A strange goodbye

Odd sights--and musings--at Mickey Mantle's funeral

Last week I told Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy that my Uncle Dick's funeral was at the same time as Mickey Mantle's, and, by gosh, there was no question what I had to do.

"Yeah," said Bud, "Uncle Dick, a fine ol' boy--but he couldn't switch hit."
Hundreds of others placed Mickey Mantle above relatives and friends and jobs last week. That's probably the place the Mick had held all along.

By now you are aware that thousands waited in long lines vying for a seat Tuesday inside the sanctuary of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church. And that hundreds of journalists descended upon Dallas like the monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.

But there was so much that didn't come across your television.
Some of it was kinda funny. Some poignant. And some of it put a real burr in my pantyhose.

Case in point:
Many of you probably saw a widely published photo of two little boys in long, baggy T-shirts, one with Yankees cap over the heart and the other holding a homegrown sunflower wrapped in wet napkins and foil.

If they look grief-stricken at the loss of a hero, it is probably just that their cheeks have begun to melt there on the asphalt where they are standing, right where the photographers will be when the casket comes out the side door. Augie Furst, 8, and Manie Furst, 5, are engulfed by photogs exiting the church right after the casket and ahead of the funeral crowd. The photogs get the kids' names and ages, but no one asks how they came to care about Mickey Mantle.

As the photographers scurried on, visions of page-one play for that shot dancing in their heads, I asked the boys why they were there.

"I dunno," said Augie, now urged by his father to replace the cap on his head.

Do you know who Mickey Mantle was?
"Ummm," said Augie, "ah, a ballplayer."
All in all, there was a notable absence of the weirdos inherent in most celebrity funerals. And the only thing that woulda probably bugged Mickey was that this one woman who kissed the casket had really bad big hair.

Then again, so did Joe Pepitone, the former Yankee-current rug plate, who is known to have a dresser drawer full of Tony Orlando scalps. Pepitone is best-known for being the first guy to use a blowdryer in a big league clubhouse. And behind his back, people are talking about his fake fur du jour.

As I walked up to the back door of the church to begin the day, I noticed something strange about this event, which could have so easily lent itself to the term "circus."

There was actually a sense of organization. Two church ladies who did not look at all like Dana Carvey were checking penciled names off a yellow legal pad.

Green press passes--several hundred--meant you had to watch the funeral from the adjacent chapel. Gold meant you had the big credit card for a trip inside.

The ladies passed out a program, which looked just like the ones from any ol' funeral--the date, the hymns, the name of an ol' Oklahoma boy who got the cancer and passed early on a Sunday.

They also gave out--and I have yet to hear anyone muse about this--complete bios on Lovers Lane United Methodist preacher William Jennings Bryan III. The one-page bio included, in addition to wife, kids, ages, degrees, and past churches, the fact that Bryan is a nine-time "survivor" of the Hotter 'n' Hell Hundred, plus a plug for his daddy, the late Sonny Bryan, creator of the legendary barbecue.

Does this seem a bit inappropriate, or is it just me?
I got gold pass rights into the sanctuary and the air conditioning. Along with three other reporters, I stood just inside the church at the door where the family and friends came in.

At 12:21 p.m., Doris Manning, who is manning the door, yells that they are bringing in the casket and everybody's gotta clear the area. Manning has this great voice, like Lucy and Ethel's boss on that candy-factory line.

Doris zealously guards the door. Only friends, family and gold press badge folks may go in and out and nobody dares screw with Doris, who is polite but firm. "Sometimes," she says, "this voice and this body come in handy."

The four of us are allowed to stay while the casket comes in, but we need to be against the wall and half-standing on the first stair to the choir loft.

At 1:04 p.m., a hearse the color of thunderstorms opens and a casket is pulled out. And the following is how you came to read in papers across the land that the casket was light mahogany.

Denne Freeman, Dallas-based Associated Press sports editor, pronounces the casket burnt orange--"just like a UT football jersey."

No way, it's like...a mahogany, I counter.
"No, nah," says Tom Korosec of the Star-Telegram. "It's too light to be mahogany."

OK, it's a light mahogany, but that's a mahogany.
Another AP staffer buys into my light mahogany pitch.
"Then light mahogany it is," says Freeman, who, as a wire service grand poobah, has just decided for the nation the color of Mickey Mantle's casket.

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