New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle was fighting for his life last night in a Dallas hospital, struck down by progressive liver failure.
The condition of the former Yankee's liver, racked by cirrhosis from years of heavy drinking, has been so complicated by a powerful infection, said his doctor, that he needs a liver transplant to survive.
"There's always a concern about somebody's survival when they get like this," Dr. Kent Hamilton of Baylor University Hospital said last night.
Mantle, whose career took him from rural Oklahoma to stardom for the most famous franchise in sports, was informed of the possible need for a transplant on Monday, Hamilton said. "If that's what it takes," the Hall of Famer replied. "You're the doctor."
"He took it as best you can when somebody comes in and tells you your liver is failing and you've got to have a liver transplant," Hamilton said.
Mantle's wife and three sons "haven't left his side," Hamilton said.
Doctors held out scant hope that treatment with antibiotics might knock down the infection -- and that a transplant could be avoided.
But the severity of Mantle's condition makes him a priority candidate for a new liver, Hamilton said. And even priority candidates sometimes must wait days or even weeks before a liver becomes available, the doctor added.
Contacted in his hospital room yesterday, Mantle, 63, told the Dallas Morning News, "I'm not doing too good."
The ex-slugger is no stranger to pain.
Mantle roamed center field for the Yankees during an 18-year career that marked a golden age for New York baseball -- a time when he shared the stage with the Giants' Willie Mays and the Dodgers' Duke Snider.
At the same time, Mantle, who was gifted with speed and power, often suffered severe physical injuries, particularly to his knees.
On a personal level, he was haunted by a fear of Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer that killed his father, grandfather, uncle -- and, last year, his son Billy, at age 36. He has admitted seeking solace in liquor.
John Lowy, one of Mantle's partners at the Manhattan sports bar Mickey Mantle's said he spoke to the stricken star by phone last Thursday. "He was in a lot of pain," Lowy said. "He had been taking painkillers. But as usual he was joking."
And Lowy said that yesterday morning Mantle's son Danny called and informed him that Mantle's "liver was really bad and that he needed a transplant. . . . He was really upset."
Mantle was admitted to the Dallas hospital a week and a half ago with "a little stomach disorder," said Roy True, his longtime business manager.
In January 1994, Mantle checked into the Betty Ford Clinic for a month because of alcohol abuse.
"The final straw was when he went to the doctor and the doctor said your next drink may be your last," said Lowy.