The Mick and Me

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When I was home for Christmas, my parents had on their coffee table a copy of “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood.” I was not in an especially good place Christmas morning–I hadn’t slept, my back and knees hurt, and I was uneasy, like an anxiety attack was lurking around the corner.

I picked up the book and started reading the preface.  It was enthralling, but rather in the creepy way accounts of plane crashes are enthralling. The author, Jane Leavy, promised to show Mickey Mantle, warts and all.

She did.  Jane Leavy is NOT a fashion writer who knows nothing about baseball players, except that they have nice asses.  She grew up in 1950’s New York, when the Big Apple’s three ballclubs were led by legendary centerfielders: Willie (Mays), Mickey (Mantle), and The Duke (Duke Snider).  To be a kid there and then, you picked your centerfielder, and you argued fervently of your guy’s superiority.

The author was “a Mickey guy”; her father was a Willie Mays fan; they argued about it a lot.  She talks about hiding under her grandmother’s huge mink coat, surreptitiously listening to the Yankees game instead of Yom Kippur services. 

Years later, in 1983, Leavy was a sportswriter for the Washington Post. She went to New Jersey to cover Mickey Mantle’s golf tournament.  Her idol was usually drunk, and at times vulgar and profane.

Years later, she decided to write this book. She wanted neither to praise nor to bury, but to tell the whole story.  She did, warts and all.

My parents would’ve let me take the book, but it wasn’t theirs. A friend knew they were friends with Chuck Stobbs, who’s mentioned a few times, and he lent it to my dad.

I was hooked, though, and I used part of my Amazon gift card to buy this book.

It saddened me in a way. I wasn’t shocked by The Mick’s debauchery, his boozing and serial adultery.  I wasn’t really saddened that he finally got treatment and found sobriety, only to die of cancer 18 months later.

It saddened me, because I could read my life into this book.  No, I was not a good baseball player–as great as Mickey was, I was that un-great.

I was a little saddened, for I could imagine the crap Jane Leavy could uncover if she interviewed 500 people from my life.

At every point in my life, there have been moments of grace, and moments where I’ve behaved abominably.  The balance was skewed toward the bad during my substance abuse days, but I had good moments then just as I have horrible moments now.

I think heroes are different today.  Maybe not: maybe we just look at them differently.  I wasn’t shocked by “Bad Mickey.” I laughed at some of his comments, when I’m sure I was supposed to cringe and be disappointed. (Where he talks about his baseball card, and says it’s nice, but they forgot to include that he led the league nine times in the clap? I lol’d)

Jane Leavy’s book is beautifully written, and Mickey Mantle is redeemed in the end. We find out that he beat his demons, and we learn what childhood traumas put him on the low road.  

I’ve always liked Mickey Mantle–the way he played through incredible pain was an inspiration, and I loved that he switch-hit with power.  Seeing the dark side doesn’t change that at all (I doubt A-Rod has ever hit a homer while still drunk from the night before).

He had a tough life, and I’m grateful to have heard the story.

If nothing else, I’ll never forget watching his funeral in 1995.  Two friends and I sat in our corner of Bennigan’s, drinking vodka martinis on a weekday afternoon.  We clinked glasses in his honor.  I think he’d probably have approved of that gesture, but I think he’d be more impressed by the last 2038, vodka-free days. 

I hope someday to ask him (I meanl c’mon! He’s Mickey Mantle!)

(Mickey’s words on his drinking: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1005099/index.htm )

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9 Responses to “The Mick and Me”

  1. ilostellis Says:

    You talk about heroes and then you say this:
    At every point in my life, there have been moments of grace, and moments where I’ve behaved abominably. The balance was skewed toward the bad during my substance abuse days, but I had good moments then just as I have horrible moments now.

    The way you become a hero [to me] is to look back and acknowledge in one way or another — of your own volition — that you’ve acted like an ass. Present day, past days… you acknowledge that of your own choice.

    Accountability is incredibly sexy.

    I guess I admire people more when they are strong enough to admit their messups, than hide the past with glossy generalized schmutz.

    My current hero (not you, but the one who’s been in my pocket since I was about six years old) is in the middle of the journey of his own crap. He used to be stronger than stone, but now I see it’s just that he’s as strong as ice…. eventually it all melts into a mess on the floor. I hope someday he gets to where you are. I am hoping he gets back to a point of bliss someday, and that’s where his strengths will finally shine again. But he’s burning a lot of bridges, so I just hope he doesn’t burn too many.

    It’s things like this that make me realize how much of a hero you are to me. I don’t say it enough and I’m not a nice enough person to say it continually, but when I look at the people I know in life, and put them in my various pockets of love…. you go right there, in that hero pocket.

    I had two heroes in life and one is faltering now. I’m hoping he figures his crap out. I haven’t given up on him yet. The other is dead so he can’t do much to screw it up. 😉 But you go into that pocket because of so many reasons.

    You’ve a gift with people. Now go forth and decide the if/what/when/where you want to do with it. Big or small… 🙂

    Happy new year.

  2. This is good, Tom.

    And you are good. Big big hugs.

  3. [this is good] Man, times like this, I miss the old Vox good thing. More than good. And you know what? You are a hero of sorts to me as well. No matter how bad things got, you just kind of schlepped on with it until it got better and were able to laugh about the bad stuff.

    • Thanks, Kzinti. Eric Clapton had a quote in the 70’s, “Without reason to laugh, there’s reason to cry.” I guess when I was going through stuff, I had the choice to get through it or give up, and if I’d given up, just think of all the comedy I’d have missed out on.

      Hope you’re having an excellent 2011, my friend. (hugs to LiLo for me ;-))

  4. One word, djear frjend.

    Nardsack.

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