Jane Leavy The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood (New York: HarperCollins, 2010)
My friends and even those who know me only slightly would all be surprised, I think, to know that I read Jane Leavy’s fascinating biography of Mickey Mantle, The Last Boy. I am quite obviously disinterested in most sports, and when I do watch such events, it is usually the three s’s, swimming, skating, and skiing. The only group sport I can endure is another sport that begins with an “s”, soccer! In fact, much to the amusement and, perhaps the embarrassment of my three nephews, I do not even know the names of most American football, basketball, or baseball teams. I often visit sports bars to write, since I can completely tune out the several televisions broadcasting events, one of those bars being Mickey Mantle's Restaurant and Sports Bar on Central Park South in New York City, where I sat reading and writing before a meeting with author Richard Kalich one recent afternoon.
Babe Ruth was three years dead; DiMaggio was taking his curtain call. His successor, Mickey Mantle, the first telegenic star of the new broadcast age, was installed in right field. Mantle's charismatic foil, Willie Mays, was playing center field for baseball's first all-black outfield.
Added to Mantle's all-American grinning face, topped by blond locks, a personality that generally was friendly to his fans, and you had a hero in the making. And for many, as Leavy recounts, Mantle was like no other. No matter who you might think is the best all-time ballplayer, Mantle has always to be in the running, and Leavy, employing encyclopedic data, convinces that it has to be Mantle!
The ball left his bat traveling at an estimated speed of 110 miles per hour. Clark Griffith, the namesake and grandson of the Senators' owner, was sitting in the family box behind the third base dugout, having cut class at Sidwell Friends School for an afternoon of baseball. "It went up and got caught in the jet stream," he said, "It took on a life of its own."
The Yankee's director of public relations, Arthur E. Patterson, immediately declared "That one's got to be measured," dashing from the stadium to discover the ball had been found by a young Black boy, Donald Dunaway. Leavy clearly reveals that much of the rest of the story of how far the ball had traveled was fiction. Yet, for years it stood in baseball history as Patterson had recounted it.
Los Angeles, February 13/16, 2011