At 10 o’clock in the morning, the morning Mickey Mantle had died of cancer in a Texas hospital, Buck Showalter walked past security guard Norberto Lopez and into Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. The park, behind center field, which belonged to Mantle once, honors famous Yankees, living and dead.
“It seemed like a good place to start this day,” Showalter said.
He stood in front of Mantle’s plaque and said, “I wanted to get out here early, before the crowds. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of traffic around Mickey today.”
The plaque described Mantle as “a magnificent Yankee.” Which he was, all the way until the early hours of Sunday morning. He had weaknesses as a man, as a husband, and as a father, all documented well enough by now. But this was Yankee Stadium and the words on the plaque were the truth.
Mantle died at Baylor University Medical Center at 1:10 in the morning. There were times in Mantle’s life, all during his career and then after it, when he never thought of that time of day as morning. He thought of it as night still young. And early Sunday, Mantle came to the end of a long season of pain.
And now, halfway across the country, in the baseball place that was home for 18 seasons, it was a magnificent Sunday that a magnificent Yankee would have understood perfectly. There was a bright blue, cloudless sky and the midmorning wind was blowing out, the way Mickey Mantle liked it.
And behind Showalter and Lopez was the tremendous green lawn of the outfield, which looked like every ball field on every summer day that ever set some kid to dreaming about growing up to play ball the way Mantle did.
Mantle’s plaque also said this: “The most popular player of his era.” Mantle’s era began in 1951, when he played right field next to Joe DiMaggio, and did not end until the cancer got him.