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09-03-01 07:06 AM #1
The New York Times: Mickey Mantle's Relatives Can't Flee Tainted Dream
This article evoked alot of different emotions in me...the scourge of cancer and the disease of alcoholism is horrific...but it is apparent that losing a father and husband hurts the most...
September 3, 2001
Mickey Mantle's Relatives Can't Flee Tainted Dream
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
The New York Times
Can I touch your face?
Can I hold your hand?
Can I give you a hug, again and again?
Can I say I love you?
You're also my friend.
My father.'' -- from David Mantle to his father
DALLAS -- If Merlyn Mantle is haunted by the suffering in her life, she does not easily show it. The widow of Mickey Mantle is 5 feet 2 and vivacious, wearing a white top and white pants as she sits in her 15th- floor condominium. Her eyes are lively, her manner straightforward.
Merlyn Mantle, nearing 70, speaks openly about her drinking, Mickey's alcoholism and his philandering. And while she has no doubt shed many tears, she is not now.
She chuckled as she took a nearly 50- year-old photograph from a box of family pictures. ``Look at the two dorks on their honeymoon,'' she said.
The tiny black-and-white image showed Mickey and Merlyn in Hot Springs, Ark. Merlyn is smiling demurely, looking prim in her schoolmarmish eyeglasses and two-piece suit. To her left, Mickey is grinning, in a white shirt and jeans with the cuffs rolled up halfway to his shins.
This was her man, her high school sweetheart who grew up in a house in Oklahoma where, Merlyn said, he ``bathed every morning in a tub in the kitchen; he was so clean.''
It is a sweet and simple sentiment, but time has not been kind to that memory. In recent years, the Mantles have endured alcoholism and cancer as if a genetic monster had singled them out to be a double cluster of immense sadness.
Mickey and three of his sons, David, Danny and Mickey Jr., were all treated for alcoholism at the Betty Ford Center. Merlyn found salvation in Alcoholics Anonymous and Alanon, ``where all my friends are now,'' she said.
Mickey and Merlyn's other son, Billy, died of a heart attack in 1994 at age 36, two weeks after his father's alcoholism treatment ended. Billy had suffered half his life with Hodgkin's disease.
In 1995, Mickey, 63, died of cancer, two months after he had a liver transplant.
In December 2000, Mickey Jr., 47, died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Now Danny, 41, the youngest son, having had precancerous polyps removed from his colon, faces the possibility of prostate cancer.
``Why my children?'' Merlyn said. ``I'm not wishing cancer on anyone's children. But why mine?''
She said this without rancor or bitterness.
``I don't know how she does it,'' said Pat Summerall, the longtime sportscaster, who helped persuade Mickey to enter the Betty Ford recovery program. ``I get the sense from Merlyn that she feels there's a hex.''
Murphy Martin, a family friend, added: ``When they reached the point of all these chronic problems, they consumed her so much, she could not focus on anything but how she could best help. Every problem made her stronger.''
For 18 seasons as a Yankee, Mickey Mantle symbolized athletic brilliance -- the triumph of a boy tutored by his father and grandfather to bat left-handed and right-handed who became the greatest switch-hitter ever. He seemed to represent the fulfillment of every boyhood dream. His injuries, and the pain he played through, only enhanced his heroic stature. His teammates adored him, and so did his fans. Only after his career ended did the world learn of his reckless behavior, drinking and womanizing. His drinking escalated in retirement as he struggled with what to do with himself. The memorabilia craze that began in the late 1980's enriched him.
Then, through his rehabilitation and his fight with cancer, he earned new appreciation as a flawed hero finally taking control of his life.
Merlyn and the surviving sons, David and Danny, are the heirs to the frankness that Mickey Mantle adopted in his final years as his alcoholism and decline in health were played out in public. Even as he dealt with the ravages of cancer and being a lifelong alcoholic, he admitted his failings as a husband and father, and lamented wasting so much of his health and time on drinking. ``It took me a long time to admit Mick was an alcoholic,'' Merlyn said.
