“You talk about a role model — this is a role model,” Mantle said, referring to his weakened self. “Don’t be like me. God gave me a body and the ability to play baseball. I had everything, and I just …” His voice trailed off, according to a New York Times recount.
Abject regret in the face of his own mortality, Mantle continued, fighting tears. “All you’ve got to do is look at me to see it’s wasted. … I want to get across to kids not to drink or do drugs. Moms and dads should be role models, not ballplayers.”
Moms and dads.
That’s a convicting statement to millions of Americans. Do we become enamored with those able to throw a 95-mph fastball, hit a 400-foot home run, run 100 meters in 9 seconds, “thread the needle” on a touchdown pass, “drain the 3.? Do we hold their successes up as examples to be emulated by kids? Is such glory limited to athletes, or do those with wealth, power and social status receive similar adoration?
It’s our choice whether we answer that honestly.
Here’s what Mantle said at that same 1995 news conference …
Sitting beside Mantle was his son, Danny. In an emotional voice, Mick said, “I wasn’t even like a father. I don’t ever remember playing catch with the boys in the back yard. I was a drinking buddy.
Then, he added, “I feel more like a dad now,” according to an ESPN.com archive story.
After a pause, Mantle bowed his head, muttered something under his breath, looked up, recomposed himself and said, “I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to make up. I just want to start giving back. All I’ve done is take.”
Their situations are completely different. Mantle put a performance-debilitating substance in his body, and succeeded in spite of that, legitimately. Armstrong admitted to cheating and bullying those who dared question his legitimacy. Still, his challenge is to do what Mantle did at his rock-bottom turning point — get real. Armstrong hinted at that when he promised to spend his days earning back trust and apologizing. In a story concerning the Armstrong saga last week in the Gannett Wisconsin Media, a minister said that through pure humility and honesty in that 1995 news conference, Mantle — who embraced Christianity in his last days through longtime Yankees teammate Bobby Richardson — presented the ideal way to seek forgiveness.