Second Strike

updated 08/14/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/14/1995 01:00AM

THE NEWS HIT JUST AS HARD THE second time. Mickey Mantle, one of baseball's all-time greatest hitters, was suffering from cancer—again. Just two months after a lifesaving liver transplant, Mantle disclosed on ABC's Good Morning America on Aug. 1 that the disease had spread to his lungs. "I was doing fine," said the frail-looking Mantle. Now his recovery prospects look dim indeed. In fact, Mantle's doctors say that had they known about the lung cancer, they would never have done the transplant. "Absolutely not," said Dr. Robert Goldstein of Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.

Mantle's trials began May 28, when he was hospitalized with stomach cramps. A week later doctors concluded that his liver was so damaged by cancer, hepatitis C and decades of alcohol abuse that only a transplant could save his life. On June 8, after a seemingly short wait, Mantle received a new liver. There were complaints that his celebrity had moved him to the head of the waiting list, but doctors say his extreme illness gave him priority.

One of the nation's best-loved sports heroes, Mantle, 63, has also been one of its most dissolute. A Yankee Hall-of-Famer, he lost his health to drinking. In 1994 he confessed there were some mornings he began the day with the "breakfast of champions"—a drink of brandy, Kahlua and cream. Earlier that year, he put a cap on that, enrolling in the Betty Ford Center, where he eventually dried out.

This time it may be too late for a comeback. Despite a new regimen of chemotherapy, his life expectancy may be only 6 to 18 months. Dr. J. Richard Thistlethwaite, chief of transplant surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center, says, "His chance of a cure is quite small." Still, Mantle refuses to give up. Told of the lung cancer, he reportedly said, "Let's take care of it. Let's get it out of there."

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