Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
--"Just a Closer Walk With Thee”
Mickey Mantle’s remarkable life, one that saw him rise from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to become one of baseball’s legendary performers and eventually one of America’s tragically flawed figures, was celebrated Tuesday afternoon in a blunt, emotional funeral service in front of about 1,500 of Mantle’s friends, teammates and family members.
“A cautionary tale has been honestly told,” sportscaster Bob Costas said to an overflow crowd at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church near the end of a moving, funny eulogy.
His former New York Yankee teammate, Bobby Richardson, said Mantle had lived life with “a fear of death and an emptiness that he tried to cover with sometimes foolish things.”
Yet Mantle was also remembered for his grace and sense of humor, for the fast friendships he developed during his years with the Yankees and in his post-baseball life in Dallas. Indeed, some of his best friends came directly from the course at Mantle’s beloved Preston Trail Golf Club to say a final goodby to their famous friend.
“We’re all thinking of Mickey here today,” Costas said. “He’s probably somewhere getting an earful from Casey Stengel and quite confused by now.”
Costas drew a laugh for that line, but choked back tears when he said: “In the last year, he finally came to accept and appreciate what he meant to people. He got something more than celebrity worship. He got love. . . . We wanted to tell him it was OK. What he was was enough. . . . I just hope God has a place for Mickey where he can run again, play practical jokes and smile that boyish smile. God knows no one is perfect. God also knows there’s something special about a hero. So long, Mick.”
A few mourners lined up outside the church before dawn, some wearing the dark blue business suit of downtown Dallas, others in sport shirts and jeans. There were admirers such as comedian Billy Crystal, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and golfer Lanny Wadkins, as well as close friends such as sportscaster Pat Summerall and former University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal.
And, of course, there was a long line of former Yankees, from Richardson behind the pulpit to honorary pall bearers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Moose Skowron, Hank Bauer, Johnny Blanchard and Bobby Murcer. Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner both showed up, as did Bobby Brown, Joe Pepitone, Bobby Cox, Jerry Coleman and others.
One of Mantle’s three surviving sons, David, escorted his mother, Merlyn, who has been estranged from Mickey Mantle for several years, into the chapel. Mantle’s bronze coffin was covered by a spray of yellow roses, and two other arrangements featured Mantle’s jersey No. 7.
It was an afternoon when Mantle was remembered for both his fine points and his flaws. Indeed, Mantle had spent much of the final year of his life apologizing for the drinking that at times led to boorish behavior. Only a month before he died at 63, he had publicly announced that he was a reverse role model.
“Don’t be like me,” he said.
Against this backdrop, the service described both Mantles, the wondrous baseball performer and the troubled man. Mantle had once asked golfing buddy Roy Clark to sing his hit song “Yesterday When I Was Young” at his funeral because it reminded him of his wasted youth.
Clark obliged Tuesday, telling the crowd: “A promise is a promise, but I didn’t expect it to be this soon.”
His voice cracked as he sang lyrics that include:
“I teased at life as if it were a foolish game . . . Only now I see how years ran away. . . .”
Merlyn Mantle sobbed quietly as Clark sang. She was surrounded by her three sons, Mickey Jr., David and Danny. A fourth son, Billy, died of a heart attack last year at age 36 after a battle with Hodgkin’s disease.
There was a reading from Ecclesiastes--"To everything there is a season"--and another from First Thessalonians--"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again even so them also, which sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him.”
When they played together, Mantle derisively referred to Richardson, a lay minister, as “that milk drinker.” But a month ago, after Mantle had undergone a liver transplant and began what he knew would be a difficult fight against cancer, Mantle telephoned Richardson early one morning and asked for his prayers.
Richardson said Mantle revealed to him late last week, before he died of cancer early Sunday morning, that he’d become a born-again Christian. Richardson, perhaps skeptically, asked Mantle why God should let him into heaven.
“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son,” Richardson quoted Mantle as saying.
Richardson also remembered the day Mantle hid a snake in a teammate’s uniform, the time he convinced another that he had a mongoose in a box. He remembered the talent that awed almost everyone and he remembered the man who had many different sides.
“He showed a lot more courage than most of us ever could,” Steinbrenner said. “There’s a real message to young people in this country. I thought he handled himself so gallantly at the end.”