The Last Days Of Mickey Mantle

Booze, baseball, and broads: A tarnished hero's deathbed regrets--and final redemption Exclusive Observer excerpt from David Falkner's new biography

"Hi, Mick," Merlyn said. He said nothing. Forty minutes later he was dead.

In those last days and weeks, even as his body was breaking down, Mickey Mantle had acquired, quietly and with an almost ethereal elegance, a strength and dignity he did not know he possessed. He faced his own death with that strength and became a new kind of hero.

There was something in the images of his shrunken frame that was as inspiring as it was haunting. Shriveled, with a white ball cap on his skull, and an old man's sweet, vacant smile on his face, his eyes blinking into bright lights, he implored others not to be like him and asked people to think of signing organ-donor cards. In the final moments of his final summer, Mantle's voice was weak and frail, but his words were strong. In his last months he had stopped worrying about what others wanted him to do for them, and urged them to take time out to do something for each other.

Mantle's funeral was held on a bright, blazing Texas day at the Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas. Though there was room for 1,500 people in the church and another 3,000 standees outside, the mourning for Mickey Mantle was nationwide and involved millions. In every major league ballpark around the country, outpourings of affection and remembrance took place.

It was a family funeral, too. The Mantle family, along with honored guests, were seated in the front of the church, near the casket. Greer Johnson was assigned a seat near the back of the church. Pat Summerall sat with her until an usher came down the aisle and told him that a seat had been reserved for him in the first rows. Summerall frostily told the usher he was quite happy where he was. A photo of a grieving Johnson--identified by name, but with no indication of her role in Mantle's life--would appear prominently in the next day's Dallas Morning News.

Mantle had wanted a song sung for him at his own funeral. As he had asked Bobby Richardson to preside at his service, he had many years before asked Roy Clark, the country-and-western star, to perform the song "Yesterday When I was Young."

The song is a lamentation for a life wasted, life as sweet as rain, played at as foolishly as a game. Clark sang on an unamplified guitar so that the words and music seemed as elemental and simple as the occasion itself. Pat Summerall believed all of Mantle's life was contained in the song, and so did many of the mourners gathered there. It was almost possible to imagine Mantle's presence hearing and feeling the words:

"I ran so fast that time and youth at last ran out...There are so many songs in me that won't be sung...the time has come for me to pay for yesterday when I was young.

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