The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, A Book Review

A mention of Mickey Mantle seems to start more arguments about where his rightful place is on the all-time list of greatest baseball players. The Mick has a following unlike almost any player, which is evidenced by fans’ willingness not only to pay top dollar for his baseball memorabilia, but for aspects of his life that didn’t have anything to do with the sport at all, such as his check book.

Mantle may have been the last polarizing star of America’s Pastime and his story has been told many different times in many different ways. Author Jane Leavy sets out to tell a new version of Mantle’s life in her new work, The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood.

As Leavy points out in the preface, this was much more difficult of an undertaking than she ever expected. She was one, and actually admits she still is, who looked at Mantle as a hero, not a mortal, and went through many internal arguments about what she needed to include in the book to tell the complete story.

As I mentioned, there is no shortage to the variety of stories about Mantle’s life that are already in print. In fact, Mantle himself had a hand in at least three different versions. Leavy has written a different version than any other as instead of using mostly second hand research she opted to intertwine her personal experiences into a tale that is both telling of her fandom and of Mantle’s far reaching personality.

The backbone of the book are a few days Leavy spent with Mantle in Atlantic City in April 1983. This was her time to get to know the man whom she had idolized for so many years and to potentially learn if that man truly exists. Intertwined in this story are the legends of Mantle’s life and career. The story is not told in a traditional way, centered on his home runs and World Series triumphs, although those do have their place in the book. However, each chapter is a single day in the life of Mantle ranging from 1951 and leading all of the way up to 1994.

If nothing else, the book illustrates that Mantle was a man who had extraordinary talent, but who was also extraordinarily human. His star status in no way helped him excommunicate he daemons. In fact, in some ways, his status may have accentuated them.

More than any other player of his name recognition, Mantle’s career seemed to be full of “what ifs?”. For instance: What if he wouldn’t have twisted his leg on that train in the Yankees outfield? Or, what if he hadn’t spent so much time partying and took better care of his body?

Leavy does a fine job of both looking into these questions, but still leaving them unanswered. In reality we’ll never know if he could have hit 800 home runs if he had just gone to the right doctors to treat the rash on his leg.

Leavy’s work is a great read, particularly for anyone who enjoys the stories behind the big names. Just as in her last work, Sandy Koufax, Leavy tells a completely new side of a story has been retold countless times before.

While all fans who idolized Mantle may not want to remember him in the way Leavy describes him, her work is nothing short of the truth. Even though Mantle wasn’t perfect, the author paints the picture that if it weren’t for those faults he might not have become the man we all feel was one of the game’s greatest players.

Overall Rating: 4/5


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