Choosing Your Legacy

I have always loved baseball.     Besides playing in organized leagues my friends and I played in our front yard, the back yard, and in the street.   We used real bats and balls and sometimes we used a wiffle bat and a plastic bat.   Even when it was not baseball season we played in the fall and winter when it was warm enough to do so.

My son, Jon, and myself after one of his baseball games in college.

When I grew up in the 60’s it was popular to collect baseball cards.    Each pack of cards came with a small stick of chewing gum and about eight cards with the picture of the player and his statistics on the back.  I suppose besides reading and sports, it was my favorite hobby.    I collected hundreds of those cards.

My favorite team was the Atlanta Braves and anytime I got a card with one of their players I was excited!  (My favorite players for the Braves were Joe Torre and Phil Niekro.  I also had another favorite – a local, Don Mincher, who played baseball and football with my father in high school and later played in the major leagues for thirteen years).  If my friends had other cards from the Braves I would trade other players that I had so I could get all of my favorite team.

Most of my friends would open the pack of collecting cards and chew the gum and then tape the cards on their bicycles between the spokes on the wheels.   This would create a sharp snapping sound as they rode along.   Of course those cards wore out quickly and they were soon thrown away.

I never did that with my baseball cards.   They were like a treasure to me.   I looked at them so much that I memorized the statistics on the back of each card.  A sad thing happened to boys in my generation that collected baseball cards – their mothers threw away those cards after their sons grew older.   But my mother didn’t and I still have them to this day – and I am so glad!

One of the most valuable cards I have is that of Mickey Mantle, truly one of the greatest players to have ever played.   He was what they call a “five tool” player today; he had speed, could field the ball excellently, had a cannon for an arm, hit with a high batting average, and also could hit with power.

There are very, very few players like this that have ever played the game and they are special.   If they stay healthy and play long enough they will end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

When Mickey Mantle died in 1995 I watched his funeral on television.  He was such a dominant sports figure in our generation that his entire funeral service was broadcast on CNN and ESPN.   Bob Costas and Bobby Richardson were the key speakers.   Also, Roy Clark sang a song that I had never heard before and it didn’t mean much to me then…..until I understood why Clark sang it.

I read a biography of Mantle last year and discovered that his life was tragic and sad.  Because of wrong choices, in spite of his athletic gifts, he self-imploded and never reached his potential on the field.   Even today people still discuss what types of records he could have set if he would have taken care of himself.

The worst part of his story was not his failure on the field, but in his family.   He had four sons that all became drunkards.   Incredibly, his wife, also, became addicted to alcohol – all if them because of Mickey’s influence on them.    Two of his sons died in their 40’s.  Later his wife left him because of his infidelity.

As he grew older the heavy weight of regrets began to weigh him down and he realized the pain and sorrow his choices had brought to his family.   He began to consider his legacy  and he knew that it was his influence that had led his sons and his wife to being addicted to alcohol and his behavior had cost him his marriage.    (I believe that everyone begins to consider their legacy more seriously as they grow into their mid-life and senior years.   The Bible says in Ecclesaiastes 3:11 that God has “set the world in (our) heart” ).

During these years of reflection Micky heard country singer Roy Clark sing a song and it became one of his favorites.    Every time he heard it he would weep.  It was special to him, not necessarily because of it’s beauty, but because it told the story of his life.

After he became ill and realized he would not live long, he asked Clark to sing the song at his funeral – and he did.    I believe Mickey wanted Roy Clark to sing the song not only because it befitted his own life, but also as a warning to those that would heed it’s warning in it’s words.

Read and ponder the powerful lyric of this song that Roy wrote and sang at Mantle’s funeral.   It’s called “Yesterday When I Was Young”.

Yesterday when I was young
the taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue.
I teased at life as if it were a foolish game,
the way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame.
The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned,
I always built, alas, on weak and shifting sand.
I lived by night and shunned the naked light of the day
and only now I see how the years ran away.

Yesterday when I was young
so many drinking songs were waiting to be sung,
so many wayward pleasures lay in store for me
and so much pain my dazzled eyes refused to see.
I ran so fast that time and youth at last ran out,
I never stopped to think what life was all about
and every conversation I can now recall
concerned itself with me and nothing else at all.

Yesterday the moon was blue
and every crazy day brought something new to do.
I used my magic age as if it were a wand
and never saw the waste and emptiness beyond.
The game of love I played with arrogance and pride
and every flame I lit too quickly died.
The friends I made all seemed somehow to drift away
and only I am left on stage to end the play.
There are so many songs in me that won’t be sung,
I feel the bitter taste of tears upon my tongue.
The time has come for me to pay for yesterday when I was young.

I do not write these words to make Mickey Mantle look bad.   My heart breaks as I read them.  The truth is, all of us have done things we wished we could rewrite and remove from our lives, but we can’t.    Simply, this song is a warning that what sin promises it cannot deliver and, worse, it will bring immeasurable pain and sorrow to us.   And these matters not only affect our personal lives, but our family and children – and the type of legacy we will have.

As parents it is so vital that we make right choices, even when we are young, because our choices will catch up with us one day.    Someone wisely said, “We first make our choice and then our choices make us”.   The things I have done (good and bad) early in life as a parent will be reflected one day in the legacy of my children.

This is my legacy. Paula and I have laid our lives down for our children to know and serve the Lord. Now, we have another son and daughter through marriage into our family and two grandchildren. The window of opportunity is small to make a difference. God has been good to us in spite of our mistakes.

Just before he died Mickey’s former teammate, Bobby Richardson, led him to Christ in his hospital room.   Now his sins were forgiven and He was going to Heaven, not because He was perfect or deserved it (none of us do), but because of what Christ did for Him.

This is succinctly, but thoroughly captured in Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”.    You, too, can experience forgiveness and eternal life by resting on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the payment of your sins, just like Mickey did. 

Mickey Mantle is in Heaven, I believe, today.    And I am looking forward to meeting him one day.   In the months before he died he deeply regretted the pain he had caused his family.    If he could have lived his life over again he would have done things differently.

Forgiveness, as sweet and powerful as it is to the human soul, doesn’t remove the pain of our regrets and wrong choices.   We will not be able to see our legacy here on earth in a full way, but we can plant the seeds of good choices that will yield a good result one day.     God will give us His mercy to forgive us past mistakes (and we all have them), but He will also give us His grace to live the way we ought to in the present.   With His mercy and grace, we can have a meaningful legacy that will bless many generations.

Sometimes I recommend books that have helped me along the lines of which I have written.    A book that greatly helped me and encouraged me was “Failing Forward” by John Maxwell.   I would highly recommend it.

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About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 39 years with seven children and eight grandchildren.
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