Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Where have you gone Mickey?
If there is such a thing as a midlife crisis, then I think I am going through it. Don't get too concerned. I'm fine. And I'm not going to do anything stupid. It's just that if you look up the symptoms of the supposed midlife crisis, there are a few that I find extremely, extremely familiar.
One of these symptoms is a feeling that life has passed you by, that you're getting ready to hit the second half of life (or already in the second half -- God only knows), and most of what's going on in the world isn't really intended for you anymore.
Again, I'm not crushed by this, but I'm aware of the feeling.
In terms of baseball, that feeling is definitely there. I've already documented that I've probably reached the point where there is no current ballplayer who is older than me. Jamie Moyer can say all he wants about how he'll be back soon, but I will believe it when I see it. Midlife Night Owl is too experienced to take everything and everyone at their word.
Since I am all too aware that everyone playing major league baseball is younger than me, the question that follows is this: why am I following players who are half my age and with whom I can't associate with on almost any level?
Think about it -- all of you folks who are about my age or older. The guys on the field right now like music you don't think is music. They use words you don't think are words. They wear clothes you don't think are clothes. They get things drawn on their skin, they slip into dance rituals when they like what they do on the field, and just to get you really annoyed, they make more in one year that you'll ever make in two lifetimes, at minimum.
Perhaps those of you in your 50s, 60s, etc. have come to terms with this already. That's terrific. Maybe people my age or younger already have, too. But I'm still dealing with it.
To illustrate what I'm going through, let me point out a name that used to be as common as green grass in Major League Baseball. (I'm in nickname mode right now thanks to all of your fine help for the all-nickname teams, which I'll get cracking on sometime soon).
That name is Mickey.
Everyone knew a ballplayer named Mickey back in the 20th century. Even if they didn't follow baseball, there was Mickey Mantle, the most famous Mickey around.
But even before Mantle's time, there existed baseball-playing Mickeys. There was Mickey Vernon of the old Washington Senators, Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane, and former Dodgers catcher Mickey Owen. There was Mickey Harris and Mickey McDermott, and going way back, Mickey Welch of the 19th century.
If your name was Michael or Milton or Maurice and you played ball, chances were good that you'd be known as Mickey.
I looked up to players named Mickey. When I was a kid and collected those first cards of the mid-1970s, there were Mickeys everywhere.
Mickey Stanley was in the first pack of cards I ever bought. My association of Mickey with baseball was cemented for life the moment my fingers first pulled open the folds on the back of that first wax pack of '75s.
The name Mickey was so common that the Tigers featured two star players with the name at the same time.
There was even a player named Mickey who lived in my hometown. I could barely believe it when I turned over this card and realized that he was living in the exact same town that I was.
The name was omnipresent, intertwined with baseball. Willie was too common, and Duke wasn't common enough. But Mickey? That was baseball. Sure, there were famous Mickeys in other walks of life -- Mickey Rourke, Mickey Spillane, Mickey Rooney and Mickey Mouse. But to me, Mickey meant baseball.
By the late 1970s, I was watching (and loathing) a team that kept two baseball Mickeys on their roster. The Yankees of that period featured Mickey Rivers and Mickey Klutts.
Both players served as comic relief during a period when life was difficult if you didn't like the Yankees. Rivers spent about 4 hours walking from the dugout to the plate for every appearance. Klutts was a marginal player who did next to nothing for New York. Yankee haters of this period needed whatever levity they could find and these two supplied it.
Whether Mickey played for a team I liked or not, whether I knew he existed or not, I looked up to him. I was a kid, they were an adult, and they played ball for a living. How cool was that? That was something worth admiring, and the people I admired were named Mickey.
As the '70s turned to the '80s and I grew out of my childhood aspirations to become a ballplayer, Mickey remained a constant in the major leagues. It was kind of comforting. My life might be changing, but baseball was always there and a lot of the traditions in the game were the same as they were when I was a kid.
In fact, the name Mickey was as popular as ever, thanks to Toni Basil.
Through the trials of high school and college, earning an education, and getting a job, Mickey was always there, fighting alongside of me.
The Mickeys of the 1980s and early 1990s were my kind of guys. They were my age and did the things that I did. They weren't Mickey Mantle or Mickey Lolich. They were my generation's Mickey. Maybe not as talented and a little wild, but they came through in the clutch.
It helped that the Mickeys of that period were scrappy, dirt-stained players. At that time, I was learning that if you were going to get what you wanted in life, you had to roll up your sleeves and work hard. These Mickeys sure worked hard.
There is no better example of a hard-working athlete than a catcher named Mickey.
I may not have known every Mickey that played in the majors, but that was OK. A surplus of Mickeys was reassuring. As long as there was a Mickey playing ball, I could relate to the game. A Mickey in a baseball uniform made sense. It had made sense for a 100 years.
Mickeys continued to play ball in the majors as I settled into a career, bought a home, became a father and received a promotion. Mickey Tettleton played until 1997. Mickey Morandini was in the majors until 2000.
Not that I realized that they were there, but a couple of Mickeys made brief appearances at the turn of the century. Mickey Callaway pitched for the Angels and Rangers. You can find him in all-inclusive card sets like Topps Total and Upper Deck 40man. Mickey Lopez was a prospect for the Brewers around 2000. He appears on a Topps prospects card with Adam Kennedy.
But those were the last Mickeys to play in major league baseball. There hasn't been a Mickey in the majors since 2004. I'm not convinced that Mickey has disappeared totally from baseball lexicon. There are some minor league players with the name. Perhaps one of them will break through soon.
But the name is not as common as it once was. Guys named Maurice are more likely to be known as "Mo." Guys named Mike go by Mike or Michael, which is perfectly logical. Not very creative though.
I don't want people to think I'm down on current players' naming abilities. I think it will be obvious with the nickname posts that there are some good ones still out there. But I don't recognize myself in anyone named O-Dog or K-Rod or D-Train.
That's a generational thing, and I suppose it's natural. I'll get over my pseudo-midlife crisis and continue to root for the players on the field. The game's the same even if the players aren't.
That's the important thing.