One of Bobby Richardson’s good friends during his playing days with the New York Yankees was the legendary Mickey Mantle.
The tract “His Final Inning” tells of Mickey Mantle’s profession of faith in Christ.
Mantle was an extremely popular player and regarded by many baseball observers as the best switch-hitter ever to play the game. He accumulated numerous awards during his 18-year career, highlighted by his greatest year as a professional in 1956. That year he won the Triple Crown, Male Athlete of the Year, American League Most Valuable Player, and Player of the Year. He played in 12 World Series and won the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1957 and 1962. The runner-up for the 1962 MVP was Richardson. Mantle said Richardson should have received the award.
During the years when Mantle and Richardson played, the Yankees were loaded with talent. It was the golden age of baseball, and the Yankees dominated. Larry King once said, “Mickey Mantle is baseball.”
But Mantle struggled throughout his career with a condition called osteomyelitis (bone infection) as the result of an injury in high school. He also injured his right knee in the 1951 World Series. After that, he wrapped his leg for every game and played with chronic pain. He was recognized and respected as a power hitter (hitting a home run reportedly measured at 565 feet), but also became known for his speed and drag bunts. He was a Gold Glove award recipient for his play in centerfield. However, following his knee injury, his speed was diminished.
Mantle had a reputation for being a hard-drinking party man. Along the way, he became an alcoholic. Richardson, on the other hand, was seen as a clean-living homebody and a dedicated Christian. It was an unusual friendship, but one that allowed Richardson to plant the seeds of the gospel many times over the years in Mantle’s life. “I believe God had a purpose for our relationship,” he said.
After both players retired, they stayed in contact, with Mantle doing public appearances and batting clinics for Richardson’s college teams. Richardson said Mantle retired “as one of the greatest players to ever play the game.”
Mantle owned a restaurant in New York, and Richardson would speak there on occasion. Once, his son Robby spoke there in the 1980s. Mantle commented to him, “You sound just like your dad – always talking about that decision I need to make.” During his career, he talked often about trusting Christ as Savior, referring to it as “the decision.”
Mantle’s alcoholism worsened following his retirement, and he entered the Betty Ford Center for treatment in 1994. Sportscaster Bob Costas interviewed him that year, just two weeks after his son Billy passed away at 36. Mantle told Costas that he had not been a good role model and that there was something missing in his life.
One year later, Mantle was diagnosed with liver cancer. After receiving a liver transplant, he was hopeful, but the cancer returned. His life began to deteriorate rapidly. While in the hospital at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, he endured a great deal of pain. Bobby Richardson was in Dallas for a speaking engagement at that time. During that week, Richardson received a phone call at 6:00 a.m. from Mantle, asking him to pray for him. Richardson prayed with him over the phone and shared with him Philippians 4:4-7 in the Phillips translation. Later in the morning, he visited his friend at the hospital. As Richardson left the room to return to South Carolina, Mantle said to him, “Now don’t forget, you have my funeral.”
Richardson said, “I believe what drew Mickey to me was that I had the relationship with Christ that he was searching for, even if he didn’t realize it. He often attended our baseball chapel services.”
A few weeks later, Mantle’s wife Merlyn called the Richardsons. Mickey’s life was fading quickly. They flew to Dallas. When Bobby and Betsy walked into the room, Mantle said, “I can’t wait to tell you this. I have accepted Christ as my Savior.” Bobby was elated, but wanted to be sure, so he went through the plan of salvation with Mantle again. Betsy later asked him, “Mickey, if you were to stand before a holy God today and He asked you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?” Mantle replied, “We are talking about God, right?” Betsy acknowledged they were. He then quoted John 3:16.
Mantle, the Yankee great, passed away Aug. 13, 1995, on a Sunday morning at age 63. Bobby was in charge of the service and preached the funeral message. Bob Costas spoke also, but it was Richardson who presented the gospel. The service was televised worldwide.
Richardson has been distributing a special tract to hundreds of people over the years. It is titled “Mickey Mantle: His Final Inning” and tells the story of his friend’s profession of faith in Christ and how others can also believe and be saved.
Both Mantle and Richardson thought about quitting baseball when they were playing in the minor leagues. Neither did, and in the providence of God, they became friends – one living and sharing the life-changing message of the gospel, the other finally embracing that message.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rudy Gray is editor of the Baptist Courier, baptistcourier.com, newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.)