Mickey Mantle may have been the greatest athlete the world has ever known. If not for a reckless lifestyle and a body that started breaking down in his prime, he might have set records that today’s major leaguers would still be trying to reach. Because of his excessive drinking, Mickey’s liver was severely damaged and, early in 1995, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. On August 13 of that year, he died at the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
With the help of the Betty Ford Center, Mickey finally did quit drinking. And through the influence of his friends, Pat Summerall and Bobby Richardson, he accepted Christ and was baptized. But that couldn’t undo the damage that had already been done to his body. At his last press conference, which was held shortly before his death, Mickey said, “God gave me everything and I blew it. For the kids out there, don’t be like me.”*
If I had to pick a Bible character that most reminds me of Mickey Mantle, it would be Samson. He, too, was amazingly gifted. He, too, performed incredible feats of skill and strength. He, too, was a ferocious party animal. And he, too, suffered terribly as a result of bad choices. If Samson had given a press conference in his final days, I suspect he would have said the same thing Mickey said: “God gave me everything and I blew it. For the kids out there, don’t be like me!”
People like Mickey Mantle and Samson serve to remind us of the importance of self-discipline. And we need reminding from time to time because self-discipline is the least attractive of all virtues. For many people it conjures up images of suffering and deprivation. We picture the whole world having a party and ourselves sitting on the sidelines watching all the fun.
But the reality is far different, as I’m sure Mickey and Samson would agree. People who make disciplined choices throughout their lives almost always end up happier and healthier. And they never have to say, “For the kids out there, don’t be like me!”
For further reflection read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and 1 Timothy 6:11.
*Pat Summerall, Summerall (Nashville: Nelson, 2006), 180