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When Mick Said ‘Wow’ to Me

To me and my friends, Mickey Mantle was a kind of god. When I went to Yankee Stadium and Mickey was playing, I said the same thing that the Jews probably said when they saw the Red Sea split: Wow. 
[additional-authors]
July 21, 2022

I have been asked this question more than a few times … If I could meet anybody in the world, who would that be?  That answer has changed over the years but when I was 10 years old, New York Yankee Mickey Mantle was that guy. To me and my friends, Mickey Mantle was a kind of god. When I went to Yankee Stadium and Mickey was playing, I said the same thing that the Jews probably said when they saw the Red Sea split: Wow.  At 10 years old, if you asked me if I would rather witness the Red Sea split or Mickey hit a grand slam, it would have been The Mick. 

Some 30 years later, my friend Steve Mittleman and I got to meet The Mick. We were working in Las Vegas and read Mickey was signing autographs at the MGM Grand. At that time, I was enjoying the benefits of being nine years sober. When my turn came to get an autograph, I decided to tell Mickey I was sober since I had read he was trying to get sober. I wanted to let him know, just in case I could be helpful. You never know unless you try. Sobriety is like a high fly ball on a sunny day to deep center. It’s easy to lose sight of it if you are not extra careful. And from what I read in the press, Mickey did not have an easy time staying sober. The allure of the drink is blinding. 

Mickey was seated alone at a long table. I stepped up to say hello and asked if I could take a photo with him. He said, “Sure.”  To him, I was just another full-grown little kid who loved him. Even in his early sixties, he still had much of his farm boy baby face. We shook hands and I got the picture. Touching the hand that, with 35 inches of wood could slam a ball more than 500 feet, seemed surreal.  

After a deep breath, I leaned in and swung for the lights. “Hey Mick, I’m sober for 9 years. I know you’ve been trying. Good luck.”

With more of a grimace than a smile, he said, “Wow” — the same thing I said when I saw him shag a fly or hit one out of the park. Then he said, “I don’t know if I can last nine more minutes.” I wanted to say, “Sure you can. You’re the Mick. You can do anything.” But I froze. His honesty shook me. Wow. His son, who was also his handler, politely asked me to move on so the next person could say hello to their hero.

After decades of alcoholism, Mickey told his fans, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” 

After decades of alcoholism, Mickey told his fans, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” Mickey was told by a doctor that his liver was so badly damaged that it “looked like a doorstop.” After burning through his liver and spending a very short time on the transplant list, Mickey received a hotly contested new liver. He checked into the Betty Ford Center on January 7, 1994. On August 13, 1995, at 63 he died of liver and lung cancer.  

Mickey was not a bad person. Mickey had a disease. A deadly disease. Even heroes get diseases. There is more to quitting drinking than just quitting drinking. If someone doesn’t want help, it’s almost impossible to help them.  Even being told you have a “doorstop for a liver” may not be enough. Alcoholism cares zero about your home run stats. Its goal is to bench you and eventually kill you. 

When Mickey played ball, he was backed up by his team, the Yankees. Sober people also need a team backing them up. It helps to have a good infield to help you cut off the first drink. But what’s also needed to stop and stay stopped is the gift of desperation. When Mickey joined the Yankees, he was desperate to do well and he became the best. I don’t know if he was as desperate to stay sober. 

Getting sober and staying sober is minute-to-minute hard work for anyone, even for a hero like the Mick. 

So, if you’re reading this, and you’re newly sober – even for just one day, or even just five minutes — pat yourself on the back and say WOW.


Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer, and host of the ‘You Don’t Know Schiff’ podcast.

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