I’m biased. I love Jane Leavy as a writer. Her first book, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy is in my top 25 books of all-time in any genre. So I was predisposed to want to enjoy The Last Boy before I even read the first word. My only concern was that maybe Leavy/Koufax was a one-time perfect combination of writer and subject, and that the combination forced Leavy to dig deep and bring her 100+ mph writing fastball…and that maybe another subject wouldn’t be formidable and familiar enough to reach those heights again.
I was wrong.
Leavy grew up listening to the crowds of Yankee Stadium. Live. From her grandmother’s apartment right next to Yankee Stadium. She was a ‘Mickey guy’ even as a little girl. She shared America’s fascination with Mantle at the perfect age, the perfect location and the perfect time. She was also able to lay all that out and be both objective and subjective. In The Last Boy she tap-dances back and forth between biased admissions (she loved Mantle the player) and unbiased reporting (as a person, he was deeply flawed and in many different ways to many different people, a mess).
This book is vastly different than any of the other dozen books on Mantle, most particularly, The Mick, which is Mantle’s famous autobiography. The preface is worth the price of admission alone…it could be released as a longform piece and it would probably go viral.
It’s hard to read a book like this and not wonder if Mantle played today, would his flaws outweigh his feats? Would his behavior overshadow his performance to the point that he would be impossible to root for? Or would his celebrity be at such lofty heights that he could get away with a public persona and a private one.
Reading this, I found myself thinking a lot about Tiger Woods. Both men were molded by their relationships with their father. Both men had once-in-a-generation talent and reached the apex of their respective sports. Both men, for a time, had a public image that was near-perfect… And then both men’s demons caught up to them, publicly, and they got hurt, and they aged and they became a parody/shadow of themselves.
At least in Tiger’s case, his poor life decisions didn’t include finances. For Mantle, whose confidants late in life loaned him money to keep from him that he pretty much had none, and who was forced to leverage his name every which way imaginable to make ends meet after baseball, financial woes were just a piece of his legacy.
Leavy’s book covers everything. And her writing shines. In many ways, it’s the perfect cautionary tale for the modern athlete. Buy it here.
If you’re excited about The Last Boy, you might enjoy my book with 4x Super Bowl Champion, NFL and College Football Hall of Famer “Mean” Joe Greene HERE… Or if you’re a basketball fan you’ll love Heart Over Height that I wrote with 3x NBA Slam Dunk Champion Nate Robinson HERE.