Today, Merlyn Mantle's condominium is decorated in Southwestern tones that provide a muted backdrop for a Mantle shrine. He is still young in framed photos, Life magazine covers and a LeRoy Neiman portrait. His left-handed swing is still powerful in an 18-inch-high bronze statue that rests on a coffee table. The real treasures are in a glass display case: three most valuable player trophies; signed baseballs; the silver bat for his 1956 Triple Crown; the balls he hit for -- among others -- his 512th and 535th home runs; and his record-breaking 16th World Series homer.
The Family Business
Mantle left behind about 110 signed balls and 24 signed bats, not quite a Joe DiMaggio-like trove. He also bequeathed four signed gloves to his sons. Danny presented them delicately, as if handling rare items from King Tut's tomb. He showed an outfielder's glove from the 1950's; Mickey had customized it to reduce the gap in the webbing. There are no game-worn uniforms; many were stolen and Mickey gave away others.
Merlyn bronzed one of Mantle's gloves and a pair of his spikes because, she said, ``he would've given them away without regard to their future value.''
``If he was drunk,'' David said, ``he'd say, `You like it, you take it.'''
Anything with Mantle's signature has value. One day, David recalled, he and his father visited his grandmother at a nursing home in Jay, Okla. Mickey wrote a note to his mother that read: ``Love, your son, Mick.'' Soon afterward, David said, the note was gone.
``It'll probably end up on eBay,'' David said.
Danny and David make their living through the licensing of their father's name. They had bounced around in other jobs -- David said he made $12,000 a year at age 30, working in a McDonald's -- but settled into the family business, and the Mickey Mantle Foundation to raise organ donation awareness, a mission that has subsided after distributing eight million organ donor cards.
If there is a joy, it has been in that work. ``It's what Dad wanted us to do,'' Danny said. ``If we've done any good, that makes us feel good.''
They also raise money for the Mantle Family Fund of the American Cancer Society. The family is proud of that association, Danny said, ``because everybody's dying of cancer.''
``We need some vaccine,'' he added, ``because most of the time, in our cases, once you find the cancer, it's too late.''
Four M Enterprises, the Mantle estate's licensing business, provides David and Danny with a steady living. Four M has deals with Upper Deck and I.B.M., and others for figurines and a Christmas ornament. It licenses the Mantle name to the renowned restaurant on Central Park South and to a new steakhouse in Oklahoma City. A New York City school for children with disabilities, P811M in Manhattan, is awaiting approval from the board of education to be renamed for Mantle.
In 1998, the estate received $4.9million from an arbitration panel, which ruled that Upper Deck had breached Mantle's contract. Two years ago, the estate signed a new deal with Upper Deck to produce cards. Roy True, the family's former lawyer, said that even before the Upper Deck arbitration award, ``we had amassed substantially more millions before that.''
Danny said his father ``left Mom pretty well off, with no debts.''
But one need not probe long to discover that this is not the work the sons dreamed of being in. David, whose blond hair, face-crinkling smile, Southwestern twang and slump-shouldered build are jarring reminders of the Mick, is pointed in assessing himself.
``Here I am, 45, and I have no direction,'' David said. ``I'd like to leave a legacy to my daughter. I don't know why I feel confused. I don't know if I'm scared. Am I too old?''
He added, ``Drinking 25 years was such a damned waste.''
Danny would like to return to real estate development, despite some past financial reversals. ``People think licensing my father's name isn't a real job, but it is,'' he said. ``It takes a lot of time fighting the counterfeiters. But I'm seriously thinking of trying to find something different.''
More importantly, the sons want to be good fathers. David and Marla Mantle have one child, Marilyn, who is 7. Danny and Kay Mantle have a son, Will, 5, and a daughter, Chloe, 3.
``My boys are good fathers,'' Merlyn said. ``Maybe it's because they didn't have that companionship when they were boys.''
