by Mike Moffett
Weirs Times Columnist
I recently played a round of golf at Loudon Country Club with fellow Plymouth State alum Dave Long, a noted raconteur and fellow sportswriter. His weekly HIPPO column is just about as good as this one.
We enjoyed a couple libations afterwards on the country club’s deck, and naturally the conversation turned to sports. Long shared how he’d played a role in the establishment of the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame in Hernando, Fla., twenty years ago. New Hampshire developer Sam Tamposi had built a major residential complex called Citrus Hills and wanted to honor his friend Ted with a shrine of sorts that would draw tourists and baseball fans.
Long worked in public relations at the time, and as his baseball acumen was well-known, he was pulled into the project. The grand opening was in February, 1995.
“The major television networks and national media were all there,” recalled Long. “And of course, plenty of baseball Hall-of-Famers, politicians, and even Muhammed Ali.”
The irascible Williams was cool to the project at first, but on opening day he reveled in the camaraderie of all the Stan Musials and Bob Fellers who showed up—the glory of their times.
“I’ve never been around a presence like Ted’s,” said Long. “He filled up a room all by himself. The scene was breathtaking to a sports guy like me.”
A Long Island native and a long-time Yankee fan, Long was thrilled by the presence of Joe DiMaggio, who somehow got locked in a men’s room. Long volunteered to rescue the Yankee Clipper and climbed through a window and into the restroom to unjam the door. True to form, DiMaggio was distant and aloof, barely acknowledging his rescuer—in contrast to the gregarious Williams whose booming voice, backslapping, and story-telling captivated everyone.
“All the baseball greats clearly RESPECTED DiMaggio,” said Long. “But the ones who were there really LOVED Ted.”
During a pre-dinner social, Long was making his waY across the room when someone grabbed his tie, jerking him to a stop. He looked up and recognized Mickey Mantle, a Hall-of-Fame Yankee and Dave’s boyhood idol.
“I like your tie,” said Mantle, as he loosened his grasp.
“Do you want it?” replied Long.
“No, I have mine,” said Mantle, who laughed and pointed to his own, identical, sports-themed cravat.
Long was taken aback by Mantle’s appearance. Years of hard-living had destroyed the Mick’s health, necessitating a liver transplant. But the two conversed about Casey Stengel’s Yankees and Mantle said he was impressed by David’s baseball knowledge.
“Well, as it was you who stopped me, I’ll tell you that I know more about you than you do,” said Long. “You were born on Oct. 20, 1931. Your father’s name was Mutt. He named you after Mickey Cochrane, the catcher. Your middle name is Charles, after your grandfather. You grew up in Commerce, Oklahoma with your twin brothers Ray and Roy. You played shortstop in the minors in Joplin, Missouri, and won the batting title there in 1950 with a .383 average. But you had 56 errors that year and the Yankees switched you to right field when they moved you up in 1951, as it was DiMaggio’s last year in center field.”
“How do you know all this stuff?” asked Mantle.
“Well, you taught me to read.”
“When I was in grade school, they thought I had a reading disability. I didn’t like to read. I didn’t want to read. But the teachers and my parents knew I loved sports, and they gave me a book about you. It was the first book I ever read, and I’ve been reading and writing ever since.”
Before Mantle could respond they heard a “Say hey!” and Mickey was grabbed by Willie Mays, another Hall-of-Fame center fielder. Dave continued on his way as the baseball legends chatted each other up.
Mantle died soon after that 1995 encounter, but it had to gratify the Mick to know he was Long’s inspiration. Not only did Dave learn to read but he eventually became a sportswriter with a regular column.
One that’s just about as good as this one!
What Major League Baseball team was known as “The Whiz Kids?” (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on June 11 include NFL coaching legend Vince Lombardi (1913) and legendary NFL quarterback Joe Montana (1956).
“If you want to find the real competition, just look in the mirror. After awhile you’ll see your rivals scrambling for second place.” ― Criss Jami
The 1950 National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management at NHTI, Concord’s Community College and at Plymouth State University. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines) —which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is email@example.com.