No one captured Mickey Mantle’s power at the plate or his antics off the field on a cell phone.
No one captured Mickey Mantle’s power at the plate or his antics off the field on a cell phone. jpangan3/Flickr
Earlier today I spoke with with sports author Jane Leavy, one of the guests for our second hour show on Wednesday. She's coming in to talk about her new book, The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood. In that thirty-minute conversation alone, it was easy to tell that Leavy is a tried and true fan of the legendary #7. Not to mention, when she interviewed Mick back in 1983, he was nice enough to give her the sweater — not shirt, but sweater — off his back.
What was even more interesting were the stories she made sure I remembered while reading the book — the lesser-known struggles Mantle endured behind the scenes. Leavy's book is a biography, but it's not your typical straightforward "he hit this many home runs in this year ... he died on this day" collection. Through hundreds of interviews, she recounts his bouts with alcoholism, the sexual abuse he suffered as a child, and his long-term knee problems.
But what surprised me the most is Leavy's take on the media's obsession with athlete's scandalous actions. In a commentary for the Los Angeles Times, she recalls the Brett Farve sexting ordeal from a few months ago, as well as a scene from Mick's "boys will be boys" days:
In May 1957, Mantle and his cronies celebrated Billy Martin's 29th birthday at the Copacabana, the nightspot that advertised itself as "the hottest club north of Havana." Also celebrating that night was a bowling club called the Republicans. They had come to see Sammy Davis Jr.'s 2 a.m. show. Perhaps, the bowlers were displeased when Jules Podell, who ruled the Copa with an iron fist and a massive pinkie ring, put a table up front for the Yankees, making space where there had been none in the sold-out club. Maybe it was Yogi's fault, his wife, Carmen said. He didn't like it much when the bowlers began heckling Davis, calling him among other things "Little Black Sambo."
Imagine now that everyone at the Copa came armed with smartphones. Imagine if Mickey Mantle, then in the early stages of destroying himself, had been exposed not by a faux Photoshopped clone but by irrefutable images of his self-destructive behavior. It might or might not have changed him. But, surely it would have changed the way we looked at him, what we laughed at and laughed off. It might even have saved his life.