Legacy of Pain
Each man reacted similarly to a scene in the recent HBO film ``61*,'' about the home run race between Mantle and Roger Maris, played by Thomas Jane, makes a late-night call to Merlyn to ask about his sons.
``I remember those calls,'' Danny said. ``He must have been very lonely.''
David says he spends as much time as he can with his daughter. ``I want to hug and kiss her as much as I can,'' he said. ``Maybe I'm too protective. I still carry her around. Maybe I smother her. But I remember going to sleep when I was a kid and saying, `Dear God, let Dad get home safe.'''
He added, ``Alcoholics do not deserve children.''
Danny and David Mantle are bonded like twins; they complete each other's sentences, and each has experienced nearly everything the other has. They joke about their onetime drinking sprees and cocaine toots. They recall how the memorabilia shop they briefly owned was really more a family tavern they would close up when their father would persuade them to party with him.
``We didn't take that too serious,'' Danny said. ``I look back and it wasn't funny at all, but we were in the middle of the disease and didn't care. It was sad, but Dad would say, `Close down, we're leaving,' and we couldn't say no.''
One of the rare hot sellers at their store was a photograph taken at a baseball fantasy camp in 1989. In Yankee pinstripes, Mickey and his four sons posed with Whitey Ford and his two sons, Tommy and Eddie.
David sat on a stool in his mother's kitchen and gestured to that image.
``Half those guys are dead now,'' he said.
In addition to Mickey, Billy and Mickey Jr., Tommy Ford is also dead.
Danny, in green shorts and a green-and-white shirt, moves slowly as he makes his way around his mother's apartment. In the passenger's seat of David's car, he partially reclined the seat to alleviate the pain from his prostate problems. A prostate-specific antigen blood test registered a 45 (0-4 is considered healthy), but medication has brought it down to a 38. A high P.S.A. is not necessarily a sign of cancer.
``We're treating it as prostitis,'' Danny said. ``But if that doesn't work, they'll have to do a biopsy.''
It is almost nine months since Mickey Jr. died. Merlyn is raising his daughter, 12-year-old Mallory, until a custody case with Mickey Jr.'s ex-wife is settled.
Mickey Jr.'s suffering remains with his survivors. They still feel aggrieved that doctors at R.H. Dedman Memorial Hospital only sporadically eased his pain with morphine, despite a tumor on his liver so large that it blocked his heart.
``They had him on Tylenol,'' said David, spitting out the words.
Danny added: ``If you have a guy who's terminally ill, why worry that he might be addicted to morphine? They had Dad on morphine.''
Finally, Mickey Jr. was put on a morphine pump, as his father was.
``Nobody in our family,'' Merlyn said, ``dies without pain.''
Or without some guilt. David, who is healthy, lives with the guilt he feels about what happened at his father's bedside at Baylor University Medical Center.
``I was the one who told them to take him off life support,'' he said. ``I felt like I killed Dad, and maybe I OD'd him on morphine.''
David can look across the room at his brother and wonder what will happen to him. He knows something dangerous percolates in the Mantle genes. ``The guy at the funeral home said, `We're used to seeing families come back, but not three times in six years,''' David said.
His reaction to Danny's condition is tinged with mordant humor.
``After Mickey Jr. died, I said, `Do I have one or two years left?''' he said. ``I keep thinking that Mom had a heart attack, so watch, I won't get cancer, I'll get a heart attack.''
Yet another death among the Mantle kin occurred last month when Roy Mantle, Mickey's 65-year-old brother, died of Hodgkin's disease in Las Vegas.
``Roy suffered terribly,'' Merlyn said.
Summerall, who played minor league ball against Roy; Roy's twin, Ray; and Mickey, said: ``I'd be haunted. Wouldn't you?''
Two other siblings, Larry Mantle and Barbara Delise, are in their 60's. Delise said she had not been touched by cancer. ``It's just everybody on the male side,'' she said. ``It's difficult. My grandpa, my dad, Mickey, Billy, little Mickey.''
The Mantle men were largely silent about the fear of cancer killing them at a young age, Delise said. ``The men never talked about it,'' she said. ``Except for Mickey.''
