In Part III of this three-part interview, Jane Leavy, the author of The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, talks about why Mantle fell short in the 1961 home-run chase, how his life was similar to Babe Ruth’s, and the one question a minor-league teammate would ask him if he were still alive today. In case you missed them, here is Part I and Part II
Jane Leavy: They were larger than life. They had larger-than-life personas and appetites and generated the sort of mythology that doesn’t attend to the ordinary ballplayer. Part of that was because of who they were, when they played, and the attendant exposure they got because they played center field for the New York Yankees when New York was the center of the baseball world if not the whole world. There was an openness to them, and it radiated from their faces. They might have been self-destructive in their behavior but they weren’t mean.
People talk about the joy de vivre that they saw in Willie Mays’ body language. Mantle had that in his smile. Think about Babe Ruth’s wink every time that a camera came anywhere near. These guys loved being who they were.
DL: In the book, you quote Howard Cosell as saying, “Mickey Mantle should be in jail. He’s a drunken whoremonger.” To what degree was that statement hyperbole?