Mickey Mantle Eulogy
Mickey mantle was a famous baseball player for the New York
Yankees.1931-1995. this eulogy was delivered by Bob Costas.
You know, it occurs to me as we're all sitting here thinking of Mickey, he's
probably somewhere getting an earful from Casey Stengel, and no doubt quite
confused by now.
One of Mickey's fondest wishes was that he be remembered as a great teammate, to
know that the men he played with thought well of him. But it was more than that.
Moose and Whitey and Tony and Yogi and Bobby and Hank, what a remarkable team
you were. And the stories of the visits you guys made to Mickey's bedside the
last few days were heartbreakingly tender. It meant everything to Mickey, as
would the presence of so many baseball figures past and present here today.
I was honored to be asked to speak by the Mantle family today. I am not standing
here as a broadcaster. Mel Allen is the eternal voice of the Yankees and that
would be his place. And there are others here with a longer and deeper
association with Mickey than mine.
But I guess I'm here, not so much to speak for myself as to simply represent the
millions of baseball-loving kids who grew up in the '50s and '60s and for whom
Mickey Mantle was baseball.
And more than that, he was a presence in our lives-a fragile hero to whom we had
an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic. Mickey often
said he didn't understand it, this enduring connection and affection-the men now
in their 40s and 50s, otherwise perfectly sensible, who went dry in the mouth
and stammered like schoolboys in the presence of Mickey Mantle.
Maybe Mick was uncomfortable with it, not just because of his basic shyness, but
because he was always too honest to regard himself as some kind of deity. But
that was never really the point. In a very different time than today, the first
baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis said, "Every boy builds a shrine
to some baseball hero, and before that shrine, a candle always burns."
For a huge portion of my generation, Mickey Mantle was that baseball hero. And
for reasons that no statistics, no dry recitation of the facts can possibly
capture, he was the most compelling baseball hero of our lifetime. And he was
our symbol of baseball at at time when the game meant something to us that
perhaps it no longer does.
Mickey Mantle had those dual qualities so seldom seen-exuding dynamism and
excitement, but at the same time touching your heart-flawed, wounded. We knew
there was something poignant about Mickey Mantle before we know what Poignant
meant. We didn't just root for him, we felt for him.
Long before many of us ever cracked a serious book, we knew something about
mythology as we watched Mickey Mantle run out a home run through the lengthening
shadows of a late Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
There was a greatness about him, but vulnerability too. He was our guy. When he
was hot, we felt great. When he slumped or got hurt, we sagged a bit too. We
tried to crease our caps like him; keel in an imaginary on-deck circle like him;
run like him, heads down, elbows up.
Billy Crystal is here today. Billy says that at his bar mitzvah he spoke in an
Oklahoma drawl. Billy's here today because he loved Mickey Mantle, and millions
like him are here today in spirit as well. It's been said that the truth is
never pure and rarely simple.
Mickey Mantle was too humble and honest to believe that the whole truth about
him could be found on a Wheaties box or a baseball card. But the emotional
truths about childhood have a power that transcends objective fact. They stay
with us through all the years, withstanding the ambivalence that so often
accompanies the experience of adults.
That's why we can still recall the immediate tingle in that instant of
recognition when a Mickey Mantle popped up in a pack of Topps bubble gum cards-a
treasure lodged between an Eli Grba and a Pumpsie Green.
That's why we smile today, recalling those October afternoons when we'd sneak a
transistor radio into school to follow Mickey Mantle and the Yankees in the
Or when I think of Mr. Tomasee, a very wise sixth-grade teacher who understood
that the World Series was more important, at least for one day, than any school
lesson could be. So he brought his black and white TV from home, plugged it in
and let us watch it right there in school through the flicker and static. It was
richer and more compelling than anything I've seen on a high-resolution,
Of course, the bad part, Bobby, was that Koufax struck 15 of you guys out that
My phone's been ringing the past few weeks as Mickey fought for his life. I've
heard from people I hadn't seen or talked to in years, guys I played stickball
with, even some guys who took Willie's side in those endless Mantle, Mays
arguments. They're grown up now. They have their families. They're not even
necessarily big baseball fans anymore. But they felt something hearing about
Mickey, and they figured I did too.
In the last year, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally came to
accept and appreciate the distinction between a role model and a hero. The fist
he often was not, the second he always will be.
And, in the end, people got it. And Mickey Mantle got from something other than
misplaced and mindless celebrity worship. He got something far more meaningful.
He got love. Love for what he had been, love for what he made us feel, love for
the humanity and sweetness that was always there mixed in the flaws and all the
pain that racked his body and his soul.
We wanted to tell him that it was OK, that what he had been was enough. We hoped
he felt that Mutt Mantle would have understood that Merlyn and the boys loved
him. And then in the end, something remarkable happened, the way it does for
champions. Mickey Mantle rallied. His heart took over, and he had some innings
as fine as any in 1956 or with his buddy, Roger, in 1961.
But this time. he did it in the harsh and trying summer of '95. And what he did
was stunning. The sheer grace of that ninth inning, the total absence of self
pity, the simple eloquence and honesty of his pleas to others to take heed of
All of America watched in admiration. His doctors said he was, in many ways, the
most remarkable patient they'd ever seen. His bravery so stark and real, that
even those used to seeing people in dire circumstances where moved by his
Because of that example, organ donations are up drastically all across America.
A cautionary tale has been honestly told and perhaps will affect some lives for
And our last memories of Mickey Mantle are as heroic as the first. None of us,
Mickey included, would want to be held to account for every moment of our lives.
But how many of us could say that our best moments were as magnificent as his?
In a cartoon from this morning's The Dallas Morning News. Maybe some of you saw
it. It got torn a little bit on the way from the hotel to here. There's a figure
here, St. Peter I take it to be, with his arm around Mickey, that broad back and
the number 7. We know some of what went on. Sorry, we can't let you in, but
before you go, God wants to know if you'd sign these six dozen baseballs."
Well, there were days when Mickey Mantle was so darn good that we kids bet that
even God would want his autograph. But like the cartoon says, I don't think Mick
needed to worry much about the other part.
I just hope God has a place for him where he can run again. Where he can play
practical jokes on his teammates and smile that boyish smile, 'cause God knows,
no one's perfect. And God knows there's something special about heroes.
So long, Mick. Thanks.