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PUBLIC FUNERAL HELD TODAY

Teammates who last week said their goodbyes to Mickey Mantle are back to carry his casket.

Mantle's survivors - his wife, Merlyn, and three of his four sons - want privacy, but they yielded to Mantle's popularity and arranged a public funeral today. Thousands were expected at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church, where Mantle supported a program for runaways and homeless youth."They know that Mickey was a shared personality," said Mantle's longtime friend and attorney, Roy True of Dallas.

Former New York Yankees Whitey Ford, Bill "Moose" Skowron, Hank Bauer, Bobby Murcer, Yogi Berra and Johnny Blanchard were pallbearers for the hard-hitting center fielder who died Sunday of liver cancer at age 63.

Blanchard, Ford, Skowron and Bauer all visited Mantle in the hospital last week.

Called upon to officiate at the funeral was Bobby Richardson, another Yankees teammate and now a lay minister whose counsel helped ease Mantle's final hours.

Two other well-known personalities were part of the funeral: NBC broadcaster Bob Costas planned to deliver the eulogy, and country singer Roy Clark was to sing "Yesterday When I Was Young."

The family scheduled a private wake during the morning, to be followed by the 1 p.m. MDT public service.

True said Mantle would be laid to rest in a crypt at Sparkman-Hillcrest Funeral Home, near his son Billy, who suffered a heart attack and died last year at age 36.

The Mantles hoped the public service wouldn't turn into a spectacle "because Mickey never did like those kinds of things," True said.

American League president Gene Budig, former league president Bobby Brown and Donald Marr, president of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., confirmed Monday that they would attend the funeral.

The sanctuary at the church seats 1,500, but church spokeswoman Gayle Baxley said two other areas were set up with a video feed to handle the overflow of mourners.

A special area was roped off in the sanctuary for Yankee teammates and other ballplayers and dignitaries.

Mantle, who received a liver transplant June 8, died at Baylor University Medical Center in his sleep with his wife and son, David, at his side. He is also survived by sons Mickey Jr. and Danny.

True said Mantle's family probably would have no public comment until after the funeral. Family members have scheduled a Thursday morning news conference to discuss the establishment of The Mickey Mantle Foundation, dedicated to promoting awareness of the need for organ donors.

"I think it's fair to say they are very tired, very sad, just trying to get through this situation," he said.

Although separated from her husband for several years, Mrs. Mantle was by his side to provide support for their sons and the man she met while a majorette in high school.

In an interview in today's editions of the New York Daily News, Mantle's widow, Merlyn, was saddened that Mickey missed out on a second chance.

"He could have had a whole new life if it had not been for the cancer," Merlyn told the Daily News. "It's not fair in a way, but it's God's plan. He's the boss, and that's just how it works out if he wants it that way."

Even though the couple's separation was very friendly, Merlyn told the Daily News she too began to drink heavily, and it took a toll on their family.

"I was in there partying and doing the same thing as Mick," she said. "That was our life, and I was a part of it. I can't deny that. It ruins families."

Mrs. Mantle now devotes time to Al Anon, a support group for relatives and friends of alcoholics.

"It saved my life," she said. "In getting help for myself, I think I probably made my family aware that there is help out there."

Mantle began drinking early in his professional baseball career as a way to deal with the death of his father, who died at age 41 from Hodgkin's disease.

Last year, he admitted drinking became a problem he couldn't kick. He realized he was an alcoholic and sought treatment at the Betty Ford Center.

True said Mantle's family is writing a book to be published in seven or eight months by Harper Collins. "It's a family book that's told by each member of the Mantle family about the alcoholism they lived with," he said.