When he heard the news that Mickey Mantle had died on Sunday morning, Bill Skowron said he felt a sense of relief for his old teammate.
“I’d rather he go than suffer,” Skowron said. “He suffered enough in his career.”
Skowron and two other old Yankees, Hank Bauer and John Blanchard, visited Mantle on Thursday. “I’m glad I went,” Skowron said. “We talked and he was in good spirits. He was battling but he was aching, his back and his tailbone. Bauer said maybe it was because it was spreading.”
Skowron remembered Mantle as a team player. “He helped so many of his teammates,” he said. “We were always a family. That’s why we were so successful. He’ll be missed. People should remember the good things he did, what he did to make people aware of organ donation.”
Yogi Berra was at a golf event in Vail, Colo., when he learned of Mantle’s death. “I thought he’d go a little longer,” he said. “I planned to visit him after we finished over here.”
Berra recalled Mantle as a rookie, coming to spring training with the Yankees in Arizona in 1951. “You knew he’d be a star right then,” he said. “He ran as fast as any man I ever saw. He had talent. He could run, throw and hit. There’s no telling how good he’d have been with two good legs.”
Mantle replaced Joe DiMaggio in center field for the Yankees in 1952. “He was a leader, like DiMaggio,” Berra said. “He always said he looked up to Joe even though he was only with him one year. After that, Mickey took over as the leader.”
DiMaggio remembered that first spring training too. “I saw Mickey break in, and he had standout written all over him,” he said. “He needed a little more experience and he was sent down to our minor league club, but when he returned everyone could see he was going to be an exceptionally fine player. We’ll miss him.”
It was about that time that Whitey Ford, Billy Martin and Mantle became inseparable pals. Martin died in an automobile accident in December 1989.
“My family lost a great friend and a truly wonderful person,” Ford said of Mantle. “Now that both Mickey and Billy are gone, I’ll never have friends like them again in my life.”
When Mantle came to the Yankees, Mel Allen was the broadcaster. “There were things Mickey could do that no one else could do,” he said. “He was the greatest, most powerful switch hitter who ever lived.”
Longtime Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto remembered Mantle’s fighting spirit.
“I’m so sorry he had to suffer as he did,” Rizzuto said. “He’ll be loved for so many things. We all love him so much. I hate to talk about him in the past tense. Mickey always played hard and never complained. That’s the way he was to the very end, never complaining and telling jokes. He kept telling his fans, ‘I’m not giving up.’ That was so typical of him.”
The Yankees won American League pennants in 12 of Mantle’s first 14 seasons. The two years they missed were 1954, when Cleveland won, and 1959, when Chicago won. Those teams were managed by Hall of Famer Al Lopez, who recalled Mantle as a dilemma for opposing teams because of his combination of speed and power.
“He was a big strong boy . . . and he was as fast as he was strong,” Lopez said. “When we played against him, people would ask me how to pitch to Mickey Mantle. I said, ‘Very carefully.’ He was a great player.”
Lopez recalled managing Mantle in the 1955 All-Star game at County Stadium in Milwaukee.
“The first time up, he hit one over the right-center field fence,” he said. “The next time, he said, ‘Lopez, you want me to drag one?’
“I said, ‘No, I want you to hit another one where you did the first time.’ ”
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, “Mickey Mantle represented something special to all of us--massive power, great talent and youth. The image of No. 7 in pinstripes finishing his home run swing will live in our memories forever. He was particularly special to all New Yorkers for his leadership of some of the greatest teams in the history of baseball--in particular, the 1961 Yankees.
“We extend our sympathies and prayers to his family. And we are grateful that this great baseball talent, and even the way he used his dying to help others, has enriched all of our lives.”
Houston Astro pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, a former Yankee teammate, said:
“It’s a sad day for baseball and an especially sad day for me. We lost a legend today, and I lost a real friend.
“To sum up what made me realize how great he was, we had a good ballclub in 1964 but we became terrible by 1966. We were last in the AL, but we still finished first in attendance on the road and I think that was a tribute to Mickey Mantle.
“It’s something that I expected to happen, but it’s still a shock. He was a true friend, somebody I knew off the field. I’ve been fishing with him, and I will miss him.”