Customer Reviews: The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood
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on November 16, 2011
I wish I could say something nice about Jane Leavy's The Last Boy. Believe me, I do. I grew up a Yankee fan and saw Mickey Mantle play. He was a hero. I also wonder how I can have had such a negative reaction when so many opinion makers/blurbers have gushed with rhapsodic praise. Let me see if I can explain.

Have you ever had the experience of reading a book that, as you progress through it, you feel more and more pages are being added? Didn't she say that before? Will I ever get to the end? This is the feeling The Last Boy engendered for me. Leavy may or may not be a great sports writer, as the blurbocracy avers, but she has produced here what I call a "shovel" biography: if it's a "fact" of the subject's life, alleged, putative, speculative, or attested to, include it without calibrating its importance. The result is a huge slurry of episodes, interviews, quotations rather than a sharply edged authorial portrait. The Last Boy lacks narrative drive. It just goes on. And on. Throw in some armchair psychology along the way. Elicit quotations from subjective observers years after the events. Stir and repeat. Belabor. Then, having reached page 400 and not wanting to make another paper run to Staples, stop typing.

I was prepared to love The Last Boy. I'm very sorry that I didn't even like it.
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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.

Richard Stoyeck
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on April 11, 2011
I was looking forward to reading this acclaimed biography. When I bother to write a review, I usually save it for the stuff I enjoy. I made an exception for one of the few books of any kind that really annoyed me. What are the 5 star people seeing that I didn't? Why did I get the feeling that the author was getting even with Mickey for falling asleep on her when she thought he was becoming amorous? I pushed myself to finish it. I'd love to know where she came up with the self-centered profanities that he "muttered" on every occasion, such as when acting as Maris' pall bearer. Even if accurate, major over-kill and one of too many "Oh brother" moments for me.

She could have reduced this biography to two paragraphs. He was a great player with a lot of crappy injuries and many emotional hang-ups. He was a profane, womanizing alcoholic who was also a better guy than DiMaggio. End of story. A book called "The Last Yankee" about Billy Martin, who was undoubtedly more of a creep than Mantle ever was, comes out making Martin a lot more interesting and sympathetic than this single-minded image of the Mick. I honestly tried to ask myself if it wasn't my own youthful idolatry of Mickey that was getting in my way. But I read a lot and all sorts of stuff, and there is no doubt in my mind that this book should be low on anyone's list.
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on September 17, 2011
I certainly didn't need to know the answer to that question. And, I didn't certainly didn't expect to find it in a biography about Mickey Mantle. Yet, this author inexplicably felt compelled to share that information with the reader in the first sentence of the first chapter of the book.

Rather than simply tell the story of Mickey's life, this author felt the need to make herself part of the story, by periodically interjecting her recollections (more than 30 pages worth) of an interview weekend she spent with Mickey at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City (the answer to the question posed by the title of this review) in April of 1983.

If it weren't for the off-putting nature of the author's intrusion into the narrative, I would probably give the book 2-3 stars. It isn't the most favorable of treatment of Mantle, which would be a very difficult book to write at this point, but it isn't the most negative account either. It just isn't very good, although the author's interviews of Mantle's teammates and rivals yields interesting, if somewhat repetitive behind the scenes insights.

On balance, I would recommend that you look for another book if you want to read about Mantle, but if you choose to read Leavy's, you may want to consider passing on the italicized passages about her Atlantic City weekend.
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on October 30, 2013
I've read Jane Leavy's bio of Sandy Koufax and thought it was one of the best baseball bios I'd read for quite awhile. I was expecting similar great things from her bio of Mickey Mantle but I was greatly disappointed.

One key problem: She chose a number of significant events from Mantle's life and highlighted those. This meant that she jumped around often and sometimes repeated herself. Very confusing.

Another, lesser, problem, for me at least. She focused way too much on his personal life (all the womanizing, drinking, and even the abuse he faced) and far too little on his baseball career.

The authors writes really well and her stuff is interesting. I also appreciated how she tried to prove (or disprove) certain stories/events from his life. These seemed to crop up as to illnesses but sometimes other things, too.

