Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

January 29, 2013

‘The Mick’ should be remembered in wake of Armstrong’s troubles

The two comments were almost identical.

Almost 18 years apart. Our attention spans don’t last that long. If they did, we would’ve remembered what Mickey Mantle said. His advice and regrets would’ve kept us realistic about elevating athletes and public figures to role models. Maybe Lance Armstrong would never have resorted to using performance-enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France titles, become a cultural icon, and protected that “one big lie” through cover-ups and intimidation.

Mantle warned us.

We forgot.

Instead, just recently, one of the world’s most recognized sports figures uttered virtually the same lament that Mantle did in 1995.

“I will spend the rest of my life … trying to earn back trust and apologize to people,” Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey, admitting to doping after years of denials.

The 41-year-old cyclist, who famously conquered cancer on his way to championship glory, looked distressed but far less broken than “The Mick” did on July 12, 1995. The man idolized by kids in the 1950s was then 63, frail and recovering from liver-transplant surgery that he hoped had saved his life. Little did Mantle know that the cancer he thought he’d dodged was spreading throughout his once strapping body.

But on that day, sitting before cameras in the Baylor University Medical Center, a pale, gaunt Mantle vowed this …

“I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to make up.”

He died a month and a day later.

In those few days, though, Mantle came closer to heroism than at any point during his 18 incredible seasons as a New York Yankee, the greatest switch-hitter and World Series home run hitter in history. He made clear to parents and kids that his choices in a 40-year battle with alcoholism hurt a lot of people around him, especially his wife and kids, and “shortened my career.” He tried his best to put the public worship of his baseball exploits in stark perspective.

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