Growing up in Brooklyn in the 50’s and 60’s, my father grew up a Yankees fan. Every young Yankee fan grew up idolizing him. Bill Crystal once said, “Mickey Mantle just was everything.” After Joe DiMaggio left, Mantle became the main attraction in the Bronx. He was the guy that drew crowds into the stadium. Mickey was the player young kids waited for by the press gate to just get a glimpse of, or maybe even an autograph.
Mantle broke into the big leagues in 1951. I wouldn’t be born for another 40 years. When I was around 5 years-old, I recall Charlie Hayes closing his mitt down the 3rd base line and the Yankees winning the 1996 World Series. It was the beginning of “the last dynasty” and the “Jeter Era.” Being a 90’s kid, every boy dreamed of growing up to play shortstop for the Yankees. It was all about Derek.
From 1995 to the present, Derek has stood as a model of consistency on and off the field. Say what you want about him, but the numbers speak for themselves. I’m not here to say that Jeter was on Mantle’s talent level, because that would just be unfair. Mickey was the superior talent. It was in the way they represented the Yankees pinstripes that mattered. And during their respective eras, they were arguably the face of baseball and dominant talents at their respective positions. Mantle and Jeter are the guys who could do no wrong by New Yorkers. Inside the baseball diamond’s chalked lines, they stay baseball legends in the minds of fans.
As big of a Mantle fan as my father is, he always told me, “they’re not heroes, look up to your father.” And I guess you could say he’s right about that. But I also don’t think he looked at Mickey that way when he was a young kid. This was the same guy who stapled posters of Mickey onto his bedroom walls and stuck his baseball cards into his bicycle spokes. A lot of people are looking up to professional athletes as role models and they probably shouldn’t be. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong in admiring a ballplayer, as long as it’s for the right reasons.
There’s a certain innocence in watching a young child sit on the edge of his seat as he roots on his favorite player. He doesn’t have a care in the world. Because in the end, it’s not about how much money they’re making, who the star is dating or the trouble they might be getting into off the field. It’s about being entertained. I don’t really care how old I get, I think we all have a bit of that kid inside of us who just loves the game for what it is. A game.