Friday, March 23, 2012

The Last Boy

I have just finished this book by Jane Levy about Mickey Mantle. The book is both a biography and interview. It is very well written and covers my boyhood hero in all his glorious and inglorious personifications.

From the time I was seven and up, the Mick was on everyone’s lips with his outrageous play. He was considered a perfect baseball player and the most wholesome of people. He had blond hair, blue eyes, a wide toothy smile and was on the cover of my Wheaties box, the Breakfast of Champions. In those years, no one ever knew anything of his life outside the lines. The press did not reveal the personal lives of the players at that time. Between the lines he was untouchable, even in the mid-west and Tiger town. He was the AL leader year after year in many categories.

Jane Levy’s book goes into the usual areas of his high level skills on the field and debauchery off it. It goes into the many surgeries and rehabs the Mick went through just to keep playing. It was a very different scene with an ACL in the 1950s. Will Carol, of SI, talks a little of this and of the book itself. It is a good read and brings up the lost possibilities that only advanced surgical techniques of today can correct. Please check it out at: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/will_carroll/09/21/fantasy-baseball-injuries/index.html

I saw Mantle play the Tigers at Briggs Stadium. It was June 17, of 1961. I saw Roger Maris in the middle of his first big spurt of homers. In the early part of the year, Maris did not have too many, but in this stretch in June he went over 20 HRs. On Saturday, June 17 in 1961, I saw his 23rd homer. Mantle was nearly equal at that time with his 20th. The Tigers won the game 12 to 10. It was a slug fest. The Tigers were in first place. Stormin’ Norman Cash hit a homer for the Cats as did Al Kaline. For the Yanks, Clete Boyer, Elston Howard and Maris hit homers. But the star of the show was Mickey Mantel. When he came to bat, for both teams and the fans, everyone was watching. It was great and he always received the biggest cheer, even outside of New York.

The book is a fairly sad look into his storied life. The Mick certainly did as he pleased, like he was carrying the weight of his dead father on his back, and with it, the need to be the best, period, no matter what. As a young upstart in the dugout, he got no support or encouragement from The Yankee Clipper, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, who would barely look at him. The squabbles between the two are legend. They would never be even on “good” terms. Mantle was the interloper to the established star. And later in his career Mantle would get the most asked question is who was the best, Mantle or Mays? The question is still good grist for the mill. In the end he said Mays.

The Last Boy is truly about the end of innocence in the Untied States. As Mickey Mantle ended his career, so came the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, amid much political unrest. The times they were a changin’. As a young boy of the time, I was placed perfectly to be a part and enjoy those halcyon days when everything was right in the world and baseball was at its centre.

1 comment:

Will Braund said...

Great nostalgia John. My first recollections of sports are of Mickey's Triple Crown year, 1956. I was completely hooked - he was like a god. Seeing Mantle strike out was as much fun as seeing somebody else hit one off the wall. It is such a shame he got hurt so badly at the very start of his career.