Memorial Statue Dedication Speech

by Tony Kubek
April 16, 1998


A group of Mickey’s teammates took a vote last night and we decided that Yogi should make this speech.  Unfortunately, he’s got laryngitis.  Yogi, it’s too long.  I’d read it like you wrote it, but we’d have to resurrect Casey Stengel to interpret. 

Merlyn and boys, and other friends and admirers of Mickey.  David and Danny, you’re grown men now, but I still picture you, along with Mickey, Jr. and Billy, as that quartet of little rascals that your mom tried to keep up with while we were on those long road trips. 

Your dad would have loved this party.  He would not have liked all the attention focusing on him.  After game seven of the 1958 World Series the news media rushed to Mickey’s locker.  He told them, “You should be talking to Hank Bauer, Gil McDougald, Moose Skowron and Bob Turley, they won the series for us.”  He directed the spotlight where it belonged.  Mickey always deflected praise.  He was too humble to accept the credit.  Those were two pretty good world series participants in 1957 and 1958.  The Milwaukee Braves were led by Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews and the Yankees by Casey Stengel, Yogi and Mickey.  Two of the greatest left handers in the history of the game pitched in those series, Oklahoman Warren Spahn and one of Mickey’s closest friends, Whitey Ford. 

I don’t know who the wealthiest person ever to come out o Oklahoma is, probably an oil man.  Mickey, easily, would have been the richest if he hadn’t picked up every restaurant check every time we went out.  Heck, even Yogi couldn’t pay and we know how hard you tried.  He’d have done the same here today; free tickets to tonight’s home opener and all the hot dogs you can eat.  Mickey was a generous man; and that was not only with his money.  He did it with praise, his boyish smile, his gosh awful Okie humor, and the way he treated the wives and children of his teammates.  If you were a first year Yankee, Mickey was the first to greet you in the spring training camp.  There was a reason that Clete Boyer and Tom Tresh, among many others, named their sons after Mickey.  When Mickey was a rookie Hank Bauer took him under his wing and Mickey never stopped trying to repay him.  Elston Howard was the first African/American to wear a Yankee uniform.  He developed into a hall of fame caliber player.  The Yankees, like all of baseball, were slow to integrate their organization.  Moose and Mickey’s friendship helped Ellie to feel more at ease. 

In 1960, we lost the world series in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Mickey was a hard loser and, also, a softy, he cried unashamedly.  Several days after the defeat Mickey called to see how I was doing.  He was still down from the loss, but especially sad for Bobby Richardson who was the MVP of that series.  Mickey knew Bobby couldn’t enjoy that award as much because we had lost.  He always thought more about his teammates than himself.

He was tough, an Oklahoma bred leader which he proved again in the Spring of 1961.  Ralph Houk, our manager, made a difficult and at the time a very controversial move, asking Mickey to bat fourth so that Roger Maris could bat third for the good of the team.  Mickey did it willingly and had an April and May that set the tone for the rest of the season.  His unselfishness lifted the entire team.  ’61 was a special season for baseball as we watched Roger and Mickey chase the Babe’s home run record.  Roger’s record has stood for over 36 years.  During the pressure of that season no one helped Roger more or cheered harder than Mickey, especially after he was injured in September.  He was a selfless ballplayer and person.  Ask Moose, Hank or John Blanchard whom Mickey took along to make a few bucks whenever he went to a card signing show.  He was a loyal friend.  If Mark McGwire, Ken Griffer, Jr. or any other player should challenge the season home run record this year Roger, with Mickey alongside him will, in spirit, be standing along the parade route cheering him on. 

The Maris/Mantle three four combination in the lineup was the best of all time for a single season.  I can’t help thinking, though, how good the one prior to that was, Mickey third and Yogi fourth.  Yogi was great with runners in scoring position.  Picture this, if they pitched around Mickey, Yogi was up next.  If they intentionally walked Mickey, Yogi would drive in the runners… and that was while he was still kneeling in the on deck circle.  Dr. Bobby Brown is a multi-faceted man; a renowned cardiologist, also, American League President at one of the most critical times in baseball history.  He did, however, have somewhat of a misspent youth; rooming with Yogi and teaching him how to hit.  Dr. Brown, you sent Yogi right to the Hall of Fame. 

Curt Gowdy and I worked together on the Game of the Week.  We asked Mickey, shortly after he retired, if he would consider appearing with us.  Curt figured he’d be a natural because of his knowledge of the game but more so because of his charming personality.  Curt convinced the brass to give Mickey a forum on a five minute pre-game show every Saturday.  Mickey, as expected, was good.  One show in Minneapolis, when Billy Martin was managing the Twins, we went to Billy’s wreck room to capture some memories on videotape about these two long time friends…the day was unforgettable.  It took us 12 hours to tape a 3 minute segment.  There was a lot that had to be edited.  One live show Mickey came out with a large hand printed sign across his chest with the word fill FILL on it.  Mickey hadn’t said a work for the first few minutes till Curt asked him what the sign was all about.  Using that distinctive Oklahoma twang that he never lost Mickey said, “Cowboy, by the time you get done introducing everyone and you talk and Tony talks, there’s no time left.  All I do is fill this here space.” 

Another overlooked quality Mickey possessed was his sixth sense judging young, raw talent.  One spring in the mid sixties a left hand hitting prospect who could run, throw and had terrific baseball instincts came to camp.  Mickey looked at him fielding ground balls and said, “That young man is going to be a great outfielder some day.” I said Mickey, “They’re grooming this guy to be the next Yankee shortstop.” Mickey was very discerning, he said, “The Yankees will lose money if they play this young man at shortstop.” When I asked why, once again, he was astute, he said, “I’ve watched him field a dozen ground balls and throw to first base.  There’re not going to be able to seat anyone behind the first baseman at Yankee Stadium when he’s out there.  What that arm he’ll pick off five or six paying customers a game.”  Mickey was right, Bobby Murcer went on to become an outstanding major leaguer…in the outfield. 

It’s documented how far Mickey could hit a baseball, how fast he could run, his records and how courageous he was playing through all the pain.  He never bragged, unless it was about how far he could hit a golf ball.  Another Oklahoman, Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, is a topnotch striker of the golf ball.  Ralph Terry, another Okie, won twenty games in the major leagues and competes on the Senior PGA Golf Tour.  Bobby Murcer can attest to this.  Even after Mickey turned sixty he was still driving them out. 

Mickey’s presence is still felt by his family, friends and Yankee teammates.  Legends who cared about others leave an indelible legacy.  Like each of us, Mickey was not always exemplary.  He was far from perfect.  Everyone credits him with being an American hero.  There are those who say he was not a role model.  In fact, Mickey said that himself.  I think Mickey was wrong.  In addition to his baseball talent, God blessed him with many admirable qualities.  He admitted to having fee of clay.  He never put himself on an unreachable pedestal.  He was a humble man.  He did not have a phony bone in his body.  He showed compassion toward his friends and teammates when they were hurting.  He always put winning before personal achievement.  He was selfless in his approach to the game.  He had an abiding love and respect for the game, it’s players and all for which it once stood.  He was grateful to his dad for steering him to baseball and making it his life.  He loved his family, but wished he had done better.  Mickey always wanted to be there when needed.  Humility, generosity, selflessness, loyalty and compassion are virtues to be emulated.  A lot is expected from a hero.  The byname, role model, is subjective and ethereal, it’s fragile. 

Those of us who played with Mickey loved him because he cared for us.  He was the perfect teammate.

Thank you, Tom Greenwade, for discovering Mickey for the Yankees.

Thank you Oklahoma for sharing one of the greatest with the baseball world.