Commentary : Why Is Mickey Mantle Still On the Outs With Baseball's Insiders?

Dallas Times Herald

As we rejoin Mickey Mantle, he is still banned from baseball. He remains an undesirable courtesy of Bowie Kuhn, the former commissioner who wouldn't come in from the World Series cold.

Mantle is not the only Hall of Fame blight on the landscape. Willie Mays also is forbidden to hold a baseball job because, like Mickey, he functions as a public relations rep for a casino.

Casinos are where people gamble. Gambling is sinister. It is also bad for the wallet, terribly so if you insist on another hit in blackjack with 16 showing.

Therefore, Kuhn reasoned, anyone employed by gambling interests cannot also draw a paycheck from major league baseball. Bring on the ban before corruption spreads and the Black Sox are upon us once more.

Kuhn himself has since been judged detrimental to baseball's health. The owners fired him, perhaps on the theory that coat-less exposure to freezing Series games had tapped out his battery.

His successor is Peter Ueberroth, who stunned the Olympic movement in Los Angeles last summer by forcing it to show a huge profit. It is possible that Ueberroth does not share Kuhn's view on the outcast status of Mantle and Mays. At least he has checked it out.

At Ueberroth's request, he and Mantle spoke privately for 20 minutes on this matter recently. Mantle was attending the New York Baseball Writers banquet, there to present Don Mattingly with a team MVP award. Note what else happened. Heaviest applause of the event went to Mantle.

"Nothing was decided," Mantle said the other day from his Dallas home. "He just wanted to hear my side of the story. He was going to look into it. He didn't say how he felt about it one way of the other."

Mantle has never expressed outrage over the Kuhn ouster. He won't be drawn into the debate about double standards--baseball owners whose thoroughbreds perform before $2 bettors or who have been convicted of felonies.

He's simply puzzled. To Mantle, his ongoing stigma is ironic because he's done more charitable work on behalf of the casino-hotel than any other entity.

He's been to Boston for the Jimmy Fund. In Philly for the Special Olympics. To the April in Paris Ball held in New York. In Baltimore for a heart foundation function headed by Eunice Shriver.

Public relations has been Mantle's game since he retired from the Yankees in 1969. He's connected in that capacity with Reserve Life Insurance Co. in Dallas. Until three years ago when he hooked up with the Claridge Casino-Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., (to play in four golf tournaments a year), Mantle appeared in a spring training cameo role for the Yankees.

He was their "batting instructor," which in reality meant nothing of the sort. He mostly signed autographs by day. By night, he enjoyed the splendid company of former teammates such as Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin, or anyone else who could hold the pace.

This was Mantle's lone, official link with baseball--a spring frolic that netted him minimum wage and a suntan. This is what he can't do anymore and, if he were permitted, probably wouldn't anyway.

He can play in old-timer's games or the Cracker Jack thing pitting former National and American League stars. Where Kuhn drew the line was being on a major league payroll no matter how trivial the salary.

Mantle is unable to make that distinction. PR is PR to him, all the same whether it's for the Yankees, an insurance company or a casino. Particularly since he doesn't hustle anyone to play the casino tables.

"You don't want to be banned from anything, especially baseball," he said. "I've been in baseball ever since I can remember. Ever since I could walk. My dad named me for a baseball player (the Detroit catcher, Mickey Cochrane)."

The taint on his name is what bothers Mantle. If the ban is left intact, he worries about leaving a blighted legacy to future Mantles.

"What if my kids have some grandkids?," he asked. "I can kinda visualize one of them saying, 'Grandma, how come grandpa got banned?' Or if I'm still around, asking me, 'How come you got banned, grandpa?' "

Otherwise, Mantle's life continues its usual flow. He just returned from a baseball-related junket to Louisville, Ky. If the experience left him drained, there was a longstanding reason. He was three days running in the company of Martin.

And the dreams continue. Even at rest, Mantle's mind returns to competition. One that persists is Mickey at the plate, but the bat's too heavy and he can't swing. He gets a hit, but no matter how far the ball goes he's always thrown out at first base by a step.

They all end the same. He wakes up sweating.

Nowadays, dreams about playing golf are dominating. As when it seems to take him all night to swing a club. Else he's squirming, trying to select a different stick. Or his ball is stuck in the fork of a tree.

"I'm always in an unplayable lie," Mantle said. Come to think on it, that's no different from where baseball keeps him.

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