We all have heroes and role models. Sometimes they’re celebrities or sports stars. Role models are the examples we follow and the behaviors we emulate. They’re not always positive role models. The behaviors and patterns we follow from the roles models we have may be destructive. Mickey Mantle was one of my heroes and ended up being a role model of mine.
Based on his family history, Mickey Mantle did not expect to live past his 40s. His family had a history of cancer. When he was not playing baseball, he was living a destructive partying lifestyle. He drank A LOT. His basic mindset was that he wasn’t going to be around very long, so he would just party all the time. As he out-lived both his father and grandfather, Mantle had been quoted as saying “If I knew I’d live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”
In early 1994, Mantle went to the Betty Ford Clinic and gave up drinking. In June of 1995 he received a liver transplant. His liver was seriously damaged due drinking and hepatitis C. It was also discovered that he had a form of liver cancer. After his transplant, Mantle appeared at a press conference where he said (in my opinion) possibly the strongest and most powerful quote of his life. He said “Kids, you wanna talk about a role model? This is a role model, don’t be like me.”
Unfortunately, the cancer in his liver had spread too quickly and Mickey Mantle died on August 13, 1995. When I heard the news on that Sunday morning, I immediately started crying. My mother, who had grown up in the Bronx and personally saw Mickey Mantle play many times, as she was of the generation that Mantle played in was a bit surprised to see me crying. Mantle retired from playing 7 years before I was born, but he was still my favorite player and a hero of mine.
Mantle’s role model comment always resonated with me. And as I’ve gotten older I truly realized what it means. I’ve spoken of behavior patterns that I have. I acquired them from the role models in my life. Obviously, they weren’t all positive role models. But, like Mickey Mantle, I want to change the outcome. I know that without change, progress cannot happen. And I know I’ll discuss that in the future, but this post is not meant to focus on me. Hell, it’s not even meant to focus on Mickey Mantle the ballplayer, it’s meant to focus on Mickey Mantle, the man. A man that IS a hero of mine and by admitting his mistakes and truly became the role model we all thought he was.
As I was writing this and I came upon two quotes from Bob Costas who also grew up a fan of Mickey Mantle, and ended up being his friend. I think they can summarize this entry as well as anything else can:
“(Mantle was) a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic.”
“In the last year of his life, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally came to accept and appreciate the distinction between a role model and a hero. The first, he often was not. The second, he always will be. And, in the end, people got it.”