(Originally published by the Daily News on Monday, June 9, 1969; written by Phil Pepe)
It was as if he had never been away. He walked through the clubhouse door a short time after 11 a.m. and headed straight for the locker he had used for almost all of his 18 years here. He removed his jacket and draped it around a hanger. Like a mere mortal. Mickey Mantle is a creature of habit.
"He can have it if he wants to come back," Bobby Murcer, who inherited the locker in a kind of hopeful symbolism by the Yankees.
Mickey looked trim and fit, tanned from regular visits to the golf course, which have done wonders not only for his figure, but for his handicap as well.
"It's a five," he said, crinkling his nose as he smiled. "You can lose a lot of money with a five handicap."
Pictures and Autographs
It was almost noon and the Yankees began streaming in from the field. They had not seen him before and now, one by one, they came by to shake his hand, to talk of old times and to wish him luck on Mickey Mantle Day. Some of them asked him to pose for pictures and others asked him to sign the souvenir program the Yankees had handed out to all who took part in this day.
"To Bobby," he signed. "My best wishes and lots of luck. Your friend, Mickey Mantle."
Bobby Murcer beamed. He was 5 years old when Mickey Mantle put on the Yankee pinstripes for the first time.
"He's some kind of guy," Murcer said. "This is one of the things you read about. Joe D., Lou Gehrig. You never think you're going to be a part of it. It's history making."
It was almost time for the first game to begin. Mickey Mantle stifled a nervous yawn. He walked over to Bill Robinson's locker and absently picked up a bat and put in on his shoulder . . . Right handed. He took a half swing, then he stopped and held the bat like a putter and rolled a 20-footer into an imaginary cup.
Only the old Yankees were left in the room, the non-playing Yankees. Joe Collins. Gil McDougald. Phil Rizzuto. Gene Woodling. Whitey Ford. Yogi Berra.
"I have to think of a speech," Mantle said. "If I start crying, it's because I don't know what to say."
Mickey Mantle didn't cry during the ceremonies, but later he admitted there were times he came close. There was the ovation when he was introduced by Mel Allen, an eight-minute outpouring of love and affection and Mickey could feel the goose bumps rising on his arms and he could feel the tears well up in his eyes as he shifted embarrassingly from foot to foot. When he raised his hands, gesturing to the fans to stop, they cheered and stamped their feet and pounded their hands together all the more.
There was the moment he heard Joe DiMaggio get to the microphone and say, "I know how you feel out here today. This is a nervous moment, also a very thrilling one." And then Joe presented Mick with a plaque that will be placed on the wall in center field.
AND THERE WAS the ride in the scooter that rimmed the entire huge stadium and fans rose in their seats and crashed their hands together again as their blond idol waved his appreciative salute to them.
"It was," Mantle said later, "the biggest thrill I ever had in my life. I didn't cry, but I felt like it. I think tonight when I got bed, I might feel different. I wish something like this could happen to everyone in American just one time. It's a great feeling."
IT WAS THE KIND of day that could make a man want to come out of retirement . . . almost.
"The thing I miss most about baseball," he said, "is being around the players. I don't miss the way I played the last four years, but I miss the guys. There are four, five guys I've known ever since they came into baseball . . . Pepitone, Tresh, Stottlemyre . . . They're almost like brothers to me. I'm their best fan. The first thing I do when I get up is check the papers to see how they did. I still feel like part of the team."
The thing that worried him most was his speech. Were the fans able to hear it, he wanted to know.
"I THINK THE FANS know how I feel about them. That's the main thing. They've been real good to me."
It had been a simple speech, spoken with sincerity. He had thanks for everybody and acknowledged the presence of his wife, his mother and his mother-in-law, and with emotion, said, "I wish my father could have been here."
"To play 18 years in Yankee Stadium and for you folks is the best thing that can ever happen to a ball player," he said. "And to retire my number with numbers 3, 4 and 5 tops off everything. I often wondered how a man who knew he was dying could get up here and say he's the luckiest man in the world. Now I think I know how Lou Gehrig felt."
The previously retired numbers were 3, Babe Ruth, 4, Lou Gehrig, and 5, Joe DiMaggio.
"IT'S A GREAT HONOR . I'll never forget it. God bless you all and thank you very much."
Then he went for his ride in the scooter and the fans thanked him with their applause and their love and affection. And as he turned the right field corner, he might have seen the sign hanging from the top deck that told it all. It said, simply: "We will always remember."
Source : http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/mickey-no-7-joins-babe-lou-joe-article-1.2110047