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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

MICKEY MANTLE and FREDDY DERODA


MICKEY MANTLE and FREDDY DERODA
This story is taken from the seldom read tome "Maybe It's Just Me" which in retrospect should have been titled "Perhaps It Is I" anyway...It is a childhood tragedy I endured which haunts me to this day.  A travesty that helped mold me into the untrusting cranky old man I am today. 


1956 was a magical year for Yankee fans. The Yankees won the pennant, and recaptured the World Series title which they had given up to the hated Dodgers the year before. Don Larson threw the only World Series perfect game, and Mickey Mantle hit the homerun which assured that victory. 1956 was the year Mickey won the Triple Crown, leading the league with 52 homeruns, 130 RBIs and a batting average of .353.

Mickey was every 10 year olds idol.

In the summer of 1957, Mickey Mantle was coming to Manhasset, Long Island to sell and sign his new book, “The Mickey Mantle Story”.

This review is from: The Mickey Mantle Story, (Hardcover)


The childhood story of Mickey Mantle's father pitching to him first as he hit from the right side, and then from the left is the beginning of the story of a baseball legend. Mantle was considered by many to be the greatest natural athlete who ever played the game. He was probably the greatest switch-hitter of all times, and his career mark of five hundred and thirty six homers is still impressive. He played on the great Yankee teams in which there also played his buddy Whitey Ford, and also Maris, Yogi Berra, and Billy Martin. Mantle was injury-prone and this hurt his career. But the really tragic part of his story is the genetic disease which haunted him throughout his life. In terms of power and speed when he was at his best, there was no one like him.


The “Mick” was coming to town! I saved for weeks and raided my milk bottle of change to scrape up the $7.00 price of this life story of the most famous 25 year old in New York. When the day came I stood with Mom in a line fifty yards away from the bookstore entrance.

Mickey was scheduled to sign for two hours. After an hour, the line had moved only ten yards. I left Mom to see what was holding things up and found the entrance jammed with an unorganized scramble of line cutters. The only way in was to also cut the line. Mom of course said no. Cutting was wrong, and you should not stoop to other’s transgressions.

For one time in my brief life I did not listen to Mom. I left and went to the front, ducked, dodged dipped and crawled to the entrance and reached the real line to see “The Mick.” Ten minutes before he was scheduled to leave I was in front of my idol. It was the first time I had ever stood face to face with a real celebrity.

The Mick was great; he took my $7.00 and asked with his Mickey Mantle smile and Oklahoma charm, “How do you want me to sign it kid?” “Joe” I managed to blurt out, “To Joe.” And so I went home as probably the only eleven year old in Manhasset with an autographed copy of “The Mickey Mantle Story”, “To Joe, best wishes Mickey Mantle.”
This became my favorite possession; a puff piece slapped together to capitalize on Mickey’s Triple Crown year, autographed to ME! “The Mickey Mantle Story” somehow left out the accounts of Mickey’s boozing and womanizing that became legendary years later, but it would not have mattered to me.
At night, listening to the game on WINS radio, I would hold “The Book” as I listened. When Mickey came to bat, in a crucial situation, I would rub “The Autograph”, and almost as often as not Mickey would deliver a homerun. I, of course, took some credit; rubbing the autograph and a homerun could not have been a coincidence. There was a bond between the Mick and me even if he did not know it. The Mick was from Oklahoma; I was born in Oklahoma and called it home the first eight months of my life, so “The Book”, “The Autograph” and I held a special power.
I was the envy of the neighborhood because of my prized possession-especially to FREDDY DERODA.
Freddy lived about two blocks away. He was a rich kid who lived in the only custom built home in the Munsey Park section of Manhasset. Freddy was only a casual friend, though he and his Father did once take me bowling. Even Dad was impressed when they picked me up in their Bentley, and Dad was not easily impressed by material possessions.
Winter vacation 1959, Freddy asked to borrow “The Book” which he needed for a book report. I reluctantly lent him “The Book”. How could you not trust a kid whose father drove a Bentley? When I returned to school after Christmas, Freddy was absent. He was absent the next three days. I rode to his house to see if Freddy was alright (and to get my book back).
His house was empty...no furniture, no Bentley, no Freddy, NO BOOK! The Derodas had moved. Quickly and quietly they had moved in the middle of the night. No one knew where or why. Freddy had known, but told no one, and he used the opportunity to escape with my book.
I pedaled home in shock. Theft did not happen in Manhasset. We did not lock up our bikes, you could leave your car running if you were going to make a quick stop in the store, and homes were left unlocked all day. Yet, my BOOK was stolen! It was stolen by FREDDY DERODA.
To this day the name affects me.  FREDDY DERODA. “Slowly I turn, step by step, inch by inch”. It makes me want to break or KILL something.
Mickey still had some good years, especially 1961, but he was slowed by debilitating injuries and as great as he was, he never really reached his full potential for greatness. I think it had something to do with “The Book”, “The Autograph”, and our now broken “special connection”.
Reflecting today, I have a feeling that Mr. Deroda might have been a member of that special Union which did not allow striking, or leaving, and the Derodas had no choice but to leave on the sly, in the dead of night. 

This must have been devastating to an eleven year old boy. That he could leave with one special thing of value must have been important to him.

Freddy, I hope “The Book” helped you through what must have been a hard time.

I guess I forgive you.

10 comments:

  1. I feel for you -- I really do! Something like that you never get over -- ever...

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  2. Makes you wonder if you could track him down and find out if he still has your book. Hopefully it was as special to him as it was to you.

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  3. awww. nice of you to see it from his fearful, totally uprooted perspective.

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  4. Oh, that is AWFUL!!! What a horrible thing to have done.

    I am bitter on your behalf. NO FAIR!!

    Pearl

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  5. Ok I Googled Freddy and got nothing except reference to your book.
    What an awful thing for you but also Mickey's career. And to think Mickey set all those records with out steroids.

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  6. Slowly I turned... step by step... inch by inch... I crept up on the rogue that stole my book...I wanted to tear him, limb from limb!

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  7. Childhood unresolved happenings cling to our memories don't they?

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  8. What a jerk! You're a mighty forgiving guy, Joe. I could use some lessons. You available to tutor?

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  9. Or maybe it was just karma telling you that line-cutting doesn't pay...

    At least you had your bond with The Mick. Something Freddy could not take away.

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  10. If I ever meet a man named Freddy Deroda, I'll ask him to return your book.

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