RIPLEY'S ROBERSON TAKES SMALL PLACE IN HALL OF FAME
By Chris Burrows
RIPLEY Northeast Mississippi has produced 19 major league baseball players, but Ripley's Carroll Roberson is the first man to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Don't check the Baseball Encyclopedia or Who's Who in Baseball. Roberson's name isn't listed. But there he is, inside the Mickey Mantle display in America's most famous sports shrine.
How did this happen?
"Mickey Mantle was my hero, pure and simple," said Roberson, an evangelist who travels extensively throughout the world. "Everybody has heroes that affect their life. Mickey Mantle affected mine and a lot of others, too."
In tribute to his hero, Roberson wrote a song based on Mantle's life and death struggle, "The Greatest Home Run." In the song, Roberson addresses Mantle's epic career, reckless lifestyle and spiritual rebirth at life's end.
The song impressed Mantle's family and his friends, particularly Bobby Richardson, a former New York Yankees teammate and college baseball coach, who now serves as a clergyman.
Richardson, who preached Mantle's funeral last year in Dallas, was familiar with Roberson's work as an evangelist. He encouraged Roberson to record the song and once it was released, the Hall of Fame asked for a copy of the compact disc to be placed in the permanent Mantle tribute display in Cooperstown.
"I wrote the song on the plane (en route to the funeral) and designated the royalties to the Mickey Mantle Foundation," said Roberson. "Nobody was more shocked than I was to hear from the Hall of Fame. Bob Costas, Tom Tresh (former Yankee teammate) and Tony Kubek all wrote letters or spoke about the song.
"The song touched a chord in so many people. There's no doubt it's written with the Christian message and the difference that Jesus Christ makes in a person's life. That's the universal message and how Mickey Mantle came to know Jesus at the end of life just enhances his hero status to me."
Like Richardson, Roberson had a burning concern for Mantle's spiritual condition in the final years of his life. Richardson, an All-Star second baseman, had easier access to his former teammate, but Roberson got through to Mantle, too.
"I had made trips to Lake Oconee (Georgia) to his golf course, I had visited his home and I wrote to him while he was at Betty Ford (rehabilitation center)," Roberson said. "I could sense how God was working with him."
As Mantle was diagnosed with liver failure and subsequent cancer just after last year's All-Star Game, he made only one public appearance. He made a plea for his foundation for organ donation, as well as emphasizing he was "born again" and prepared for his impending death.
"I was a role model for so many people and I wasted it," Mantle said. "I ran around, I drank and just didn't take care of myself. So if I can still be a role model, let me tell you something. Don't be like me."
As Bob Costas pointed out in Mantle's eulogy, the former Yankees star never fully understood his hero status and why he was so idolized. "As a human being, Mickey Mantle had failures. Those failures endeared him to us," Costas said. "As a hero, Mickey Mantle never failed."
Roberson, who sat with the family and friends at the funeral, incorporated the sentiment of Costas into the song. Mantle, as Roberson pointed out, "not only made baseball's Hall of Fame, but more importantly, heaven's Hall of Fame."
An evangelist's schedule rarely leaves time for a trip to Cooperstown, but Roberson hopes to see his contribution to the Mantle display soon. He received a plaque for his contribution to the display, but figures it's an uneven tradeoff.
"When I was a kid throwing up rocks and batting them in front of our house, I dreamed I was Mickey Mantle," Roberson said. "Not just me, but thousands of kids throughout America felt that way. He gave so much as a player. He was so gifted, so humble and played in so much pain.
"For me to be able to give something back of what he meant to me is an honor."