The Post-Journal

Richardson Helped Mantle Fill Void

In his final hours, Mickey Mantle filled a void that home runs, World Series titles or a worldly lifestyle could not, according to a former teammate.

He became a Christian.

Bobby Richardson, speaking at the Chautauqua Region Fellowship of Christian Athletes dinner Monday night at First Covenant Church in Jamestown, played with Mantle for 10 ½ years on the New York Yankees. He recounted to a near-capacity crowd in the church’s fellowship hall, some of the poignant moments he shared with Mantle last summer prior to the Hall-of-Famer’s death.

The first of two meetings occurred in July at the Major League All-Star Game, which was played in Arlington, Texas, just outside of Dallas, where Mantle made his home.

Richardson was at the All-Star Game to promote the baseball Assistance Team, an organization which benefits retired players in need. Mantle, who was recovering from a liver transplant a month earlier, called Richardson at 5:30 one morning wanting Richardson, a life-long Christian, to pray for him.

“I remember he said, “I’m really discouraged. Can you encourage me?” Richardson recalled.

So Richardson offered Mantle some comfort by reading him a Bible verse from Philippians, Chapter 4.

“Delight yourself in the Lord,” Richardson told Mantle. “Find your joy in Him at all times. Never forget His nearness…Tell God in detail your problems and anxieties. And the promise of the peace of God which passes all understanding, shall keep our hearts and minds as we rest in Christ Jesus.”

Richardson didn’t see Mantle again until mid-August. By then, “The Mick” was waging a losing battle with cancer. But when Richardson and his wife Betsy visited their friend at Baylor Medical Center, Mantle told them: “I want you to know I’ve become a Christian.”

Richardson recalled how Mantle got out of bed and eased himself, IVs and all, into a recliner.

“Mickey, if God were here today and He should ask why should I let you into My heaven, what would you say?” Richardson recalled his wife asking Mantle. “He thought for a moment and he said, ‘Betsy, we’re talking about God,’ and she said, ‘That’s right.’ He waited a moment or two and then he quoted the verse: ”For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son and that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

“He had a real peace in those last days,” Richardson continued. “The next day he couldn’t communicate anymore and he died the following day.”

Richardson was asked to speak at Mantle’s funeral where he shared the poem, “God’s Hall of Fame.”

It reads in part: “This crowd on earth may soon forget the heroes of the past. They cheer like mad until you fall and that’s how long you last. But in God’s Hall of Fame, by just believing in His Son, inscribed you’ll find your name. I tell you friend I wouldn’t trade my name, however small, that’s written there beyond the stars in that celestial hall. For every famous name on earth or glory that they share, I’d rather be an unknown here and have my name up there.”

Richardson said he has been challenged in three different areas as he watched Mantle search for, and eventually find, a way to fill the emptiness he felt in his heart.

The three challenges, Richardson said are:

Recognize it is important how we live.

Make sure we don’t portray one thing on the outside and see it break down at home where our true nature is revealed.

Don’t have in our lives a religion or a philosophy that we can read about in a book. Rather, make it something real in our lives that we know won’t fail.

The dinner was one of several Richardson is speaking at this week as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes seeks to get its message out in Western New York.

According to the organization’s literature, FCA is a movement “to present to athletes and coaches, and all whom they influence, the challenge and adventure of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, serving Him in their relationships and in fellowship of the church.”

Prior to Richardson’s talk, Fran Sirianni of West Ellicott received a plaque for his continued work with FCA. Sirianni, a teacher and coach at Southwestern Central School, has had a FCA chapter since 1979, the longest of any chapter in New York State.

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