It’s springtime and baseball’s back. And fans are once again filling stadiums to watch the boys of summer chase a hardball.
Baseball produces sports heroes and one of the greatest in his day was Mickey Mantle. Those who got to see him play still talk about his athletic prowess. But unfortunately Mickey pursued other interests off the field that changed and eventually took his life. For a time he thought he was invulnerable.
Charlie Sheen is not a baseball player but a Hollywood star. He’s in his 40s, “livin large,” thumbing his nose at the world, and also thinks he’s invulnerable. Charlie could learn from Mickey.
Young Mickey was born to play baseball. By the time he was 20 years old, this strong farm kid from Oklahoma was playing for the New York Yankees. At 25 years of age he’d won baseball’s Triple Crown, leading the league with a .353 batting average, 52 homeruns, and 130 RBIs. By the time he’d finished his baseball career, he’d blasted 536 homeruns, third all-time in his day, had played in 12 World Series (Count them: twelve!), and was one of the most popular players in the history of the game.
But for much of that career Mickey’s lifestyle included unfettered excess: alcoholism, drug abuse, and womanizing—with its associated physical maladies. Eventually it all caught up to him. After a failed liver transplant he died of inoperable cancer at just 63, way too young with way too much good left undone.
Just before Mickey Mantle died, though, he made two memorable choices. He made a video in which he sat in a chair with his emaciated body, looked into the camera, and told viewers about his poor choices. Then he said, “Don’t be like me.” It is one of the saddest yet most compelling videos you will ever see. It’s a summative comment on the results of embracing deficient values and making poor, ill advised, wrong, and truly, insane choices.
Mickey Mantle made one more momentous choice. According to the testimony of his good friend and former major league playing partner Bobby Richardson, Mickey Mantle placed his faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and therefore was promised entry into heaven. As he lay dying, Mickey asked God to change him from the inside out, to give him a new reason for living and an assurance of his destiny. Mickey Mantle finally got the help he needed. Though his life was near its end, Mickey embraced the Lord and with that commitment a wholly new and transformative worldview.
Mickey’s spiritual decision, real and wonderful though it was, didn’t alter his life expectancy. But had he made this decision years earlier it likely would have. He could have turned his exceptional talents and popularity toward accomplishing something that helped others and blessed him in the process. But he hadn’t, so in a very real sense his life ended too soon with potential unfulfilled.
Charlie Sheen is on this same track. He’s literally burning himself out in front of the eyes of the world—on Twitter, on UStream.com, maybe eventually back on network television. But however cool, cocky, and bad boy roguish he seems to be to some who voyeuristically follow his every word and deed, he’s spending, a la wasting, his life on excess and narcissistic pursuits.
Behind the Sheen bravado is a scared, scarred, and confused person. Charlie needs a wholly transformed worldview, which as long as he breathes is available to him through rebirth in Jesus Christ.
While Mickey is gone the legacy of his testimony is not. Based on that, I think I know what Mickey would say to Charlie if he could. He’d say, “Don’t be like me.” I sincerely hope Charlie learns from the life and lesson of Mickey Mantle.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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