When Mickey Mantle Challenged Jesus
As I remember…religion lost big time to baseball when I was a kid. I spent a lot more time thinking about Mickey Mantle that I did about Jesus. I’m just being honest. I think most kids who grew up around New York did exactly that. And I worried, much more, about how the Yankees would fare when Mickey was hurt and out of the lineup than I did about the fate of the Apostles after Jesus ascended to Heaven (and left them “flat,” in the slang of my youth).
When I was a kid, baseball was my religion. Watching Mickey Mantle walk up to the plate on television, with his head slightly down and taking each step with a humility virtually extinct among superstars today was, for me, more exciting than the long ago story of a guy who was crucified and died two thousand years ago but didn’t stay dead and is still with us today, as our conductor of our salvation. Compare that with the instant miracle The Mick could give us at any time: one of his monster tape measure home runs…maybe the longest ever…that anticipation, I remember, consumed me.
When The Mick hit one, it was fabulous. The shot seemed to jump out of the television into my life: It gave me a happier day as a kid. I never seemed to be happy when I thought about Jesus coming to save us. That was too abstract for a kid who hated algebra; and when I think of it now, too much like some ancient Ponzi scheme with the promise of fabulous future rewards.
Mickey bestowed immediate gratification. That’s what kids want. You didn’t have to wait and it didn’t matter if you had been bad. I could feel it washing over me like a beneficent tsunami as I watched the majestic flight of a Mantle tape measure home run. He was larger than life. He was the real Roy Hobbs, The Natural. And that felt better than anything I experienced in church.