This was early in the final summer of his life, June 2003, and my father was gazing through the glass at a display case inside the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, N.J. He wasn’t yet aware of the surprise I’d been able to arrange for him yet — for the moment he was simply trapped in a haze of memory, his eyes glazed a bit, the smile real.
“This man,” he said, looking at a blown-up black-and-white photo of a Yankee wearing No. 7 in pinstripes, “hit the ball farther than anyone who’s ever lived. Think about that.”
It was then that there was a tap on his shoulder.
“And to think,” Yogi Berra told my startled father, “they named him after you.”
My father, Mickey, wasn’t one to be intimidated by famous people. He’d once been asked to bring his trumpet and join Tony Bennett’s road band. But he was speechless now, as he extended his hand and shook Yogi’s, and Yogi — who’d been down this road a time or two in his day — took it in stride.
“If Mick was your hero,” Yogi told him, “you weren’t alone. Because he was our hero, too.”
Twenty-five years ago Thursday, Mickey Mantle died, not long after…