If she writes another baseball bio, no doubt I'll read it. However, I certainly do hope it's better than this one.
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on December 29, 2010
I think the most interesting thing about Jane Leavy's book is the play between Mickey Mantle, the real person, and Mickey Mantle, the hero, and how that play involves us, his admirers. Mantle was Jane Leavy's hero when she was a child. She is a year older than me, so I can relate to the time of her childhood. Mantle was everybody's hero. To us as kids, in the early 60s, he really was that "All American" character -- he had that big, innocent looking smile that just said everything was great! He played a game for a living, everybody loved him, and he was a winner. Even if you weren't a Yankees fan, you still loved Mantle. And on top of all the rest he had that storybook bashful modesty. Who wouldn't want to be Mickey Mantle?

Well, it turns out, Mickey Mantle probably didn't especially want to be Mickey Mantle. Leavy's title refers to "the end of America's childhood". We believed in Mickey, and that was pretty much what made Mickey. We believed he was that perfect hero, and we (his admirers, the press, his teammates, . . . . everyone who influenced his popular image) made him the perfect hero.

But of course, our belief was naive, especially so in Mickey's case. We're accustomed now to the fall of heroes -- we've been through Watergate, presidential infidelities, the OJ trial, Pete Rose's gambling, the Tiger Woods revelations, . . . . So, at the "end of America's childhood" Leavy, like the rest of us, is ready for the real Mickey Mantle. And Leavy presents him in full color -- his self-destructive alcoholism, his almost equally self-destructive disregard for his health in general, his paranoia about an early death, and maybe most of all his really astonishingly crude disrespect for women. Mantle has been described as a "sex addict", but that doesn't begin to tell the story of his verbal disrespect for virtually every woman in his life (there's no mention in Leavy's book of anything like violent abuse of women, except through his nonchalant sexual encounters and invasive attempts themselves). Mickey, by then deep into his declining years, even hit clumsily on Leavy as she interviewed him.

Leavy resists the temptation to over-analyze Mantle. It would be easy to do -- he's a sitting duck. His modesty seems to have been truly a matter of his thinking that he just wasn't anybody to be admired. He knew he wasn't Mickey Mantle the hero. And he reacted sometimes with loathing toward the public that admired him. Incidents in his childhood support common etiologies of adult sexual disturbances. But, in a way, I think Leavy gives the real Mickey the respect due someone who is at fault for many things, but probably not for the burden we put on him as the creators of Mickey the hero.

At the end, she likes him, just as most of the people in his life did. Even his wife, so thoroughly the victim of his infidelity and his array of humiliations, never wanted a divorce. To the end, she wanted to be "Mickey Mantle's wife." And the real Mickey had some tremendously positive virtues -- he had an anonymous, spontaneous generosity toward his friends and toward total strangers. He realized his influence, and he knew that just a word from him, from Mickey the hero, could mean so much to anyone struggling, anyone in need of a little confidence.

The most interesting part of the story of Mickey Mantle, I think, is how we (his admirers) made Mickey the hero out of Mickey the real person. Among those close to him, who knew the real person, it was almost a conspiracy -- rewriting the quotes to make him more articulate, withholding the truth about his sexual indiscretions and his alcoholism, painting him as even more heroic for playing through debilitating though self-inflicted pain. And those who didn't know him but admired him anyway, like us kids, no doubt turned a deaf ear to anything that would diminish him. We just wanted so badly to have someone we wanted to be.
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on October 28, 2014
In honor of The Mick, here are the seven biggest criticisms of this mess of a biography from Jane Leavy…

1. The second half of the title is misleading and pointless. It promises an overly-ambitious thesis that Leavy never pursues—much less establishes—in the book. Nowhere does she do the hard work of actually connecting Mantle with the subtitular “end of America’s childhood”—or even addressing what exactly that phrase is supposed to mean in context.

