For Jane Leavy, Mickey Mantle was a childhood hero. For young Bill Littlefield, Mantle was the second-best centerfielder in New York. Bill speaks to Leavy about her new biography of the Mick, The Last Boy, and shares his own memories of the troubled superstar.
My first exposure to Mickey Mantle came courtesy of my grandfather, when I was a child. My grandfather hated Mickey Mantle from afar, or, more precisely, from the comfortable chair in his home in New Jersey from which he watched Mickey Mantle on television. My grandfather also hated Mel Allen, the longtime play-by-play announcer who celebrated Mantle’s exploits, some might say excessively. In fact, my grandfather hated all the Yankees and anything they touched.
Much later, I learned that some people liked Mickey Mantle. Some people worshipped him. A lot of people liked to tell stories about how they’d bought him a drink, and for many years Mickey Mantle did his best to provide them all with the opportunity to tell that particular sort of story without having to stretch the truth even a little.
Jane Leavy comes at the story of Mickey Mantle from a personal perspective. She was a fan who grew up to be a journalist, and who got the opportunity to interview and write about her favorite player. Then she had to come to terms with what that player had become, which was the drunk who peppered his conversations with gross suggestions, ran his hand up her thigh, and then passed out face down in her lap.
The Last Boy celebrates Mantle as a ballplayer so talented that he astonished even his teammates with his mammoth homeruns, more than a few of them hit when he was hung over. Leavy’s book also reveals him as a sad case who was in part the victim of vulnerability he inherited and damage he suffered during his childhood. She feels he was a man thoroughly unprepared to handle the publicity he inspired, at least when it was negative.
Given the circumstances of a life composed of more or less equal parts achievement, celebrity, narcissism, and a ferocious drive toward self-destruction, that Mantle achieved sobriety and some level of stability before he died may strike some readers as more impressive than even his longest dingers.