Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mickey Mantle

Yes there's more of what I learned, coming.  But I just finished a biography of Mickey Mantle and want to comment on it.

The book is titled, The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood.

As the title implies, the author, Jane Leavy, explores the themes of youth and innocence, as well as immaturity and denial.  Mickey, according to Leavy, never grew up, partly because he wasn't allowed to by "America."  Another biography of Mantle was titled A Hero All His Life.  Mickey was trapped in a role of someone else's choosing.

Leavy chose not to follow the classic form of most biographies, concentrating instead on specific moments in his life and weaving a narrative around them.  Some of the moments highlight the legend, the "tape measure" home run in Washington, the ball he hit in Yankee Stadium that would have gone into low earth orbit had it not smacked into the upper facade on its way out.  Other moments highlight the darker side of "The Mick," the public drunkenness, the marital infidelity, the erratic behavior.

Always there is a somewhat bizarre relationship with his fans.  He would be very accommodating at times and very rude at others.  The fans perhaps drove this dynamic, booing him lustily early in his career when he'd strike out; cheering wildly when he'd hit one of his bombs.  A nineteen year old from Commerce, OK thrown onto the biggest baseball stage in the world naturally had some adjustment issues.

Mantle was the ideal teammate, truly "at home" only in the locker room.  Nobody was more revered by his own teammates than Mantle.  Nobody picked up more checks.  Nobody treated rookies better.  Nobody did more to make sure his teammates got opportunities that could easily have been just for Mantle.  Also, Mantle left many hundred dollar tips for five dollar breakfast checks, even, sometimes, for a cup of coffee. 

The last third of the book deals with his post-baseball-career life.  Mantle literally did not know what to do with himself.  He retired after the 1968 season, long before the multi-million dollar contract came to pro sports.  So he had to earn money, still.  He became, essentially, a professional schmoozer.  He played golf, he shook hands, he signed autographs (the memorabilia boom only came toward the end of his life), he "made the rounds."  Of course, all of this involved drinking.  Lots of drinking.  Totally out of control drinking.  He drank for most of every day for 25 years.  His self-confessed greatest regret was turning his four sons into drinking buddies.  All four wound up in rehab and a couple with major health issues.

Mantle himself crashed and burned in 1994.  Checked himself into the Betty Ford Center, got sober.  Unfortunately the damage was already done and he died less than a year after gaining his sobriety.

Despite some annoying factual errors and sometimes murky sentences I rate this book highly and recommend it.     


  1. The one Yankee legend who I most regret not seeing.
    The only 'legends' I've gotten to see in pinstripes in my time is Don Mattingly and of course Jeter and Mariano. None of which, begin to compare to the Mick. I will look into that book.

  2. notacynic:

    Sounds like he could have used a few of those hundred dollar tips later in life. It must be difficult to live in a role that someone else has created for you.

  3. I use to get his cards when I was a kid, in gum. Some were not cards but little fold up pieces of wax paper with a picture. We didn't save them, most I think went on the bike with a clothes pin, to make that motor cycle sound on the spokes. I traded mine for Indians, I don't know why. I never see those little wax paper pictures being collected, I guess they got saved even less that those early cards did. Cards were usually gone shortly after the gum.

  4. Interesting bit of history. I never really knew much about him other than hearing the name.

  5. Whit, I think the best tip he could have received would have been to take an honest look at the effect alcohol was having on his life. But he was surrounded by enablers.

  6. Fringe, I never got a Mickey Mantle card. I guess I can't borrow one from you, can I?

  7. Skinny, Mickey Mantle was a perfect '50s icon. Just don't look beneath the service.

  8. NAC, as I said my baseball cards all ended up being shredded by bicycle spokes. THe kids on my street valued a motor cycle sounding bike more than a shoe box of cards.