Micky Mantle/Carl Hubbell and Athletics
If I knew I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself. Mickey Mantle
I was aware of the world when Mickey Mantle was still playing baseball. I wasn’t really a baseball fan but I knew who he was. My family (way extended) produced Carl Hubbell, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the New York Giants…before those scoundrels in San Francisco stole the team. I heard about baseball at home, a lot. My Daddy always wanted one of us to grow up and be a baseball player. I played pool pretty well. Daddy was always disappointed in my athletic bent. No “Meal Ticket” as Carl was called by history and his immediate family.
Anyway, as I got older, I became even less interested in professional baseball. I was a hippie type. I listened to rock and roll, had long hair, wore bell bottoms and hung around with a crowd of similarly disinterested non-athletic types. When I was in college I did play goalie for an intermural soccer team made up of myself and a group of foreign exchange students from Thailand. They were great. I never saw the ball kicked my way the entire season. I could have brought a book to read. They picked me because none of them wanted the boring job of goal keeper and I played foosball with them.
The summer between junior high school and ninth grade I grew from 5 feet 7 inches to 6 feet 7 inches. You could just feel the eyes of the basketball coach watching me from several blocks away. However, I grew all at once. I didn’t gain a pound. I could barely stand up and walk. The coordination of running while dribbling a basketball just wasn’t happening. The wind was troubling. To round out my basketball skills, I couldn’t drop the ball through the net from a stepladder. It took some convincing for the coach, but I was certain from the start that I wasn’t going to become a player. I could play ping pong fairly well.
I went out for track, mainly due to pressure to do something remotely physical. That’s where I discovered that being tall didn’t lend itself to running…or jumping…or throwing anything. I became the team manager and walked around carrying clipboards, stop watches and a couple of starter pistols. I looked like a geek on the way to a gunfight between the accounting club and the statistics guys. With the exception of the soccer experience of sitting at one end of a field, I didn’t do any sportsing.
In high school, if you had a job you could get out of school early. I got a job at a railroaders’ hotel washing dishes and running the old crank elevator. It paid $1 an hour and I worked 48 hours a week. This old hotel had once been a fancy place but time had reduced it to housing railroad crews between the Fort Worth, Texas and Arkansas City, Kansas train yards. They pronounced it AR CAN SIS. A leftover from better days for the hotel was the Petroleum Club on the top floor. That was the seventh floor. It was the tallest building in town.
The Petroleum Club was a private bar. Gainesville, Texas was a dry town. You had to drive to Lindsay to buy alcohol. There were two ways to get to Lindsay…the highway or a two lane blacktop that those of us who lived there called the Baptist Road to Lindsay. Anyway, if you were a member of the Petroleum Club and they were having an event, you could get a drink. One of the lesser known and certainly unadvertised “events” in the Petroleum Club was a high stakes poker game that the local oil wildcatters and a few guests from Dallas would hold on Saturday nights.
The first Saturday I worked at the hotel, I had been told that there was an “event” in the Petroleum Club. Other than these events, there was no reason to ever go to the seventh floor. I didn’t think much of it. Just a little extra time running the elevator. Back then I smoked cigarettes. Hey, I was 16 and it looked cool. So I was outside the back door, with it propped open so I could hear the elevator buzz, when this white convertible Cadillac pulls up and this fellow gets out holding a drink…in a glass…with ice. I had no idea who he was or where he got his drink. He left the car door open and the engine running. I followed him inside and sure enough he got in the elevator and said,” seventh floor.”
Turns out, sure enough, he was Mickey Mantle. He was living in Dallas then. Later I mentioned his car to the hostess and had to go down and park his car and bring her his keys. I got off work at 11 so I never say any of them leave. That scene repeated itself over a bunch of Saturdays. The thing I regret is that it never occurred to me to get Mr. Mantle to sign anything…like a baseball or twenty. He was the only “celebrity” I knew about in the poker game. The rest were oil men and Dallas bankers. Nobody talked about winners or losers. The whole operation was illegal. I’m guessing he wouldn’t have remembered signing a ball or two.
Phillip J Hubbell is a writer, project manager and job seeker living in the American Midwest.