A strange goodbye

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

Then the doors swing open. The crushed-velvet burgundy skirt doesn't even flutter under the light mahogany casket, and suddenly it seems very surreal that this could be the hallway in the church where they are having the funeral for Mickey Mantle and the body of one of the greatest ballplayers that ever lived is in there.

Behind the casket, one at a time, celebs straggle in. Reggie Jackson is wearing a remarkably ugly tie. It is dark and has multi-neon ballplayers on it; you can see him posing for the cameras from the time he steps onto the sidewalk outside where the paparazzi wait until he walks into the sanctuary of the church foyer.

Over by the guest book, there is a set of notes for some funeral insider. They appear to be printed on an actual typewriter, and they begin in an odd, mundane way--"Mickey Mantle Funeral," in capital letters.

The first notation is that George Bush's office has requested three seats up front.

Then a simple "New York and Georgia governors," with no names.
Then, a curious note. "Carroll Robertson, minister from Georgia called, worried about Mickey's spiritual condition. Bobby [Richardson] witnessed to Mickey and he did accept Christ as savior."

Closer to 2 p.m., two golfing buddies of the Mick walk in straight from Preston Trail, where the slugger shared both two-putts and double shots quite regularly through the years. Eight rows were reserved for Preston Trail, the crowd that may have been more family to Mick than the members of his own household.

The two golf buddies are still in their golf clothes. As Eugene "Geno" Teague signs the guest book, on the same page with "Laura and Gov. Bush," he respectfully takes off his Panama hat with "Tom Landry FCA Open" on the brim and lays his golf glove inside before setting it down in the back of the church.

Out in the line for the general public--about 70-80 percent professional men in suits playing hooky--there was a funeral director from Oklahoma who had buried Mickey's mom not that long ago. He and Mick used to haul hay together. I ask if this is the biggest funeral anyone from their neck of the woods has ever had.

"Well," he says. "There was this Indian chief. Name was Olds. Now they had 3,000 for his."

Mick missed beatin' Chief Olds by about 1,000. But said chief didn't get a Bob Costas eulogy. Nor have about 100 photographers chasing his casket to the hearse.

As they closed the door on the hearse to take Mick away, one could hear a photog complaining about his F-stop and how he "didn't get a casket shot worth a shit."

No wonder no one likes the press.
The steel gray hearse pulled away onto Northwest Highway. Lost in the melee were the church bells.

There were no signs lining the route as with, say, the string of grievous posters lining Bear Bryant's last ride.

You could see the roses in the windows as The Mick took one last ride past the Chevron and the florist and the Starbucks and passed all opportunities to turn that damn hearse at the light and head to Preston Trail.

The cameras and pens were moving swiftly back at the church. Bob Costas walked out and quickly snuck off to the right, and out of sight. He seemed very sad. Billy Crystal was cornered by a small group of reporters. He made jokes, but like everything else this day, they had a hollow feel about them.

There was this strange sense of melancholy, even irony. While Mickey was yukking it up and being the life of every party but his own, how many people in those 2,000 who had drunk with him, laughed with him, and encouraged him in his loneliness by their very company, had ever really, forcefully tried to help the Mick?

Probably several. He probably bitched at them for it, too. Word out of Baylor was that Mick could be pretty crotchety even in those last weeks--though transplants and terminal cancer allow one a certain leeway.

And who could feel good when that casket rolled down the aisle as Mickey Mantle was carried out of a party by friends one last time? The pallbearers were Yankee greats, idols of a grown generation. Conspicuously missing: Billy Martin, best running buddy of Whitey Ford and Mick, who died in an alcohol-related truck accident.

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