Ralph Houk, manager of the New York Yankees, moved in a small circle in the team dressing room, eying an imaginary pop fly. A small group of players, in various stages of undress, watched him. One clutched his stomach with both arms and doubled over with helpless laughter even before Houk finished his story. He was Mickey Mantle.
"Finally the ball came down and he missed it by five feet," Houk said, making a desperate lunge for the ball. "Then he looked at it lying on the ground and started to sneak up on it." Houk eyed a patch of bare floor and stalked it in elaborate pantomime. All the players were laughing now, Mantle rocking back and forth with glee.
"Finally, he pounced on the ball and dug a hole and buried it, right there behind home plate," Houk said, suiting action to his words
"Holy gee," said Mantle, between gasps of laughter. "Holy gee."
He finished suiting up slowly, listening to Yogi Berra tell about a trip he took to Venezuela during which an irate fan tried to pink a manager with a .45 for taking out a pitcher. Again Mantle doubled up with laughter.
He wrapped his left leg in a long rubber bandage, extending from below the calf to above his weak knee. Earlier he had had heat treatment for his right shoulder and supersonic treatment for pulled stomach muscles. But he was cheerful, relaxed and happy when he walked out of the dressing room into the bright morning sunshine at Miller Huggins Field in St. Petersburg.
One of the ubiquitous photographers who dog the Yankees watched Mantle and shook his head unbelievingly. "He waved and hollered hello at me in the parking lot a little while ago," he said. "What's happened to him?"
A TV announcer approached Mickey and asked if he would submit to a brief taped interview and Mantle obliged graciously. He was smiling when the announcer opened: "You must be happy now that Casey Stengel is gone. He really gave you a bad time, didn't he?"
Mantle's smile died, but he did not lose his temper. "I liked Casey," he said mildly. "The things he said to me and about me I always figured were for my own good."
"I see where you're supposed to be the leader of the Yankees this year," the announcer went on, his voice larded with sarcasm. "How do you feel when you sit in the dugout beside a great leader like Joe DiMaggio?"