The Forgotten Mickey of ’68

I was thinking recently about what was going on 53 years ago—in 1968. It was time of conflict, assassination, national division, international disorder, and cultural explosion.

But I remember it also as a great year for baseball. It was the last year before divisional play began to fill October wall-to-wall. Back then, there were just two leagues—American and National. No divisions. So October baseball competed with Sunday football for barely one weekend.

It was also the year of Mickey.

There was Mickey Mantle, who was retiring at the end of the season after a certain-to-make Hall of Fame career. His last visit to league stadiums became a farewell tour of sorts. I saw him play his last game at Tiger Stadium in Detroit near where I grew up. And when he came to bat for the final time, I saw pitcher Denny McLain throw him a fat pitch designed to let Mickey hit it into the right field stands. When The Mick rounded second base on his final home run trot in Detroit, he tipped his hat to McLain.

It was very cool.

Of course, being a life-long Tiger fan, the mention of the name Mickey immediately brings to mind a guy named Mickey Lolich, a talented left-hander who found the ultimate groove that October. He had long pitched in the shadow of teammate McLain, who won 31 games that year (the last man to win 30). But the locals knew he had the stuff. And in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, he pitched game seven on just two days rest and went the distance (that’s nine full innings—there’s no law against this) to lead the Tigers to the World Championship. This was long before baseball discovered “closers,” “middle-relievers,” and “pitch counts.”

But there was another Mickey that year—and he’s one of baseball’s forgotten heroes. His name—and you may have to scratch your head to remember—was Mickey Stanley. He was a gold-glove centerfielder, and a pretty fair hitter.

mickey-stanleyAs the Tigers coasted toward the series that year, manager Mayo Smith knew he had a problem. You see, he had four great outfielders and only three positions: Mickey Stanley, Jim Northrup, Willie Horton, and another man destined for the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. His name was Al Kaline, one of the greatest all-around players ever.  He came straight to Detroit from High School in 1953, and never spent a day in the minor leagues. In 1955, he became the youngest player ever to lead the league in batting, with a .340 average.

He broke his arm in ’68 and missed many games. The outfield performed well in his absence, but Manager Smith knew that this might be Kaline’s only shot at playing in a World Series. So he conceived a gutsy plan.

Ray Oyler was the Tiger shortstop. The guy was amazing with the glove, but couldn’t hit a lick. I mean the guy could strike out in Tee-Ball.  So Smith talked to Mickey Stanley and asked him if he’d ever played shortstop. He hadn’t. The two positions were very different.

Nevertheless, Mickey Stanley was moved from outfield to infield just for the World Series. This made room for Kaline in the lineup (this was also long before things like the “designated hitter” and “”Money Ball”).  By all accounts, Stanley accepted the role without complaint, demonstrating what it meant to be a team member. He played almost flawlessly.

It was a great example to young ball players, who for many years heard Little League coaches bark: “What do you mean you don’t want to play where I need you? Did Mickey Stanley complain when he was put at shortstop?” Coaches loved Mickey Stanley.

Not long after the ’68 season, baseball began to change. Free agency came, along with more money, money, money. Players moved around a lot more. They started building stadiums where you could actually see the game from any seat (go figure).

I still love baseball. But occasionally I wonder if the spirit of Mickey Stanley is anywhere to be found.

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DAVID R. STOKES is a ghostwriter, bestselling author, broadcaster, and retired pastor. His latest book, JFK’S Ghost: Kennedy, Sorensen, and the Making of Profiles in Courage, will be released (Lyon’s Press) June 1, 2021, but is already available for pre-order. David grew up in the Detroit area and is a life-long Detroit Tiger fan.

 

SAVING REAGAN

[This column was written for TOWNHALL.COM — DRS]

Hollywood put out some great movies in 1939, films such as Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But one movie that year—now largely forgotten—served a purpose even greater than helping a Depression-ravaged American public forget their dire straits, not to mention the storm clouds gathering around the world. It was called, Code of the Secret Service, and it starred a handsome young actor named Ronald Reagan.

code-of-the-secret-service-movie-titleJerry Parr was nine years old the day his dad took him to a Miami theater to see Reagan play a G-Man named Brass Bancroft. Nearly forty-two years later, Jerry Parr was the Agent in Charge of the detail protecting that once-young actor who became the President of the United States.

And on March 30, 1981, Parr’s quick thinking and reflexes became part of history as he pushed President Reagan into a limousine when gunfire erupted outside the Washington Hilton Hotel following a speech to a labor group. There is an iconic photo of the moment capturing the intense grimace on Parr’s face as he forcefully protected his charge.

Jerry Parr, and his wife Carolyn, a retired judge from the U.S. Tax Court, have written a new book, a moving memoir of that fateful day and of Jerry’s life and career. It’s called, In the Secret Service: The True Story of the Man Who Saved President Reagan’s Life.

Parr, who retired from the United States Secret Service in 1985, shares a moment by moment recap of what happened on that sidewalk and in the limousine, including his decision to change course and head to the hospital instead of back to the White House. Mr. Reagan mentioned to Parr, “I think you broke my rib.” And while the agent pondered the prospect of having so wounded the president he noticed Reagan wiping some blood from his lips. “I must have cut the inside of my mouth.” But Parr saw that the blood was “frothy” and instantly realized that as a sign of a lung injury. Next stop GW Hospital. It was a decision that saved Reagan’s life.

Jerry Parr’s career in the USSS began a little more than a year before another president was shot—that one in Dallas, Texas, and with no happy ending.  Parr was in Tennessee at the moment of the shooting, but made his way to Dallas a few days later to conduct numerous interviews, including many members of Lee Harvey Oswald’s family.

in-the-secret-service-book

The book is filled with interesting stories about the Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter years, as well as the Reagan tenure. But there are no salacious tidbits of gossip—the stuff of tell-all books written by purveyors of innuendo and helped along by a few disreputable miscreants who sell their souls and betray vital trusts for selfish reasons. In the Secret Service is a reminder that there are some—many, many—dedicated public servants who do their jobs because they have integrity and a sense of mission above and beyond themselves.

Parr was uniquely positioned to observe the impact of the shooting on Ronald Reagan, particularly his faith that God had spared him for a purpose. Reagan was comfortable talking about spiritual things because they were, indeed, very real to him. In fact, the book is really a story of God’s grace—in Reagan’s life, and the lives of Jerry and Carolyn Parr.  It is also a story of finding and doing God’s will.

After the events of March 30, 1981 were long in the rear view mirror, and Mr. Reagan had fully recovered, Jerry Parr asked him, “Did you know you were an agent of your own destiny?” He told the president about the visit to that Florida movie house back in 1939, and how he saw the film many, many times thereafter. It inspired a little boy to become an agent like Brass Bancroft. Reagan smiled and in a typical use of humor replied: “It was one of the cheapest films I ever made.”

It was also—in a very real sense—the most important one he ever made. Nancy Reagan said, “Jerry put himself in harm’s way to protect Ronnie, and I am forever grateful.”

So are we.

 [Watch a trailer of CODE OF THE SECRET SERVICE with Ronald Reagan HERE]