Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Book Review: The Last Boy

So far this summer I have read three books, all baseball related   What could be better than the Rangers in first place and reading up on America's past-time?

The Last Boy by Jane Leavy (2010) chronicles the life and sad times of The Mick, one Mickey Charles Mantle, among the all time baseball greats.  Leavy's approach is partially based on personal interviews she did with Mantle long after he retired.  The book does not hold back and flips between the highs of the monster home runs and the bouts of self-destructive drinking binges.

Mantle is a fascinating subject.  Born in 1931, he grew up dirt poor in tiny Commerce, Oklahoma and under the tutelage of his father and grandfather, learned how to switch hit.  The role his father ("Mutt") played in the younger Mantle's early career cannot be understated. Mickey progressed rapidly and was what today is called a "five tool player".  He joined the Yankees in 1951 when the mighty DiMaggio was in the twilight of his career.  (Mantles first major knee injury was partially attributed to Joe D.)  Alongside such legends as Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Don Larsen and Hank Bauer, The Mick won seven World Series rings in a career that spanned 17 years.  Mantle's lifetime batting average was .298, he hit 536 home runs and had 1,509 RBI's.  Huge stat's in any era.

The sad thing is he could have posted even better numbers if he was not plagued by injury (initially) and later cursed by alcoholism.  His last years are sad as his body breaks down and while he became closer with his sons, they had their own demons.  Mantle's estrangement from his longtime wife Merlyn also makes tough reading.  Maybe if Mutt had not died so young, Mickey would have been a better father and husband.

I have no basis to compare The Last Boy to the other Mantle biographies that have been written.  Obviously, I have some catching up to do... While Leavy's work was enjoyable, I feel there is probably a better one out there.

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