Baseball legend Mickey Mantle died a week ago, his once-powerful body ravaged by cancer, his heart full of regret. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the New York Yankee slugger had conquered the baseball diamond with his record-setting home runs, but it was not until late in life that he conquered alcoholism. Kids across the country had good reason to want to be like Mantle. His World Series records still stand for most home runs, runs scored and runs batted in. He is the eighth-greatest home-run hitter with 536, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.
But, Mantle, who admitted hitting homers while hung over, died feeling he had squandered his life on alcohol. “God gave me the ability to play baseball. God gave me everything,” Mantle said just a few weeks before he died. “For the kids out there . . . don’t be like me.”
Is Mickey Mantle a role model?
Xavier Flores, executive director of Pueblo y Salud, a San Fernando based social service agency dealing with alcoholism:
“He’s a very good role model because the man was able to recognize his problems and admit to the world that he had it, and through his example encouraged youth not to go down the same path. It took a great deal of courage to admit to the world he had the problem he had. There are thousands of people who are alcoholics who don’t admit it to themselves.”
Albert Melena, neighborhood specialist on Blythe Street, working with the San Fernando Valley Partnership alcohol and drug abuse prevention program:
“Mickey Mantle really has to be applauded for what he said and letting everybody know what he did with his life. . . [Kids in the program] do talk about it, saying, ‘Did you hear about Mickey Mantle?’ For me that helps me in my job. To hear them talk about it helps me talk about the consequences of alcohol.”
Warren Plouffe, coach, Northridge All Stars:
“I think when I was younger, I thought Mickey Mantle was a god or something. But he’s like Darryl Strawberry or Steve Howe, and those types of players today. I look at those guys today and it’s kind of disgusting. They should think of themselves as role models and realize that all the kids want to be like them . . . I think some of the older kids will understand his message.”
Dr. Edgar Villamarin, a psychiatrist and director of programs for Catholic Big Brothers of Los Angeles:
“I think when you have a disease or you have a problem and you are honest enough to make it public and admit to it that you do have a problem, then you have become a role model. Someone who had alcoholism and recovers from it is a role model.
Someone who is so honest with his humanity is a role model . . . Respect is more likely when you pick yourself up and dust yourself off after a fall, and then you share with your fellow humans what you learned from the fall . . . If anybody who is so big has the courage to admit publicly his problem, others will think, ‘I could do that, too.’ ”
Marshall Plouffe, 13, pitcher, Northridge All Stars:
“I think it was really sad when he died. He really did just throw his life away that way. I think they should look up to him as a baseball player rather than how he lived his life.”
Chris Rippe, 12, catcher, Northridge All Stars:
“I don’t think he should be remembered as a role model . . . I don’t think you should base your life on drinking or messing around like he did.”