Keith Olbermann reviewed Jane Leavy’s Mantle book in the New York Times Book Review over the weekend. He liked it:
Leavy comes as close as perhaps anyone ever has to answering “What makes Mantle Mantle?” She transcends the familiarity of the subject, cuts through both the hero worship and the backlash of pedestal-wrecking in the late 20th century, treats evenly his belated sobriety and the controversial liver transplant (doomed mid-surgery by an oncologist’s discovery that the cancer had spread), and handles his infidelity with dispassion. Sophocles could have easily worked with a story like Mantle’s — the prominent figure, gifted and beloved, through his own flaws wasteful, given clarity too late to avoid his fate. Leavy spares us the classical tragedy even as she avoids the morality play. “The Last Boy” is something new in the history of the histories of the Mick. It is hard fact, reported by someone greatly skilled at that craft, assembled into an atypical biography by someone equally skilled at doing that, and presented so that the reader and not the author draws nearly all the conclusions.
“The Last Boy,” Jane Leavy’s long-awaited biography of Mickey Mantle hits bookstores tomorrow. Last week, SI ran an excerpt that is sure to whet your appetite.
In the spring of 1957 Mickey Mantle was the king of New York. He had the Triple Crown to prove it, having become only the 12th player in history to earn baseball’s gaudiest jewel. In 1956 he had finally fulfilled the promise of his promise, batting .353, with 52 homers and 130 RBIs. Everybody loved Mickey. “Mickey who?” the singer Teresa Brewer chirped. “The fella with the celebrated swing.”
Men wanted to be him. Women wanted to be with him. His dominion was vast, and his subjects were ardent. (One fan asked Lenox Hill Hospital for Mantle’s tonsils, which doctors there had removed following the 1956 season.) Mantle accepted his due with that great drawbridge of a smile that yanked the right-hand corner of his mouth upward to reveal a set of all-American choppers. “When he laughed, he just laughed all over,” his teammate Jerry Lumpe said.
Why wouldn’t he? Wherever Mantle went in the great metropolis—Danny’s Hideaway, the Latin Quarter, the “21” Club, the Stork Club, El Morocco, Toots Shor’s—his preferred drink was waiting when he walked through the door. Reporters waited at his locker for monosyllabic bons mots. Boys clustered by the players’ gate, hoping to touch him. It wasn’t enough to gawk at his impossibly broad shoulders and his fire-hydrant neck. They wanted tactile reassurance that he was for real. They scratched his arms, his face and the finish of every car he rode in. A burly security detail became mandatory.
Women—none more beautiful than he was—waited in hotel lobbies. Arlene Howard, the wife of Yankees catcher Elston Howard, says that when she met Mantle for the first time, she thought, My God, who is that? Just the physical body, I’d never seen anything like that. There was something about his presence that was just absolutely stunning.
“He was adorable,” said Lucille McDougald, the wife of Yankees infielder Gil McDougald. “We used to joke about it: Who wouldn’t hop into bed with him, given the opportunity, just for the fun of it?”