2. Leavy’s 1983 interview with Mantle during one of his promotional appearances for the Claridge Hotel fails spectacularly as a framing device. Leavy organizes the book into five parts and uses a running account of the interview to introduce each part. While the encounter might have formed the basis for a mildly interesting magazine feature, it is simply too unremarkable to anchor a full-length biography. She didn’t elicit any illuminating answers out of Mantle and the only thing the least bit noteworthy about her interaction with him is that he got drunk after a dinner with high-rollers and made a pass at her before passing out—or so she claims. Of course, Leavy did not mention a word of this for 27 years and Mantle is long-since deceased and unable to verify or explain.

But even taking Leavy’s claim at face value, this relatively insignificant episode in Mantle’s life should not assume such a central and recurrent place in a biography of the man. It distracts from the flow of the biographical narrative and is of comparatively much less importance to Mantle’s life and the reader’s understanding of it than it is to Leavy, personally—which leads to the next criticism…

3. Leavy commits the biographer’s cardinal sin by frequently making herself, rather than her subject, the focus of the book. It is exceedingly bizarre that a supposed Mickey Mantle biography should open with its very first line informing the reader as to where the author’s mother was deflowered, but that’s just the kind of astounding authorial self-absorption, self-indulgence, and awkwardness that characterizes THE LAST BOY. Throughout its 400 or so pages, Leavy gratuitously injects the word “I” into the text and hijacks the narrative for pages at a time with boring, irrelevant stories concerning her own life and family. More than once, the reader is left to wonder whether he is reading a biography of Mantle or an autobiography of Leavy.

4. The writing is poor. Leavy’s sentence structure is tortured, her prose is replete with ambiguous third-person pronouns, and she is a queen of non sequiturs, with sentences and paragraphs often failing to follow a logical progression. She also relies too heavily on quotations, giving her work a cut-and-paste feel. THE LAST BOY is not at all a smooth or enjoyable reading experience.

5. Leavy makes a number of lazy factual errors that cripple her credibility. For example, she asserts on page 36 that 1951 was the Yankees’ “eighteenth world championship”; in reality, it was their fourteenth. On page 255, she claims that an 18-year old Tony LaRussa was on the 1963 Kansas City A’s roster only because “rules governing the amateur draft meant that the A’s had to keep him on the major league roster.” The problem is that the amateur draft did not even exist until 1965, two years after LaRussa’s debut. Leavy somehow confused the bonus rule, which required clubs to keep amateur signees with contracts worth over $4,000 on the major league roster for one season or risk losing the player on waivers, with the first-year player draft. These are but two examples of many.

6. Leavy does not seem to understand baseball beyond a superficial level. She fails to grasp the nuances of the game, shows limited knowledge of its history, is clumsy in her use of statistics new and old, and is generally ineffective at crafting narrative. Consequently, the sections pertaining to Mantle’s playing career are improbably among the dullest and least engaging—a very serious problem for a biography of a baseball player.

7. The book is poorly organized and lacks focus. Each chapter takes its title from a significant date in Mantle’s life (e.g., “August 14, 1960”), but the chapters themselves often have little to do with the dates in question. Indeed, the third chapter, “October 23, 1951: Undermined,” has absolutely nothing to do with its headlining date: it concerns background information about Mantle’s hometown and October 23, 1951 is never referenced once, leaving the reader mystified as to its relevance. Likewise, the chapter on Mantle’s mammoth 565-foot tape measure home run (“August 17, 1953: One Big Day”) is largely wasted documenting the life story of Donald Dunaway, the boy who located the historic ball, and Leavy’s obsessive scouring of the neighborhood in pursuit of him over 50 years later. Furthermore, constant, ill-executed chronological jumps confuse the sequence of events from part-to-part, chapter-to-chapter, section-to-section, and even paragraph-to-paragraph.

THE LAST BOY is so flawed that this list could have easily been twice the size. It adds nothing to our understanding of Mickey Mantle and amounts to little more than a dull, rambling, haphazard, narcissistic, logorrheic, error-prone exercise in pointlessness. Jave Leavy should be embarrassed.
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on April 4, 2012
Let me preface my review by saying that I am not a lifelong Mickey Mantle fan. Now that my family is grown and gone, I am searching for new hobbies, and one of them is watching baseball. I knew nothing about Mantle before I picked up this book at the library, except that he is very famous.

