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. O
ne 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.