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The Man behind the Hero, and the Hero behind the Man - A Wonderful Page Turner that you will LOVE!!!!
on October 13, 2010
How wonderful in an age when we don't have heroes anymore, we can go back to an earlier age in our lives, when we did. We can then hand a book like this to our children, and perhaps, just perhaps they can come to understand how a different generation from their own, could have revered such a man as Mickey Mantle, who represented everything that we all wanted to be.
For all of us, it was a dream that could not be fulfilled, but that didn't mean we couldn't still fantasize about it, and maybe that's why some pay so much for collectibles. We are able to hold, or touch something that belonged to the hero, and the hero's journey.
First of all, you must love sports, and sports heroes to thoroughly enjoy this book as I did. Ms. Leavy has captured the real Mickey Mantle, and although she covers the warts and all, this is still very much the story of a hero, a hero of mythic proportions. In ancient Rome there were the Gladiators. In the 20th century, we have our sports heroes, and surely Mickey Mantle captured America's attention like no other.
He made us forget about Joe DiMaggio who dominated an earlier generation of Yankees in center field. DiMaggio knew it, and made Mantle pay for it emotionally for his entire career. You might want to read Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life by Richard Ben Cramer, a great biography of Mantle's predecessor in center field.
Ah, and can Ms. Leavy write; she is accomplished, having earlier penned a magnificent biography of Brooklyn Dodger hero Sandy Koufax. When I began to read about Mickey, I at first wondered if she could capture the same spirit she captured in "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy". By that I mean could she capture the essence of the man and the time in which Mantle lived. She had done this so well with Koufax, could she do it again.
How do you replicate in words, what it was like to have Mantle in the Bronx, and the Dodgers in Brooklyn? If you are a reader living in Texas, or California, can you do it? The author answered that question and more. This lady is at the top of her game as they say. Through 416 pages she covers it all, Mickey's extraordinary potential, and his partial realization of it, having been plagued by injuries during his entire playing career. What haunted him at night is laid out, from his belief that he would die at an early age as his father did, to his first years in baseball where DiMaggio would not even speak with him. Do you want to know what it was like for this young magnificent talent to be snubbed by the leader of the team while trying to build his own identity? It's all here in story after exquisite story. Myths are shattered while new truths are revealed.
The author is clear, and admits she's biased. Mickey is her guy, just as he was our guy. She loved him, and we all loved him, and now many years after his death, we love him even more, and still feel our loss, a loss for a youth that none of us can ever have again. The title of the book says it all, "The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood". How appropriate for a title for this man, and at this time.
We were moving from the age of innocence under Eisenhower into the turbulent world of the 60's with Viet Nam, JFK, Civil Rights, drugs and the counter culture, but through it all, there was the constancy of Mickey Mantle and the Yankees. You either loved him and them, or you hated them. There was nobody on the fence when it came to the Yankees, and it's probably still a true statement today.
Even in those cities that hate the Yankees, no team in baseball filled the stands in enemy territory like the Yankees, and it's all based on the myth and mythology which survives for as long as any of us remember this man and his extraordinary exploits. The most exciting hitter in baseball playing drunk, and with extraordinary pain, and injuries. Nobody knew the real Mickey, maybe no could. We know more about him now through this author and others, than we did when he was setting world of sports on fire.
The book is organized into five parts. The unifying theme is the author meeting Mickey in 1983 at the Claridge Hotel, a casino in Atlantic City. In those days, baseball did not pay like it does today. Although Mickey was paid $100,000 per year by the Yankees for years, very few baseball players saved any money, and basically all of them had to find careers after baseball in order to survive. Late in his life they asked Mickey what he would be paid today if he were in the game. He said, "I don't really know, except I would probably be sitting down with the team owner, and saying, how you doing, PARTNER?"
In each of the five parts of the book, the author continues the story of her meeting Mickey at the Claridge Hotel, and then she reverts back into discussing his biography along chronological lines from his first days in baseball, through his last.
Here's some of the things you will learn in this wonderful book:
* In four quick phrases, you learn the essence of the man. He was so gifted, s flawed, so damaged, so beautiful.
* Admirers were so enamored of Mantle that they were willing to pay anything for memorabilia. Both Billy Crystal the comedian, and David Wells the pitcher got into a bidding war for a damaged glove that Mickey played with. The spirited bidding made Crystal the winner at $239,000. The author has done her homework, and engages the reader in a real and detailed understanding of the collectors' world and how it influenced Mantle, who could make $50,000 in an afternoon signing his name. His near mint rookie card went for $282,000 in 2006.
* Originally a shortstop, legendary manger Casey Stengel said I will personally make this man into a center fielder. DiMaggio went ballistic. It's quite a story and its aftermath went on for years. As was explained in the book, Stengel loved Mantle and disliked DiMaggio.
* Other players could not believe Mantle's abilities. It was said that he was more speed than slugger, and more slugger than any speedster, and nobody had had more of both of them together. Stengel said this kid ain't logical, and he's too good. It's very confusing. When you compared him to others, and the others that came before him, Mantle was unique, and he had the charisma to match. Together it was an unbeatable combination, and then add in a media crazed New York.
* Branch Rickey the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates who would make history breaking Jackie Robinson into the majors, once said about Mantle, "I hereby agree to pay any price for the purchase of Mickey Mantle."
* It was said about Mantle and his teammates that they lived over the speed limit and being with Mantle was like having a get out of jail card free card. Nobody could play ball like Mickey, and nobody could play like Mickey. The stories, the philandering, the booze, the nightlife, it's all here, and it's here in abundance.
* Mickey was generous to a fault. If you were his friend, you did not need other friends. He was there for you through thick and thin. Teammate Joe Pepitone got divorced. Mickey told him, I got two rooms at the St. Moritz. You come stay with me. Pepitone stayed two years.
* And then there's the naiveté. He's constantly getting conned into putting money into bad deals with bad people. In one deal, his teammates asked him, did you have a lawyer. He responds that he didn't need one, the other guys already had a lawyer in the room.
We haven't even touched upon the game of baseball itself and Mantle's contributions to the game, his impact. Leavy covers it all, and there's much to cover. The World Series where Sandy Koufax, a pitcher who during a five year period was deemed to be unhittable, strikes out Mantle, and then in the seventh inning, Mantle makes contact with what he felt was the fastest pitch he had ever seen. The ferocious noise of the bat making contact with the ball was painful to those sitting in the dugouts, and then the ball wound up in the upper bleachers, but it wasn't enough. In the final inning Koufax would strike out Mantle again, and win the World Series. Mickey goes into the dugout and says, "How in the f---, are you supposed to hit that s---.
You will not put the book down. You will re-live your youth. You will be filled with joy at the thrill of one hero and the world of baseball. You will also find much sorrow in the sadness of life after baseball, of cutting ribbons at gas stations for a thousand dollars, doing bar mitzvahs on weekends, and attempting to live on past glories. What an American story, and only in America could it have happened. Thank you for reading this review, and I gladly give this book five stars.