If you think you know everything there is to know about Mickey Mantle, well think again — that is unless you’ve read “The Last Boy,” Jane Leavy’s comprehensive biography of the great Yankee slugger, the magnificent Number Seven.
Leavy shows us a side of Mantle we’ve never seen before, a great ballplayer and magnificent teammate but also a flawed man with a fractured family life and a problems with alcohol that eventually led to his death in 1995.
In addition to her own personal experiences, Leavy spoke with more than 500 people — friends, teammates, girlfriends, writers and others — to get a clear picture of The Mick.
As Leavy describes him, “Mickey Mantle was the Last Boy venerated by the last generation of Baby Boomer boys, whose unshakeable bond with their hero is the obdurate refusal to grow up. Maintaining the fond illusions of adolescence is the ultimate Boomer entitlement.”
And the biography chronicles the changes in Mantle’s personality from his years patrolling center field in Yankee Stadium to life after baseball.
“The transformation of The Mick over the course of eighteen years in the majors and forty-four years in the public eye parallels the transformation of American culture from willful innocence to knowing cynicism,” Leavy writes.
Tape Measure Home Runs
“The Last Boy” charts some of Mantle’s tape measure home runs, starting with the ones he hit in spring training his rookie year, 1951. at the University of Southern California. One of those home runs cleared the fence at the 439-foot sign and landed in the middle of the football field beyond, where it bounced into the huddle of the practicing Trojans and hit Frank Gifford in the foot.
To the day he died, Rod Dedeaux, legendary USC baseball coach, swore he saw Mantle hit two 500-foot home runs that day, one from each side of the plate.
Leavy chased down Donald Dunaway, who caught up to Mantle’s legendary 565-foot home run hit out of Washington’s Griffith Stadium in 1953.
And when Mantle hit a walk-off home run against the Kansas City in 1963 that struck the facade and came as close to leaving Yankee Stadium as any ball ever hit, Joe Pepitone recalls “It hit so hard to you could hear boom!”
Mantle often joked about the number of times he actually hit the ball over the course of his career, considering his 1,734 career walks and 1,710 career strikeouts. “Figure 500 at bats a season, and that means I played seven years in the majors without hitting the ball,” he said
Mantle was well known for his incredible pain threshold. and teammates and trainers marvelled at his ability to play ball every day. “Mickey Mantle has a greater capacity to withstand pain than any man I’ve ever seen. Some doctors have seen x-rays of his legs and won’t believe they are the legs of an athlete still active,” Yankee trainer Joe Soares said in 1968, The Mick’s final season.
In “The Last Boy” we learn that Mantle took in homeless teammates like strays, was always good for a loan, and picked up every tab. But he was often surly with the media.
In 1988, Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant on Central Park South opened. The first night’s guest list reads like a who’s who of celebrities — Yogi Berra, Billy Martin and Whitey Ford of course, but also Phil Rizzuto and George Steinbrenner, Sylvester Stallone, Frank Gifford, Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite, Raquel Welch and Angie Dickinson, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Bruce Willis, Barbra Streisand, Bob Costas and Howard Cosell, who reminded everyone that “without me, there would be no Mickey Mantle”
“In the last years of his life, Mantle morphed into an avatar of the confessional Nineties,” says Leavy. The Mick confronted his alcoholism, but it was too late, and shortly after a liver transplant he died in 1995, just 63 years old.
Thanks to Jane Leavy — who also authored “Sandy Koufax” — we now know the full, inside story of Mickey Mantle.
Joe Pepitone and John Lennon had something in common – they were both born on October 9, 1940, Pepitone in Brooklyn and Lennon in Liverpool, England.
Ten strange and unusual sports factoids that may interest only me:
- Former New York Yankee first baseman Joe Pepitone was born on October 9, 1940, the same birthdate as late Beatle John Lennon. Don’t know exactly what this means, but perhaps it explains some of the countercultural activities by Pepi, the first ballplayer to use a hair dryer in the clubhouse.
- It takes 3,000 cows to supply the NFL with enough leather for a year’s supply of footballs.
- The only two days of the year in which there are no professional sports games (MLB, NBA, NHL, or NFL) are the day before and the day after the Baseball All-Star Game.
- Deion Sanders has played in both the World Series (1992 Atlanta Braves) and Super Bowl (1994, Super Bowl XXIX, San Francisco 49ers, 1995, Super Bowl XXX, Dallas Cowboys). The Braves lost the World Series in his only appearance, but both the 49ers and the Cowboys won the Super Bowl.
- The Olympic rings cover every flag in the world. Yellow, green, red, black and blue were selected because at least one of those five colors appears in every flag in the world.
- The Boston Celtics, a charter NBA franchise, have never had a player lead the league in scoring.
- The Stanley Cup, emblematic of ice Hockey supremacy in North America, was donated in 1893 by Canada’s then governor general, Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston. Originally awarded to honor Canada’s top amateur team, it eventually became the championship trophy of the NHL. Stanley Cup playoffs have been held continuously since 1894, although in the 1918-1919 season the finals were halted by a worldwide influenza epidemic. Oddly, Lord Stanley himself never saw a Stanley Cup game.
- Who’s the only player to play in three straight World Series for three different teams? Don Baylor — 1986 Boston Red Sox, 1987 Minnesota Twins, 1988 Oakland A’s.
- In 1960, Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson hit one home run and knocked in 26 runs in 150 games and 460 at bats. That year against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he set a World Series record with 12 RBis, including a grand slam. He became the only player from a losing team ever to be voted World Series MVP, despite the exploits of Bucs second baseman, whose home run won the Series for Pittsburgh.
- There are 336 dimples on a regulation golf ball.
Phil Hughes 0-3, 8.82 ERA, Ian Kennedy 0-2 9.04 ERA. Do you think Hank Steinbrenner is keeping an eye on Johan Santana and reminding Brian Cashman about the trade that was never made….like every 10 minutes or so. That’s what George would have done.
Hughes’ blog sure gets more hits than sportslifer…..but he gives up more hits too.
We’ve seen just about enough of Jason Giambi in the middle the of the Yankee lineup. He can’t hit, he can’t field, he can’t throw and he can’t run. Other than that, he’s a great guy.
But now that A-Rod has a strained quad, we’ll no doubt be treated to even more of the Giam-balco. Unless the Bombers decide to bring back Joe Pepitone.
Considering the lack of starting pitching, clutch hitting, and a lot of road games, it’s amazing the Yankees are 10-10.
Over the years, Yankee fans have come to take the playoffs for granted. The last time they failed to make the playoffs was 1993 (remember 1994 was the strike year). There are college kids who can’t remember the last time the Yankees didn’t get into the post-season.
Suns vs. Spurs has to be one of the best first-round series in NBA history. Double OT in Game One. Remindful of some of those Knicks-Bullets encounters of the late 60s and early 70s.
Speaking of past Knicks, loved the headline the New York Post on Saturday — BYE-SIAH! Wish GO-LAN for James Dolan was next.
German Pope visits the White House and Yankee Stadium, baseball season opens in Japan. The world has changed since WWII. And that’s a good thing.
Rangers over Devils was not a surprise — Rangers dominated the regular season, and had more firepower. The surprise was the sieve-like effort turned in by Marty Brodeur, who has carried the Devils on his back all these years.
Brodeur missed a bunch of pucks throughout the series, and he missed Sean Avery’s handshake on the receiving line at the end of Game 5.
Couple of dozen blogs ago, sportslifer posed the question: Name the only college football team to have three players make the NFL Hall of Fame? The answer: the 1951 University of San Francisco Dons, with Gino Marchetti, Ollie Matson, and Bob St. Clair.