Hero Worship


As a kid, before my dreams turned to literature, my idol was Mickey Mantle. Nothing unusual there—many boys my age worshipped #7. (It remains my favorite number to this day.) I was one of the lucky ones who got to watch him play in Yankee Stadium. He  hit a homer that soared like a cruise missile over the bleachers that I’ll never forget.  My dad (a pro photographer) took a terrific photo of  the Mick at the height of his career—alas, the  print  and negative are long gone, but the image of his “coast to coast” smile lives on.

And now after all these years Jane Leavy has written a biography to give his fans an epiphany and closure: The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood  (HarperCollins).

Her book focuses on 20 days in Mantle’s life that represent defining highs and lows and gets closer to the truth of the man which is missing from all the books that have come before, the hype and hatchet-jobs.

Leavy’s writing rises and glows like one of her subject’s record-breaking homeruns.

Here are two brief excerpts:

“Mickey Mantle was the Last Boy venerated by the last generation of Baby Boomer boys, whose unshakable bond with their hero is the obdurate refusal to grow up. Maintaining the illusions of adolescence is the ultimate Boomer entitlement. He inspired awe without envy—except perhaps for what he got away with. Pain inoculated him against jealousy and judgment.”

After recapping some of his extraordinary stats, she writes:

“The prodigious numbers belie the pain and suffering it took to accumulate them. Far more than his contemporaries in center field, Willie and The Duke, Mantle fit the classical definition of a tragic hero—he was so gifted, so damaged, so beautiful. The traumatic and defining knee injury he suffered catching a spike in an outfield drain during the 1951 World Series attenuated his breathtaking potential after just seven months in the major leagues. His death from alcohol-related cancer in 1995 attenuated eighteen months of belated, hard-earned sobriety. He had so little time to be his best self.”

If you ever tried to imitate Mickey’s swing or wear a  cap like he did… read this book.