The “Mickey cloak effect” in my life
As I was reviewing my early years as an athlete, it occurred to me of the profound effect Mickey had on my life. Let’s start when I first noticed him. He was 13 years old and the year is 1951. Dimaggio is fading and the headlines are touting this child prodigy from Oklahoma who will take his place. It has all the tools and it looks good. We all fell in love with “Mick”. We try to swing like him, run like him, and even wear our uniforms and socks like him.
From 1951 to 1958, Mickey established himself as an icon for baseball fans everywhere. We applauded him when he was great. We sympathized when he was hurt. We worried when he was on a losing streak. It’s hard to believe that one athlete could have had such an effect on an entire generation of fans (men and women).
I chose 1958 because that’s the year I signed my professional contract with the St. Louis Cardinals; Ironic because the Cardinals were Mickey’s favorite team growing up and they never offered him a contract. We both started in Class D with different results. Mickey struggled and had a bad year. They played it on shortstop, while I played outfield. He made 100 mistakes. I joined the AllStar team. It hit bad. I finished second in the league at 333 behind Lou Johnson, who later assumed the role of cleanup hitter for the Dodgers. In the second year, we both moved to Class C and Mickey was transferred to the gardens with great success. We both had good years, but Mickey, with his great speed and power, was being groomed to replace the aging Dimaggio. I, on the other hand, was expendable because the Cardinals had a left field fixture named Stan Musial.
During the winter of 1960, I received a call from a friend informing me that the Dodgers selected me in the first open draft before expansion. I run out to buy the Sporting News and I’m sure my picture is there. It’s a bit of a shock, but March is coming and I’m on my way to join the Dodgers in Vero Beach, FL. I must say that Dodgertown was beautiful. Great resort, great food, but I’m a stranger here. I don’t know anyone and I feel a little lonely. I’m a little behind a lot of the players, especially the warmer climates who play all winter. I stayed in the cold north and worked to make ends meet. My contract was with Montreal in the International League, but I found out that the coaches want to send me back to the league I played in the previous year. Now I am really depressed. When that happened to Mickey, his dad came down and gave him a good talk. My dad wasn’t that kind of guy. He was passive and never told me much.
Finally, one day the Yankees came to play us. We all had lunch together at the Commissary. I noticed that sitting at a table in front of me was a group of Yankees. There were Bauer, Skowron, and Mantle. He had never seen Mickey up close, only from a distance at the stadium. I looked at it and it was like it was chiseled in stone. His neck, his forearms, his legs were twice the size of mine. I was intimidated. I told myself that no matter how hard I tried, I was never going to measure up. A few days later I packed my bags and left baseball. Looking back, it was probably a mistake, but at the time, I just wanted to go home.
How would I have done it if I had stayed? We’ll never know, but one thing’s for sure, even if he made it to the majors, he couldn’t go from home to first in 3.1 seconds and he couldn’t hit the ball 500 feet. Oddly enough, Mickey’s talent was out of my league and it really pissed me off.