Try as I might I cannot ignore the fact that baseball season is just a few weeks away and while we are still watching our forecast for possible mixed precipitation, in Florida and Arizona the big leaguers and want-to-be big leaguers are getting ready for the season. Every year I get just as excited as the year before about the coming season.
Since I have a penchant for writing about whatever is on my mind—here are my three favorite baseball stories.
The first one has been attributed to the great Ty Cobb himself as well as to Yogi Berra, speaking about the great Cobb. The inimitable Dan Magill and I have spent many hours debating whether Cobb or Babe Ruth were the better player. A little while back I went to visit Coach Magill. He was aware of my presence but I wasn’t sure he knew exactly who was visiting. When I got ready to go, however, he pointed his finger at me and said, “Ruth wasn’t half the player Cobb was.”
That’s not the story. This is. According to legend, a reporter was interviewing Yogi Berra, around 1960, and asking him about some of the all-time greats. The interviewer brought up Ty Cobb.
“Yogi,” he asked. “If Cobb were playing today, with all the travel and night games and the great relief pitchers in the game today, what do you think he would bat?”
Yogi scratched the stubble on his chin and responded, “Ty Cobb, playing today? I guess he would go .265 or .270. “
The reporter was incredulous. “Yogi,” he exclaimed. “Ty Cobb had a .361 lifetime batting average! You think he would only bat .265 if he were playing today?”
Yogi looked at the guy like he was crazy and said, “Great fire, man, Ty Cobb must be 75 years old!”
My next favorite baseball story also involves Yogi Berra. He was manager of the Yankees and as the season was winding down the Bronx Bombers found themselves in a tight pennant race. They had just dropped a couple of games and were on the bus to the airport when utility player Phil Linz, who was trying to learn to play the harmonica, pulled out the instrument and started playing “Mary had a Little Lamb.”
Yogi, who was in no mood for such frivolity, turned around and hollered at Linz, “Put that thing away before I come back there and cram it down your throat.”
Linz, made the mistake of asking his seatmate, Mickey Mantle, what Yogi had said. Mantle replied, “He said play louder and cheer everybody up.”
Linz did and Yogi raced to the back of the bus and tried to do what he said he would do. The most comical fight in baseball history broke out and the entire Yankee team was in stiches. This loosened the team up considerably and they went on a tear and won the 1964 pennant.
My favorite baseball story of all time is about Mickey Mantle, my childhood hero. Mickey, as most people know, was one of the greatest talents of all time. He had a magnificent career but it could have been even better if Mantle had taken better care of himself, by his own admission. He was carouser and smoked and was bad to take a drink.
In his later years Mantle moved to Lake Oconee and while he was living there was overcome by bad health, due primarily to liver failure, brought about by all the alcohol he had consumed over the course of his life. Mantle also found Christ late in life and that, by his own admission, brought him much peace and created cause for great reflection in his last days.
His Yankee teammate, Bobby Richardson, came to visit Mantle in the hospital. Richardson, a South Carolina native, had always been a man of God. Mantle told Richardson, “Bobby, I had a bad dream last night. I dreamed I died and when I got to heaven I met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates and he told me that I didn’t make it into heaven and had to go to hell. But he said, ‘But before you go, Mick, could you autograph a dozen baseballs for me.’”
Richardson laughed. Who wouldn’t? It’s a great joke. But then he said, “Mickey, when you do get to heaven, if they ask you why you should get in, what will you tell them?”
According to Richardson, Mantle never batted an eye and said, “I’ll tell them that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that he would believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Opening day is right around the corner. Play ball, y’all.