by admin | July 5, 2012 5:52 pm
I came across a news item the other day. The famous Mickey Mantle’s restaurant in Central Park South is closing down after nearly a quarter century in business. Mantle was the small-town son of an Oklahoma miner who went on to become one of the greatest and most beloved baseball players to wear the pinstripes of the New York Yankees. Hard drinking and injuries shortened what was still a stellar career. Mantle quickly went into the Hall of Fame and personally downhill.
I am a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. It is a generational malady that cannot be cured. Fenway Park is shrine I try to visit at least every five years. Attending the first game of the 2007 World Series at Fenway scratched a very large item off the bucket list. In fact, there really isn’t anything left I deem a necessity. Most of what remains on the list belongs in the “would be nice to do” category.
Being a Red Sox fan means of necessity that I am not fond of the Yankees. Think UT and A&M, Ali and Frazier, India and Pakistan. But that didn’t stop me in 1969 at age 14 from standing in line along with a lot of other folks, when Mickey Mantle’s Country Cookin’ restaurant held its grand opening out on West Highway 80 here in Longview. Mickey Mantle was going to be on hand, signing autographs. He had retired just months earlier and had allowed himself to be talked into this venture, opening a string of southern-cooking eateries. Three restaurants had already opened in Dallas.
My parents took us to see Mantle — and to eat dinner, of course. There was a wait, though I don’t recall it being terribly long. Mantle sat at a table in the foyer, as memory serves, signing a stack of black-and-white 8×10 photos of himself in uniform, kneeling in the batter’s circle in Yankee Stadium. Mantle asked my name and with a felt pen quickly signed the photo: “To Gary. Mickey Mantle.” Our family went inside to eat dinner. I was careful to not spill cream gravy on the photo. I don’t think we ever went back there to eat. We didn’t eat out that often since we were on a tight budget.
The store in Longview was the first franchise operation, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission document I found online. The company filed to raise $3 million to build eight more restaurants and to franchise others. Mantle ended up owning just 13.75 percent of the company. The company collapsed after just a few years amidst a spate of lawsuits and lousy decisions, from what I could gather online. Despite Mantle’s proclamation that, “To get a better piece of chicken, you’d have to be a rooster,” the restaurants failed miserably.
Later attempts, such as a steakhouse in Oklahoma City that is still open, and the just-closed joint in the Big Apple, were more successful. Mantle likely lent his name and left the day-to-day operation to professionals. Mantle became wealthy signing and selling baseball memorabilia and making personal appearances. I found an account of him coming back to Longview in 1989 to appear at the mall and judge a Mickey Mantle look-alike contest. The writer, a reporter from the Milwaukee Journal, said the winner looked more like Howdy Doody than the Mick.
Mantle’s drinking accelerated after retirement. He quit boozing too late, sadly. He had a liver transplant but doctors discovered Mantle had advanced liver cancer, which had spread. He died at age 64.
I have driven along Highway 80 several times trying to remember exactly where Mickey Mantle’s Country Cookin’ restaurant was located. I know it was somewhere west of what used to be Treasure City (where Alcatel-Lucent is now) and near where H.G. Mosley now intersects. But that’s the best I can do. Maybe somebody reading this with a better memory can pinpoint the location. I suspect the building is no longer standing.
It is a minor miracle that I have managed to hold on to Mantle’s photo all these years. It hangs in my office, away from direct light since the ink has faded somewhat. On the opposite wall is a photo I shot of the first pitch of that 2007 World Series at Fenway, framed along with my ticket.
I still don’t like those dratted Yankees. Right now they’re seven games ahead of the Red Sox. But it’s only July. Hope springs eternal when you are a Red Sox fan.
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