TO baby boomers, the preeminent Yankee will always be Mickey Mantle. No matter how many exciting ballplayers have been in the Bronx since - Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, and others - Mantle is the one most associated with the team's last dynastic era. And he, more than anyone else, seemed connected to the lineage of Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio.
Mantle's passing on Sunday in Dallas left the baseball world to reflect on both his superlative playing career and what went wrong in a personal life brought low by alcohol addiction. The past month or so he was back in the public eye as his physical challenges mounted. At the All-Star Game in early July, he called a hospital press conference to say that he would devote the rest of his life to "trying to make up" and "give something back."
Mantle, the record shows, had basically one job during and after baseball - being Mickey Mantle. He was a sports icon of the largest dimensions, a powerful fellow from small-town Oklahoma plunked down in New York at the beginning of a television age that would revolutionize pro sports.
A testament to his greatness is the fact that Mantle, who began an 18-year career in 1951, was able to thrive athletically in this crucible. The accomplishments flowed: Most Valuable Player of the American League three times; a World Series record 18 career home runs; a Triple Crown winner (homers, runs batted in, batting average) in 1956; 10 times hitting home runs both left- and right-handed in the same game.
Mick could certainly crush a baseball, twice hitting the roof over the right field grandstand at Yankee Stadium, and once hitting a tape-measure shot in Washington measured at 565 feet.
Mantle also had another talent that served him well - one that fewer people knew about. He was a tremendous storyteller, one of the best, said Yankee general manager Gene Michael. "I'm not going to tell you he was perfect," Michael said, speaking of Mantle, "but he was genuine."
And in the words of President Clinton: "[Mantle] will be remembered for excellence on the baseball field and the honor and redemption he brought to the end of his life."
"Ultimately ... the helmet and star associated with the Cowboys will be handled by the Dallas Cowboys and not the marketing arm of the NFL," Jones said recently.
Sparks in the NFL corral
ARE the Dallas Cowboys getting too big for their britches? The Cowboys account for one-third of all National Football League merchandise sales, a fact that has owner Jerry Jones talking about acting autonomously rather than sharing revenues with other teams.
Jones's rhetoric concerns league commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who says the NFL's share-the-wealth philosophy is to Dallas's advantage in other important areas, such as player procurement.
"The Cowboys are where they are," Tagliabue says, "because of a league institution called the draft, which is what produced Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. Institutions of that type take a team that was 1-15 [Dallas's record in 1989] to where it is." The Cowboys won two of the last three Super Bowls.
Touching other bases
* Pop quiz: Based on scoring handicaps used earlier this year in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Golf Championships, which celebrity has the lowest handicap: Jimmy Connors, Dan Quayle, or Julius Erving? (Answer at end.)
*Is it this writer's imagination, or did the PGA Championship produce some of the best overall shotmaking in recent memory? Television used the classic backdrop of Los Angeles's Riviera Country Club to capture a host of guys sticking fairway shots near the pin and curling long putts into the cup. Fittingly, Australian Steve Elkington won his first major title by shooting a seven-under-par 64 (the tournament's best-ever finishing score) in Sunday's final round, and sinking a 25-foot birdie putt on the first hole of a playoff with Britain's Colin Montgomerie.
*In this summer of disillusionment with major-league baseball, it figures that the 10 millionth visitor to pass through the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum since it opened in 1939 would be a hockey fan. Brett Hornby, a sixth-grader from Glen Ridge, N.J., wound up at the hall with a group of summer campers. He left with a lifetime pass and $500 worth of free merchandise from the gift shop.
*Quiz answer: Dan Quayle. The former vice president has an eight-stroke handicap, Jimmy Connors an 11, Julius Erving 15.