BY Bill Madden
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Originally Published:Tuesday, October 12th 2010
A new book about Yankee icon Mickey Mantle paints a poignant portrait of a man haunted by sexual abuse and alcoholism – and who played in excruciating pain throughout his storied career.
Beginning Wednesday, the Daily News will excerpt Jane Leavy’s new book, “The Last Boy – Mickey Mantle and the end of America’s Childhood.” The bio, published by Harp-erCollins, hits bookstores Tuesday.
Unlike her 2002 best seller about Sandy Koufax, which celebrated the Dodger lefty’s greatness, “The Last Boy” digs beneath Mantle’s baseball prowess to reveal the insecurities that defined him.
Drawing on more than 500 interviews with Mantle’s family, friends, teammates and their spouses, the book dissects and dispels many of the myths of his career and is the definitive biography of the Yankees great – warts and all.
Leavy focuses on 20 significant days in Mantle’s life, beginning with his career- threatening injury in 1951 in Yankee Stadium, when he got hurt avoiding a collision with an aging Joe DiMaggio, and ending with his death in 1995
She crafts a compelling account of who Mantle was and what made him tick.
Among the highlights:
- Mantle’s teenage half sister and an older boy sexually molested Mantle when he was a child – incidents that made a huge impact on his life, especially on his relationship with women, said his wife, Merlyn, and close friends.
- His long descent into alcoholism and his controversial liver transplant. During surgery, doctors discovered cancer had spread from the liver to the pancreas, rendering the transplant useless and leaving them with a decision: continue or let him bleed to death on the operating table. Mantle died two months later; he’d been sober a year and a half.
- Mantle’s womanizing, drinking and often lewd public behavior – he insulted children and the elderly alike – were legendary, and Leavy delved into all of it in painfully lurid detail. Once, for instance, he signed an autograph for a young boy this way: “You’re lucky. Your mom has nice t-ts, Mickey Mantle.”
- Leavy disputes details of Mantle’s reported 565-foot “tape measure” home run off Chuck Stobbs of the Washington Senators on April 17, 1953. The ball sailed out of Griffith Stadium and supposedly landed in the backyard of a brick rowhouse a block away.Yankees’ public relations director Arthur (Red) Patterson exclaimed in the press box, “That one’s got to be measured” and set out to find the ball. Newspaper accounts say Patterson returned to the press box, accompanied by a young boy named Donald Dunaway, who attested to retrieving the ball from the backyard of the rowhouse.Dunaway, the only witness to the home run’s final resting place, was never heard from again. Until Leavy found him – and he blew a few holes in the story.
- Leavy makes a compelling case that no player in the history of baseball likely played with more sustained pain than Mantle. She looked closely at Mantle’s injuries, which were attributed to drinking and his cavalier attitude about off-season conditioning, and reveals his knee injuries were misdiagnosed in 1951 and 1953.One medical expert, noting how Mantle was able to play at an MVP level despite having an unrepaired ruptured ligament in his knee, told Leavy Mantle was “a ‘neuromuscular genius,’ one of the select few who are so well-wired they are able to compensate for severe injuries … and still perform at the highest levels … It’s a phenomenon comprised of motivation, high pain threshold, strength, reflexes and luck.”
- A “vitamin” injection – likely prompted by an attempt to treat gonorrhea, also known as the clap – by the infamous amphetamine dispenser Dr. Max Jacobson, derailed Mantle’s 1961 chase for Babe Ruth‘s home run record and left him with a massive infection.Jacobson’s medical license was revoked in 1975 after he was found guilty of manufacturing and combining “adulterated drugs” made of “filthy, putrid and/or decomposed substances.”