that athletic pedestal. He had been on it for years as the center fielder on the most recognized team in baseball (the New York Yankees). Mantle’s love of baseball started with his father. Mickey was named after his father’s favorite player Mickey Cochrane. Mickey’s father who was a miner in Commerce Oklahoma left the house early in the morning and didn’t return until late in the day. Mickey was to be around when his father came home because it was a ritual that his father pitch to Mickey every day. They had an old barn and Mickey stood in front of it with his bat waiting for his father’s pitch. Mickey was a natural right handed hitter but his father insisted he switch hit (bat from both sides.) He had seen that baseball was starting to go to platoon systems where the managers had left handed batters facing right handed pitchers and vice versa. He wanted his son to have an advantage that the other players didn’t. Every day young Mickey would bat against his father (who pitched right handed) and his grandfather (who pitched left handed). In that way young Mickey practiced from both sides of the plate and got a clear picture of what the pitches looked like from both a lefty and a righty. It was this labor of love from his father that made Mickey a high school star and led to his signing with a New York Yankee scout.
Mickey astoundingly made the Yankees team at the age of 19. His manager Casey Stengal gushed as he talked about the young phenom. Not only could Mantle hit long home runs from both sides of the plate he could also run like the wind! He was the fastest player in the major leagues. They gave him the number 6 and it was symbolic. Babe Ruth was number 3, Lou Gehrig was number 4, and Joe DiMaggio was number 5. Mantle symbolically was to become the next Yankee star. Along with his managers praise and the symbolic number Mickey started to feel pressure. The fans expected to see the next great star and Mantle was not delivering. He was striking out a lot and he was very down on himself. It got to a point where Casey called him into the office. Mantle was in tears when Casey told him they were sending him down to Kansas City (the Yankees minor league team.) Although Casey tried to encourage him Mickey felt like a failure.
The Yankee organization thought that a trip to Kansas City would uplift Mickey’s confidence as he started hitting again. It seemed that the opposite was true. Mickey kept striking out at a rapid pace even though the pitchers were not nearly as good. After every game Mickey was getting down on himself further. At long last he couldn’t take it anymore. He was feeling extreme depression and called his father. It was a very short conversation as his father said he was on his way to see him. Mickey was delighted that his father was making the trip. He thought that somehow his father would understand his dilemma and comfort him with loving advice. When his father showed up a few hours later he marched past Mickey and started throwing Mickey’s clothes into a suit case. “Dad, what are you doing?” “I thought you had guts”, was his reply. “You can come home and work in the mines with me!” As his father was hurriedly packing his suitcase Mickey was frantically telling him that he would do better. Finally he convinced his father to give him another chance and his father left for home. After that encounter Mickey started hitting like never before and was soon back with the Yankees.
In the 1951 World Series Mickey had a devastating injury. Mickey was playing right field and was charging after a fly ball to right center. Seeing DiMaggio (the center fielder) catch the ball at the last minute Mantle tried to put on the brakes and hit a sprinkler head placed in the outfield. The pop could be heard all around the ball park as Mantle had severely injured his leg. They had him in the hospital and ironically the guy in the other bed in the room was his father. The history of the Mantle men was not good. Each of them died before the age of 40. Mickey’s dad was no exception. He was dying from Hodgkins Disease and there was nothing anyone could do about it. As they both left the hospital together Mickey without thinking leaned on his father for support. His father crumbled to the weight which had to be devastating to young Mickey who had depended on his father so much.
Mickey’s father died a short time later. Mickey spent the times after games for the rest of his career living it up. In his mind life would end for him at 40 just like the other Mantle men. He was going to get out of life all that it had to offer. Even though he had a wife in Dallas Mickey lived as though he were a man without responsibilities. He did not enjoy the off season as it was a reminder that he had others to think about. He had a growing family but wasn’t the father he should have been. His life was wrapped around Mickey and a Yankee team who were heavy drinkers. After games Mickey along with Whitey Ford and Billy Martin were regulars in the bar scene. One time Bobby Richardson was involved but it was in a funny way. The Yankees had hired a detective to follow Mantle and the other high living Yankees. The detective picked out two guys he was sure were part of the Yankees. He followed the two players doggedly knowing that they would lead him to the place of misconduct. Unfortunately for him he was following Bobby Richardson and his fellow Christian teammate Tony Kubek. They ended up at the local YMCA where a ping pong score was settled!
Although they went their separate ways after the games Bobby and Mickey were friends. Bobby would share his faith with Mickey as often as he could. His teammates would agitate Mickey asking him if he got saved yet? Mickey in his smiling Texas drawl would answer back that he was working on it. Bobby retired after 1966 and Mickey 2 years later. Bobby retired early at the age of 30 to spend more time with his family. Mickey retired not for his family but because at the end of his career he was so crippled he couldn’t perform like Mickey Mantle anymore. After his retirement Mickey’s life got out of control. Baseball was the only thing he knew and when he was hired for public relations jobs drinking was a big part of them. For years his life was totally a mess as he even stooped to binge drinking with his sons as a way they could get to know each other after years of neglect.
Although after retirement they both went their separate ways Mickey found time to come to South Carolina and give hitting clinics to Bobby’s baseball team. Bobby had become the head baseball coach for South Carolina University. Whenever they met up Bobby shared his faith with Mickey. Mickey’s drinking eventually took it’s toll. He was admitted to the Betty Ford Hospital and they had him write a letter to his father offering an apology. Mickey admitted that it was the hardest thing he had to do. He left the center vowing that he was done with drinking but unfortunately the damage to his body was done. His liver was not functioning and he needed a new one. It was determined that he wouldn’t have lasted through the week when a new liver donor was found and Mickey had the 6 hour operation. It wasn’t long after the operation that a weak Mickey Mantle held a press conference. He wanted to speak to his fans that loved him dearly. “To all you fathers out there here is a role model…don’t be like me.” Through teary eyes he explained that he had it all and just threw it all away.
Although he made baseball’s hall of fame years before Mickey never thought he lived up to everything in baseball that he could have been. He didn’t maximize what the good Lord had given to him. He felt like his life was a total disappointment. He didn’t expect that he would live into his 60’s. A few years back he had stated that if he knew he was going to live this long he would have lived differently. When the doctors gave Mickey the liver transplant they discovered cancer spots. They thought they had it under control only to realize that this was a fast moving cancer. From his hospital room Mickey talked to Bobby. Bobby again talked about his Lord Jesus Christ and prayed for Mickey. He then boarded a plane for Dallas to see his old friend. When Bobby walked into the room Mickey perked up! Mickey couldn’t wait to tell Bobby that he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. He even quoted John 3:16 to him. Bobby was thrilled that his old teammate had come to Christ and would some day be in heaven with him!
Mickey had a Bobby Richardson moment that day. It was like the voice Richardson heard to “drop that gun.” In other words someone was going to come and bat for him. Jesus came to bat for Mickey. He took the load off of Mickey’s shoulders and gave him the peace he had long been looking for. Although he had a storied career in baseball and was a hero to so many it was never good enough. He had never had the Bobby Richardson moment that Bobby had at 14. Now Mickey was near death but was at peace with his life. Unlike his earthly father when he leaned on Jesus he was supported like a rock and was carried safely home!