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TEAMMATES REMEMBER THE MICK

For those who mourn Mickey Mantle today, old teammate Bill Skowron has a message.

"What people should remember are the good things he did, even at the end of his life," said Skowron. "What he did for organ donation was tremendous."Mantle died of cancer early Sunday, two months after receiving a new liver and urging people to sign up as organ donors.

Skowron visited Mantle on Thursday along with two other old Yankees, Hank Bauer and Johnny Blanchard. "I'm glad I went to see him," he said. "He was in good spirits. He was battling."

But Skowron said his old teammate was in some pain. "He was aching. His back, his tailbone. I'd rather he go than suffer. He suffered enough in his career."

Mantle was remembered throughout the baseball world for his raw talent and country-boy charm.

Acting commissioner Bud Selig said it was "a great sadness" to all who love baseball.

"He left so many memories of so much greatness," Selig said. "He was a man of enormous talent, a man who really epitomized baseball in the '60s and '50s. It's a very sad day . . . he meant so much to the game.

"I remember watching him play in pain, especially in the early '60s. There is no question Mickey Mantle will always be one of the great American baseball heroes. And very richly deserved."

Old teammate Tony Kubek remembered the rare combination of speed and power that Mantle possessed.

"I played with him for nine years and marveled at how hard he hit and how fast he ran," Kubek said. "How can anyone ever forget the catch he made on Gil Hodges' line drive to save Don Larsen's perfect game."

Mantle is rarely remembered for that play, but it preserved the only no-hitter in World Series history.

Yogi Berra was Larsen's catcher that day and a longtime teammate of Mantle's. He was at a golf event in Vail, Colo., when he learned of Mantle's death. "I thought he'd go a little longer," he said. "I planned to visit him after we finished over here."

Berra and Joe DiMaggio both recalled Mantle's first spring training with the Yankees in Arizona in 1951. "You knew he'd be a star right then," Berra said. "He ran as fast as any man I ever saw. He had talent. He could run, throw and hit."

"He had standout written all over him," DiMaggio said. "He needed a little more experience and he was sent down to our minor league club, but when he returned everyone could see he was going to be an exceptionally fine player. We'll miss him."

Perhaps Whitey Ford will miss him most. Ford, Mantle and Billy Martin were inseparable on the field and off. Martin died in an automobile accident in December 1989.

"My family lost a great friend and a truly wonderful person," Ford said. "Now that both Mickey and Billy are gone, I'll never have friends like them again in my life."

The Yankees won American League pennants in 12 of Mantle's first 14 seasons. The two years they missed were 1954, when Cleveland won, and 1959, when Chicago won. Those teams were managed by Hall of Famer Al Lopez, who recalled Mantle as a dilemma for opposing teams because of his combination of speed and power.

"He was a big strong boy . . . and he was as fast as he was strong," Lopez said. "When we played against him, people would ask me how to pitch to Mickey Mantle. I said, `Very carefully.' He was a great player."

Lopez recalled managing Mantle in the 1955 All-Star game at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

"The first time up, he hit one over the right center-field fence," he said. "The next time, he said, `Lopez, you want me to drag one?'

"I said, `No, I want you to hit another one where you did the first time."