Kids idolize ballplayers. In my Boomer generation, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax were true national heroes. Each region of the country with a team also had local favorites – Pete Rose in Cincinnati, Al Kaline in Detroit, Hank Aaron in Milwaukee and Roberto Clemente in Pittsburgh. Young fans wore their jerseys, copied their hitting stances and pitching styles, and collected their baseball cards and autographs. Just as children do today with Miguel Cabrera, Buster Posey and Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen and others.
Somewhere in my middle age the appeal of the game changed. Although I’m still a die-hard Yankees fan, it’s more the team’s legacy that keeps me rooting, rather than any specific player. Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter had extraordinary careers and are admirable individuals. But heroes, idols and role models? No longer to me, not at my age.
I think it’s a combination of ego and perspective. My heroes simply can’t be younger than me, certainly not by more than half. Plus, heroes must be larger than life, which requires a natural mystique. That’s simply not possible anymore with myriad news sources, ubiquitous cameras and Tweets sharing their every moves and indiscretions.
Forever, I will be a loyal fan of my team, the Yankees dynasty built by Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Ford, Berra, Rivera, Jeter and next generations of superstars. But I’ll leave the hero worshipping, jersey wearing, card collecting and autograph seeking to kids. Soon enough they’ll grow older and wise up.
Fortunately for all of us, the whole of every team remains greater than the sum of its ever-changing parts.
Mickey Mantle will always be my hero.