The most engaging thing about The Last Boy is its cover. The author interviewed several hundred people in preparation for the writing of this book including family, friends, former teammates, and news writers as well as dozens of medical experts. The bibliography alone is 18 pages. Ms. Leavy also "interviewed" Mr. Mantle herself. It seems that the author spent more time and attention on interviews and research than the writing of the book. Unfortunately, this book is poorly organized, and that makes the reading of it frustrating to the point of irritation. The Last Boy is 20 chapters long, and the title of each chapter is a date that represents an event in the life of Mickey Mantle. It is too bad that at times it is hard to tell what it was that happened on the date in question, as the telling is often vague. Many of the chapters have sub-sections that supposedly expound on the theme, but here the text loses focus, becoming either off subject or redundant. Scattered amongst the chapters are the five separate sections that summarize the observations Ms. Leavy made during her personal interview with the hero. Throughout the text, there are vague references to "he," it being unclear which "he" the author refers to. The composition is disjointed and hard to follow.

Jane Leavy did not learn very much about Mickey Mantle during her interview sessions. One of the five sections devoted to her interview deals almost entirely with Ms. Leavy's own life and family, and it adds nothing to the story. I deduce that Ms. Leavy wanted to include details of her interview simply because Mr. Mantle made a pass at her, and it was important for her to let us know about it. In the final section of the interview, Leavy seems rather proud that she caused Mickey to shed tears. She confesses that she was just looking for a scoop and wanted a sensational story from him, hence her prying questions. Ms. Leavy had promised to send Mantle a copy of her story but does not remember if she did so. (Is that really likely?) Later, she wondered if she had done the right thing in sharing his comments, even though he said they were off the record. I say maybe not.

The photos that accompany the narrative are especially disappointing. Some are so small that they are made irrelevant. The captions do not add clarity. There is only one picture of Mantle with his wife, perhaps taken on their wedding day but not labeled as such, and the photo is so small that the features of the couple cannot be seen. Another photo at the top of the same page might be Mickey's father, but we don't know. There is one extremely small photo of Mantle with his four sons; she says they rarely saw him, but now you can't see them either. Included also are several much larger photos of various injury situations that steal the focus of the photo section. Considering how many pictures must have been taken of Mantle during his lifetime, the collection is a poor representation.

The first review I posted about this book on Amazon was rejected, because I quoted something directly from the book, and it was "inappropriate." There were lots of other parts in this book that Amazon would not have liked to print in the review section, and so you can guess the tone of the book. Mickey Mantle would not have appreciated The Last Boy, and I didn't appreciate it very much either. I hope I can find a better book about this baseball icon.
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on March 2, 2016
I guess I would describe as a "Jewish" biography. MM is portrayed mostly in relationship as is the author herself. His heroics as well as his anti-heroics are fully on display. Anyone who wants a cardboard cut out of the Mick should look elsewhere. I liked the person I read about, but it did remind me of the AA saying, "Love the person, hate the disease." No one likes to see their heroes taken down off the pedestal. I hated the "Jewish" biography of Lenny Bruce and couldn't read the one of Bob Dylan. The thing is Mantle was not even Jewish when he started out, but after years of being a Yankee, he was assimilated.
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on September 24, 2014
I feel that Jane Leavy certainly did plenty of research and organization for this biography of Mickey Mantle. I enjoyed the way his life was presented, intertwined with her own interview of Mantle.
I would guess that this book would not be appreciated by most Yankee fans as much of it consists of the tearing down of one of their heroes. Then again, it tells of his gentle or sensitive side as well. I must say that if "The Mick" was my favorite player, I would not like this book, as much of the negative information was not necessarily known to the masses.
Willie Mays was my baseball hero and there have been numerous books about him, most mentioning his flaws, but they were so minor compared to this exhaustive, mostly negative narrative about Mickey Mantle.
That said, it was well done.
Danny G.
PS--even though Mantle told Duke Snider and Willie Mays that Willie was the best of the three, Jane Leavy does go on to prove that Mickey was better.
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