Thursday, July 17, 2008

Yankee Stadium Remembrances, Part 3: The Mick'

As I mentioned earlier, I do have one more story to tell about Yankee Stadium, this time based on a visit there early in the summer of 1995.

That wonderful summer, I was working in New York City, living the dream as I bumped around Wall Street with a salary that was not justified by either my work experience or intellect. The work wasn't all that challenging, and the living was easy, mostly benefited by a kind friend of mine whose family owned a spare studio located midtown, east side, and barely charged me rent. Life was so good, I often would sleep in late for an extra hour after a night of partying, opting to take a cab downtown to my job and spend an extra $10 per trip, rather than being financially responsible and squeezing onto a subway like a sardine pressing up against some guy's armpit for a half hour. Efficient days at work allowed me to enjoy the best diversions Manhattan had to offer all summer long.

And so, when I got the chance to catch an evening game at Yankee, I gathered up some friends and went.

In 1995, Yankee legend Mickey Mantle was in failing health, caused by years of hard living which corroded his liver along with the rest of his organs. Not being a Yankee fan or native New Yorker, I had read about his exploits but probably didn't share the appreciation levels of most of the other residents of Manhattan (in fact, I remember grabbing a beer once at Mickey Mantle's barbecue restaurant on Central Park South one night and my friend hilariously (and with a straight face) asked the vendor at the in-store gift shop if they had any t-shirts with any other numbers on the back besides 7).

So when Mantle's picture came up on the jumbotron, smack dab in between innings of a night game, I looked at it a little askance. Of course, being a picture of Mantle from his playing years, he appeared young and vibrant and as if he had the world at his feet, despite the scoreboard's message to "Get Well Mick!" extended across the bottom of the screen. And standing amidst a sea of drunk Yankee fans clapping and cheering for Mantle's picture (I recall this being the loudest the crowd got all night long), I remember thinking to myself how odd it was to see a mass of people mourn in unison for a player that many of them never saw in action. Mantle's situation, in which he was in need of a liver transplant (which he got later that summer), was indeed tragic, I agree. But it's not like he didn't live a full life, complete with incredible exploits and experiences that mortals like us could not even try to comprehend; in addition, his sick condition was likely self-inflicted, the result of years of partying and alcoholism. Weep not for Mantle, I thought--he has lived a good life and accomplished much.

And then, some young twentysomething kid in a short sleeved polo shirt, in an inebriated stupor, screamed with slurred words to the scoreboard (as if his image could hear and/or answer), "Mickey! You can have my liver!"

I recall looking at this drunken sot and thinking that, based on this guy's current state, such a transplant might only give Mantle another couple of weeks of prolonged life. I was nevertheless struck by his magnaminity and the conviction of his bold claim. I couldn't have been very sober myself, as I turned to the guy and replied, "Dude, it's not like a kidney. You only have one liver." (I didn't know about living donor liver transplantation, which I suppose was my fault, but I accurately surmised that he was mixing up one's internal organs.)

The guy looked at me with a blank stare. He wasn't angry, or even confrontational; it was almost as if he was absorbing this new piece of information and trying to figure out how to resolve the logical flaw and extricate himself from his loud verbal commitment. I mean, here he was, among thousands of other Yankee fans, and he had publicly announced his intent to donate a human organ without which he couldn't survive. Not that we were a temple of Aztecs about to sacrifice his body to the gods (though I thought I saw some ushers start to move slowly toward him), but even still, he couldn't go back on his word now, could he? Not when the fate of a legend like Mickey Mantle lies in the balance.

After about ten seconds of pondering my statement, his face turned to a steely glare. As sober as he could, he said, "That's okay, he can still have it. He's the Mick."

And there you have it. Can't argue with that logic, can you? Who's to say that New Yorkers aren't generous with their hearts...or even their other organs?

Mantle got his liver transplant, but died later that summer after the liver cancer had spread to the rest of his body. To this day, I am not sure whether the fan with whom I conversed that evening was the donor.


karina said...

Sax, remind me to invite you some coffee or something a little bit stronger if it is your fancy, so you can tell me stories like this (any Son can join in, in fact, the more, the merrier)

Steve Sax said...

I do like the espresso.

karina said...

Espresso for Mr. Sax. Dessert?