Mickey Mantle: The Last Boy
I recently read Jane Leavy’s book published last year, The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood. I don’t read books as often as I’d like, and as a child the majority of books I read were sports biographies and Greek mythology. My favorite book was the Mickey Mantle story.
This Mantle book was far different than the one I read and loved as a child. The one I read as a child skipped the part of his childhood molestation, bed wetting, alcoholism and womanizing. This book gave me the full picture, but I am glad I didn’t know then what I know now.
Mickey Mantle was my childhood idol. That didn’t make me different than millions of children that grew up in the 50s and 60s. Since I was raised in Northern New Jersey, every kid wanted to wear #7 (sorry Ed Kranepool—it wasn’t for you). I even learned to mimic Mantle’s limp caused by his serious leg injuries. To this day in adult basketball leagues I still try to grab the jersey #7 for myself.
I even met The Mick one time. It was a five second encounter memorialized with the photo in this post. Here’s the story:
In the late 80s I was the Management Supervisor on the Polaroid account at BBDO/New York, one of the world’s largest ad agencies. Polaroid was a magical company years ago, though by the 80s was starting to lose its luster. Nonetheless, running this ad account was a plumb assignment. Industry trade shows were important to display new products and one of the key trade shows for the photo industry was the Photo Marketers Association (PMA) show which was held at McCormick Place in Chicago. All the major industry players had mega-booths displaying their newest products and most of the major booths had celebrity greeters. At our Polaroid booth we had Michael Jordan as our greeter. I hardly cared.
However………across the floor at the Fuji booth Mickey Mantle was the celebrity hand shaker seated in front of a backdrop of a blown up photo of Yankee Stadium. Interestingly Mantle had the longest line comprised of men in their 30s and 40s (at the time) that no doubt also idolized the Mick in their childhood. The line was roughly 20 minutes long. I wanted patiently to meet my hero. What would I say when I got there? What memorable expression could I use to make him remember me? I was deep in thought. Then all of a sudden, it was my turn. Here’s the brilliance I blurted out,
“Uh. Mick you’re the greatest”
His response: “Thanks”
Snap, photo, gone.
Obviously this was an encounter the Mick would remember all his life and he no doubt told thousand of others of his memorable exchange with Lonny Strum, BBDO Management Supervisor.
From Leavy’s book I gained a better understanding of Mickey Mantle, the athlete and the man. Mantle was deeply flawed. He was neither a good husband nor father, but I can better understand why. He assumed he would die young as many of his family did, but his liver problems were self inflicted from his alcoholism, which he would overcome in the later stages of his life.
But I also gained a better appreciation of him as an extraordinary athlete, perhaps among the best baseball players of all time. His performance in the first 10 years of his career were second to none—all before the age of 30. He retired at age 36, but his last few years were merely a means to earn a high salary for a player far past his time on poor Yankee teams in the CBS ownership era, the low point of Yankee history. The book also gave me a sense of Mantle as a teammate and friend, and on those dimensions he excelled. He was humble, not egocentric as with many pro athletes, and, though he was beloved by all, he was insecure. The book is a must read for even a passive fan.
“Mick, you’re the greatest”
To me, he was, and still is.