Mantle keeps game alive for campers

October 25, 1994|By Bill Madden | Bill Madden,New York Daily News

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Mickey Mantle is looking straight ahead into the October sunshine, his eyes fixed on a sixty-something guy playing first base.

It is World Series week, but this is the only place in the U.S. or Canada where you could find real World Series heroes playing baseball. Shouting instructions from a couple of feet away is Hank Bauer, Mantle's Yankee teammate throughout the 1950s whom he still likens to a "big brother."

Suddenly, the batter hits a high pop to first base and the aged first baseman is clearly not going to catch it because of the sun.

"Uh-oh," Mickey says. "Hey, Hank, remember when Casey taught me how to use sunglasses in the field when were in spring training in Arizona that year? Told me to flip 'em down as soon as the ball was hit?"

"Do I remember?" Bauer asks. "We was playin' the Indians and Ray Boone hit it. Ball about killed you, didn't it?"

"Hit me right square in the forehead," Mantle says. "And then you and [Gene] Woodling ran over and asked me if my glasses were all right. I got this big lump on my head and you guys are asking about my sunglasses."

All around Mickey Mantle's fantasy camp team, where grown men are fancying themselves as boys of summer, laughter abounds.

"I guess we're all boys at heart no matter how old or broken down we get," Mantle says. "Once this game gets a hold on you, it never lets go. I think in my case it goes all the way back to when I was a little boy and I used to watch my mother doing the ironing while she'd be listening to the Cardinal game on the radio with Harry Caray. She'd keep her own box score, which she gave to my dad when he got home from the mines at night.

There was, of course, a real romance to baseball then. On the professional level, it was the only game in town, and even when Mantle was a player and baseball had moved onto the television and into the jet age there was an innocence about it.

"What I remember most," he says, "are all those Yankees I played with. We were like a family. After the games, guys would hang around in the clubhouse for hours. Nowadays you walk into a clubhouse after the game and everyone's gone. I can't keep track of who's playing for what team anymore.

"To be honest, though, I don't know what I would've done if Cleveland had offered me $5 million to leave the Yankees."

When it is suggested to him the Yankees would have matched or topped any offer, Mantle smiles.

"Maybe," he says, "but I'll always remember in the spring of 1957 when [Yankees GM George] Weiss wanted to cut me $5,000 after I'd won my second straight MVP award. I wound up getting a $10,000 raise but only after he threatened to trade me to Cleveland for [Herb] Score if I didn't get my butt to spring training. I'd hate to think what would have happened if I ever had to leave the Yankees. If there's one record I'm most proud of, it's those 2,401 games I played for the Yankees."

What about the World Series, he is asked. With his name synonymous with October heroics (Mantle has a record 18 World Series homers), did he not feel the same void baseball fans are feeling this week?

"I feel awful about it," he says. "I miss turning on the TV and seeing the games. I don't pretend to know all that's going on with the strike. I just know it's terrible that there's no World Series."

So for this year, there are only memories.

"People ask me what I thought was my greatest World Series moment," he says. "It wasn't the homer I hit off Barney Schultz in the third game of the '64 Series. More than anything, looking back, I'd have to say it was the catch I made off Gil Hodges to help save Don Larsen's perfect game in '56. I hit 18 homers in the Series, but I didn't make many great catches. I didn't realize what a big deal that one was at the time."

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