The most recent book I checked out from our extremely overpacked public library was "The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood" by Jane Leavy. It was an excellent book and I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of classic baseball but also anyone who can think critically about their heroes. This post is not so much about the classic baseball part as it is about thinking critically about our heroes.
I grew up in the 1980s, the height of baseball memorabilia frenzy and Mickey Mantle was a big part of that as baby boomers tried to recapture their youth and make some cash at the same time. My dad's baseball hero was Mickey Mantle. My dad taught me to switch-hit because Mantle switch-hit. I had a Mickey Mantle baseball instructional VHS tape (still have it in my basement, in fact). I "met" Mantle at a baseball card show in Memphis, TN., in September 1989 (in fact, I believe that was also the day that "Saved By The Bell" premiered on NBC. How I remember that ... who knows). I remember several things about that event but the thing I remember most was my dad making me work for weeks in our family's garden to earn the money to go to the card show and get the autograph. I remember Mantle calling out to my dad (who was wearing a "Go Big Red" Henry County High School Patriots polo shirt) thinking he was an Oklahoma Sooners fan. My dad still remembers that, too. I mean, his childhood hero talked to him specifically when he was mostly just signing crap for people.
Anyway, I idolized Mickey Mantle. I also idolized Michael Jordan, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco and other athletes. Turns out they were both giant jerks.
That's the hard realization I think most people must face. At some point, the heroes of your youth become real people who are extremely flawed. Athletic glory fades and they are left to face life and, often, they are a train wreck of a human being (read the book on Mantle and you'll see what I mean).
I remember vividly my grandfather giving me one of his legendary "sermons from the easy chair" where he would warn me not to "glory in man, but only in God." I dismissed his sermons because, hey, I was 12 years old and knew way more than he did, right? It's funny how age can make your parents and grandparents smarter.
In the end, I think it's a matter of balance. I still love Mantle and Jordan's performances. However, my eyes are wide open to who they are/were and who we are as humans. We are all terribly broken individuals in need of fixing. Even the mighty Mick died. The book gives a detailed account of his last days. Trust me, there's nothing glamourous about dying of liver failure and cancer and facing the realities of a broken life.
The important question to ask ourselves is "what's next?" If you know me, you know I find hope in the atonement given by Jesus for my brokenness (sin) on the cross. However, too many just cruise through life without ever pondering their fate.
Life is fleeting.
You will die.