At Sparkman Hillcrest Cemetery in Dallas, Mickey Mantle and two of his sons are buried in a crypt inside a huge concrete mausoleum that faces the Garden of Peace. On a recent 98- degree day, the wing the Mantles are buried in, which was built in 1983, had no visitors. An air-conditioner hummed. Two signed baseballs and a few notes rested at the foot of the ground-level crypt. A man from Euless, Tex., wrote: ``To Mickey -- I have had two heroes in my life, my Dad and Mickey Mantle. Now you are both gone.''
Three bodies are buried, but four names are inscribed on the marble crypt:
William (Billy) Mantle, 1957-1994
Mickey Charles Mantle, 1931-1995.A Great Teammate.
Merlyn Louise Mantle, 1932-
Mickey Mantle Jr., 1953-2000
The presence of Merlyn's name is testament to the durability of their love, despite an often dysfunctional relationship and Merlyn's separation from Mickey in his final six years.
Asked why she never divorced him, she said: ``I adored Mick. I thought I couldn't live without him. In many ways, he was very good to me, very generous. I never wanted a divorce and he never asked for one.''
Her sons doubt that she will ever date again.
``I think she found her one love in Dad,'' Danny said. ``He was enough.''
09-03-01 07:12 AM #2
Another picture posted with the article:
Mickey Mantle, center, spent some time with his sons at a fantasy baseball camp in 1989; from left, David, Mickey Jr., Billy and Danny.
09-03-01 07:16 AM #3
Final Picture from article:
At left, Merlyn and Mickey Mantle shortly after they were married, with their friend Neva Lee Mosley (center).
09-03-01 07:42 AM #4
- Join Date
- Jan 2000
- Hilltop Park
I don't know if it's a story about tragedy or victory - sad nonetheless.Land of the free?
It's all about oil.
Pray for the proud amerikans
09-03-01 08:43 AM #5
Mickey himself said he felt doomed and that was why he drank so much. he said if he knew he'd live that long, he'd have taken better care of himself-hard to live with a timebomb. Very sad."...man can now fly in the air like a bird, swim under the ocean like a fish, he can burrow into the ground like a mole. Now, if only he could walk the earth like a man, this would be paradise." Tommy Douglas- The "Greatest" Canadian.
09-03-01 11:54 AM #6
A sad story. It certainly puts being upset about Mussina
missing the perfecto in perspective. I met Mickey shortly
before he died and he autographed a postcard from Mickey
Mantle's for me. I guess if there's a bad gene pool it's gotta be tough.
09-03-01 06:52 PM #7
Sad. Bad genes. In twenty years Genetic Engineering will be the only way to treat these diseases.
They found "precancerous polyps" in the colon at age 41? Nobody has that horrid colonoscopy at that early age. Unless they expected the worst. Maybe they should, considering.
Last edited by Slippery Elm; 09-04-01 at 03:11 AM.
09-03-01 07:34 PM #8
Pardon the pun, but this is a pretty sobering article about the darker side of Mickey Mantle and the effects on his family. While it definitely seems bad genes play a part in the many early deaths in the Mantle family, I'm not sure if the alcoholism was totally about genes. It seems to me that Mickey's sons were influenced by their environment, of being around an alcoholic father, as well as being born to one. It also seems Mickey's sons don't have a strong sense of personal identity, as individuals, not just "Mickey Mantle's kids"...a problem I guess most children of celebrities have. I had that feeling about JFK Jr. too, that although he tried, he never quite escaped his father's shadow, either. I also got a better idea of what kind of person his widow is from this article. I tend to have no patience with wives who stand by philandering or abusive husbands, and I can't imagine making that choice myself, but it seems sometimes love is present even in very dysfunctional marriages.
B "sad story" G
09-03-01 07:41 PM #9
- Join Date
- Jan 2000
- Hilltop Park
I'm pretty sure that alchoholism is genetic.Land of the free?
It's all about oil.
Pray for the proud amerikans
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