He was an alcoholic. His marriage dissolved through infidelity. Many of those revelations came after retirement, but his fans were forgiving. Mantle became the No. 1 subject in the memorabilia craze that swept baseball, and his popularity remains intact. Items of Mantle and Babe Ruth are the most prized among collectors. "There's multiple reasons he's stayed around so long,” said Swearingen, a 54-year-old Houston businessman. "One of the biggest, he wasn't uppity. He didn't have an attitude. He was humble, down to Earth. He was an everyday guy from a small town who wanted to do good.” He was human. He also was superhuman. The 565-foot home run hit at Washington's Griffith Stadium. The balls hit off the facade at Yankee Stadium, one of which, Swearingen recalled, bounced almost all the way back to second base. And the home run Katz saw in 1959 that reached the upper deck but that Katz swears was only a foot or so over the second baseman's head when it left the infield. Mantle's popularity extended beyond the masses. His teammates' loyalty is legendary. When Oklahoma City unveiled the Mantle statue at Bricktown in 1998, a host of former Yankees attended. "Greatest ballplayer I played with or against in my career,” said Moose Skowron, a Yankee first baseman from 1956-62. "Hell of a guy. Great competitor. Always wanted to win. You don't forget things like that.” Vic Stewart grew up in Indiana and idolized Mantle. "Man, the way he played ball,” Stewart said. "When he hit the field, he gave 100 percent.” Sometimes that's hyperbole about a superstar. Except Mantle's old teammates have been saying much the same thing for 50 years. "Mickey, he was the best,” Skowron said. "Always gave 100 percent. Played when he was hurt.” Skowron lockered between Mantle and Yogi Berra. "Mickey would go 0-for-4 and strike out four times,” Skowron recalled. "He'd be crying in the locker room. I'd ask him what was wrong. He'd say, ‘Moose, I let 40,000 people down today.' He was a winner.” • • • • Some Mantle fans never saw him play. Some weren't born when Mantle retired. They are Mantle fans because their fathers were Mantle fans, and their fathers were Mantle fans because of that boyish charm and that magic name and because when you turned on the Game of the Week every Saturday, there always seemed to be those pinstripes and that ballplayer who could run so fast and hit the ball so far. Our man Colston, now 22 years young, wrote about the day Mantle died, Aug. 13, 1995, saying he "felt like he lost his hero, but his hero never would lose his biggest fan. Having that connection meant he would never have to say good-bye.” America never has said good-bye to Mickey Mantle. It has said hello to other sporting heroes. Michael Jordan. Cal Ripken. Tiger Woods. "I don't think it's the same,” Katz said. "I don't think they have idols they look up to the way we looked up to the Mick. "I really like Derek Jeter. Maybe some kids look up to him. I hope so.”
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Mickey Mantle's final baseball game was 40 years ago today, but he remains an American icon. How long ago was September 1968? • Richard Milhous Nixon had yet to be voted into the White House. •Man had yet to walk on the moon. •"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” had yet to be released. •Woodstock was a year away. •The Saturday Evening Post still circulated. •"Gomer Pyle, USMC” still aired. •War hero and President Dwight Eisenhower, born in 1890, was alive. •The Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers were not.