MIAMI — Bucky Dent’s hero growing up was “The Mick” — Mickey Mantle.
“I loved him — he was a guy that I just idolized,” Dent said of Commerce’s favorite son, who had a Hall of Fame career with the New York Yankees.
“I got to meet him at the ’75 All-Star game; he was the captain of the American League team,” he said. “That was the first time I got to meet him and I was in awe.”
Russell Earl "bucky" Dent, who played six seasons with the Yankees, was the guest speaker at the eighth annual RBI Miami Snowball Classic, which was held Saturday, Jan. 27, at NEO’s Carter Student Union.
RBI Miami, a grass roots organization dedicated to raising funds to renovate Miami’s baseball and softball fields, hosts the event.
“Growing up in Florida, we only got to see the Yankees on the ‘Game of the Week.’”
Dent became a Yankee and Mantle fan as a youngster watching World Series games on TV, which then were always played in the daytime.
“They had spring training in Fort Lauderdale, but I never got to see them play because we didn’t have a lot of money,” Dent said.
Dent broke into MLB with the Chicago White Sox in 1973, but was dealt to the Yankees in 1977 in exchange for Oscar Gamble, LaMarr Hoyt, a minor leaguer and $200,000.
“It was the best thing for me and for them at the time,” Dent said. “In ’76, Bill Veeck took over. They didn’t have a lot of money, so they traded me away for some cash and players. It turned out really good because in ’77, the White Sox had a really good team and we won the World Series.”
Dent had his own Mantlesque moment on Oct. 2, 1978, when his three-run home run off Mike Torrez helped New York defeat the Boston Red Sox in an American League East tiebreaker game — the first in the AL since 1948.
“It was probably the most pressure packed game I ever played in,” Dent said. “It was a holiday and we played at 1 (p.m.). Everything stopped. Rarely does a day go by and Red Sox fans say ‘you ruined my life’ and the Yankee fans say ‘you made my day.’
“They can remember where they were at and what they were doing. It’s pretty cool.”
Dent’s blast cleared the Green Monster in left field and drove in Chris Chambliss and Roy White.
That was one of only 40 he had in 4,512 career at-bats.
“I think every kid dreams of being on the big stage,” Dent said. “When I was a kid in the back yard, I was Mantle and dreamed of hitting the big home run in a game. Mine came true.”
The home run gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. They went on to top Boston 5-4, setting up a third straight American League Championship Series against the George Brett-led Kansas City.
New York took the best-of-five series against the Royals and moved on to the World Series, where they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.
That gave Dent the first of his two World Series rings — which he wore Saturday (“I gave my ’81 loser ring to my brother) — as well as valuable player honors.
The rivalries with the Sox and Royals of the George Brett era were intense, but the one with Boston was tops.
“Red Sox because of Boston and New York, the tradition of it. Kansas City had some really good teams”
The late Dick Howser was third base coach when Dent was with the Yankees then was promoted to manager in 1980.
“He got fired because we got beat by the Royals,” Dent said.
The two were reunited in Kansas City in 1984, Dent’s final season in the major leagues.
“I got let go by Texas and was making a movie in Atlanta,” he said. “The Yankees re-signed me for 20 days and I didn’t want to stay in Triple-A. Kansas City was having some trouble with guys at short getting hurt. He called me and I finished up with him in’84. We won the pennant but lost to Detroit.”
Dent was happy for former Yankee manager Joe Torre. Dent was a coach when Torre was managing the St. Louis Cardinals from 1991-1994.
He became one of only five managers to win at least four World Series titles (1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000).
“He took over at the right time,” Dent said. “The Yankees were just getting ready to become a dynasty.”
Torre was a 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.
“Some Hall of Fame guys never experience that,” Dent said.
Dent managed the Yankees in 1989 and ’90, but was fired by owner George Steinbrenner in of all places: Boston.
“You knew the ground rules when you went in,” Dent said. “The bottom line was to win. He was a demanding guy. He wanted to win. I played for him, I managed in the minor leagues for him, then I managed a little while in the big leagues for him for a while then went back and managed in Columbus another stint.
‘I liked him; you knew he was going to make you play and if you didn’t, he was the kind of guy who would call you out. He made you play. All of the old guys miss him. He was a little spontaneous at times, especially with managers. I was in that cycle. He was very loyal to his players.”
Dent, who coached and managed for 38 years, has no desire to get back into baseball.
“I got to watch my kids play in college,” he said. “It was fun traveling around to watch them play. I never look back.”
He said he still does corporate appearances on behalf of the Yankees.
Dent will see plenty of Ottawa County in 2018: he also will be the special guest at the 19th annual Mickey Mantle Classic, which will be in April in Commerce.