NEW YORK – Merlyn Mantle, who for 43 years lived through the glory and the tumult of being married to the New York Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle, died of Alzheimer’s disease Monday in Plano, Texas. She was 77.
A native of Cardin, Okla., she met Mantle in 1949, when he was a star player at Commerce (Okla.) High School and she was a cheerleader at archrival Picher High School.
“I developed an instant crush on Mickey Mantle, and by our second or third date, I was in love with him and always would be,’’ Mrs. Mantle wrote in a 1996 memoir, “A Hero All His Life.’’
The Mantles married in 1951, after his rookie year with the Yankees. For 18 seasons, Mantle symbolized athletic brilliance as perhaps the greatest switch-hitter in baseball history and led the Yankees to seven World Series championships. His injuries, and the pain he played through, only enhanced the heroic stature of the Hall of Famer.
It was only after Mantle’s career ended that the world learned of his drinking and womanizing. The drinking escalated in retirement as he struggled with what to do with himself.
“It took me a long time to admit Mick was an alcoholic,’’ Mrs. Mantle told The New York Times in 2001. She, too, became an alcoholic.
Cancer took its toll on the family. One of the Mantles’ four sons, Billy, had Hodgkin’s lymphoma for half his life and died of a heart attack in 1994 at age 36. Another son, Mickey Jr., died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2000, at 47.
Mickey Mantle died of cancer on Aug. 13, 1995, two months after receiving a liver transplant.