Book Review- The Last Boy
*With opening day just two weeks away, I wanted to post one more review of a great baseball book. This is another great read about another one of baseball’s iconic figures. Check it out!
Mickey Mantle was a hero to so many young men and women. I was a little too young to really appreciate his impact on baseball. As I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I don’t remember ever seeing Mickey play. The National League’s Atlanta Braves were/are my baseball team and inter-league play was reserved for the World Series. When Mickey’s playing career with the New York Yankees ended in 1968, I was only six. My first awareness of Mickey was seeing him on TV doing commercials.
Of course, I heard about the Mickey Mantle legend. In those pre-internet days, though, I had to go to the library to find books about baseball superstars. Growing up, I learned that Mickey Mantle was considered one of the greatest to ever play the game. His statistics backed that up. He is credited with hitting some of the longest home runs in the history of the game and when he retired, Mantle was number three on the all-time home run leader list with 536. Since then he has been bumped down to 16th place.
The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood is an exciting look at the great moments of Mantle’s career and an unvarnished, even disturbing look at the man. Like so many of society’s heroes, Mickey was a bundle of contradictions. He was a committed friend to his teammates. He and fellow Yankees, Billy Martin, Whitey Ford, and others were drinking and carousing buddies. They covered for each other’s indiscretions. At the same time, however, Mickey was a very uncommitted husband and father. While married to the same woman for 44 years, Mantle spent as much time in other women’s beds as he did his own. His extramarital affairs were considered excessive, even by many of his closest friends.
As an athlete, Mantle is often regarded as one of the most talented baseball players ever. He had a combination of speed and power that few had seen before. Injuries plagued him early and often throughout his career, though. Mantle’s ability to play through pain was one of the things that endeared him to his teammates. Even with so many God-given tools, however, Mickey Mantle’s drinking and partying to excess took its toll on his performance. Many years later, after he had gotten sober, Mantle wistfully wondered how much better he could have been if he had taken better care of himself during his playing days.
As a teammate, Mickey Mantle went out of his way to help other players. As a young player from a small town in Oklahoma, Mantle remembered his own feelings of loneliness and uncertainty when he got to New York. As a veteran, he tried to make rookies feel comfortable, often taking them out for dinner. Mickey sent flowers when a teammate had a baby. He tried to be the teammate that he wished he had in his early days on the Yankees. The young players and veterans alike loved him for it.
As a father, however, Mantle was an admitted failure. All four of his sons followed his footsteps by becoming alcoholics. One of his sons, Billy, died at 37 from complications related to substance abuse. Another son, Mickey Jr, would die of liver disease five years after his dad at the age of 47.
Mantle eventually did seek help for his alcoholism. He admitted himself to the Betty Ford Clinic and was sober for the last year and a half of his life. Sensing that his time was short, Mickey did what he could to right some of his wrongs. He apologized to his sons for failing them as a father. He went public and talked openly about his alcoholism and apologized to many that he had hurt, including his wife.
Mickey Mantle also found peace spiritually. His former teammate, Bobby Richardson, now a Baptist minister, led him to faith in Christ. In one of Mickey Mantle’s last interviews he said, “I am not a hero. Don’t imitate me. If you have a problem with drinking like I did, get help before it is too late.”
No one can ever discount what Mickey Mantle accomplished on the baseball diamond. On the field of life, Mickey made a lot of mistakes. His life was cut short by the consequences of poor choices he made. In the end, though, Mickey took responsibility for his failures. Late is better than not at all. And thank God for the amazing grace that Mickey Mantle found late in his life.
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