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7: The Mickey Mantle Novel by Peter…

7: The Mickey Mantle Novel

by Peter Golenbock

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Mickey Mantle was one of my childhood heroes. Because Major League baseball did not arrive in Texas until 1962, kids in my part of the world looked elsewhere for their baseball heroes and The Mick was exactly the made-to-order living legend we craved. It was a different world, a time when sportswriters largely ignored the private lives of professional athletes until their personal habits began to affect them on the field. It was only after Mantle retired, in fact, that most of us learned how addictions to alcohol and sex made a complete shambles of Mantle’s personal life – the very things that Peter Golenbock emphasizes in his “Mickey Mantle novel.”

Golenbock is a fine baseball writer and I have read many of his nonfiction accounts over the years, books about Davey Johnson, Graig Nettles, Ron Guidry and Billy Martin, among them. This time he tries to have it both ways, on the one hand emphasizing that the book is an “inventive memoir,” while on the other claiming that Mantle’s closest friends “swear that the incidents in this book are true.” And I suppose that is not impossible if Golenbock means that he embellished a bunch of true stories with details know one could know but Mantle and, in some cases, Billy Martin.

I also agree with Golenbock that it would be difficult to write a novel about Mickey Mantle that did not include numerous segments on his boozing and womanizing since, along with baseball, those were probably the most important things in the world to Mantle. What surprised me, though, considering my familiarity with Golenbock’s other baseball books is how boring he was able to make Mantle’s sex life sound. Rather than simply hinting at the intimate details of Mantle’s sex habits, Golenbock has imagined them in a way that fits every tenth-grade boy’s dreams. I suppose that is the “inventive” part of his “inventive memoir.”

My problem with that approach is that sex scenes (and almost nothing else) consume at least the first half of the book and had me wondering whether Golenbock really had anything to say about Mickey Mantle that mattered. It turns out that he did, and that the patient reader is rewarded for not having earlier abandoned the book out of boredom. Most Mantle fans know what Mantle and the Yankees accomplished in the fifties and sixties but not so much about Mantle’s life after baseball. This is the real heart (and justification) for a book like “The Mickey Mantle Novel,” an account of Mantle’s last years, his fears, and his ultimate despair that will deeply touch all Mantle fans.

Keep in mind, too, that this book was part of publisher Judith Regan’s undoing at Regan Books. It was thought to be so controversial, in fact, that HarperCollins, parent company of Regan Books, dropped the book and it was ultimately published by The Lyons Press, with a first printing of 250,000 copies – many of which are today on bookstore bargain tables all across the country.

Rated at: 2.5 ( )
  SamSattler | May 11, 2009 |
Mickey Mantle, one of the greatest baseball players ever to play the game, decides to narrate his autobiography from beyond the grave, or to be more precise, from heaven. The biographer he chooses to tell his story to also happens to be dead; Lenny Shecter, author of Rule 4 and a former sportswriter for the New York Post. Lenny Shecter, from what I gather having known very little of him prior to reading this book, was from the old school when being a sportswriter also meant you had some writing ability (something that you may notice doesn't isn't the case in your local paper's sports section).

In any case the story quickly gets down to the nitty gritty of Mickey Mantle's life. Though obviously fiction, the introduction by the author and the reference to several real events seem to indicate that this is fiction intended to be viewed in a different light. While individual events in the book may be exagerated, or made up entirely, the "truth" of Mantle's real-life character is maintained. As you'll quickly discover while reading the book, that means he actually was a somewhat bitter, dirty old man towards the end, and a very arrogant dirty young man throughout his career and his life. (This accords with my general view of the guy from other readings and a huge number of sports figures in general, but who knows, I could be way off on this.)

The book highlights Mantle's baseball career and family life, but a large portion of the book centers around what was clearly one of the two most important things in Mantle's life - sex. You really can't talk about this book without talking about the large number of descriptive sex scenes that the book contains. Honestly, it's to the point of being gratuitous, but as anyone who's ever played sports, or been around sports figures know, it's hardly out of character. I think it may be one of the more honest sports biographies in this regard, despite being fiction.

The other most important thing in Mantle's life is baseball. I don't like baseball, being a Canadian who just can't get past hockey (and lacrosse and a little bit of rugby) but Golenbock, through Mantle, does a good job communicating the glory of the game. After reading this book, I almost want to get into baseball a bit more. I certainly am more willing to admit there may be something beautiful and even noble about the most boring of American pasttimes.

The writing in the book is crass at times and certainly not to be considered classic literature, but the story is well presented and fairly cohesive. Mantle as a human being, with all the flaws human beings have, is much more interesting than a biography that covers up his indiscretions, focuses on his batting average, and glorifies him beyond all reason. I liked it and would read it again.

Who would I recommend this book to? Despite the book being in the "For Father's Day" section at Chapters, my dad would likely be none too happy with the, at times gratuitous, sex and foul language (he once told me Heat was one of the worst book's he'd ever read because of how much the word f**k was used); my dad wouldn't be the recipient of this book. Nor would by mother. I would, and have, however recommend this book to my brother, or any other young men who love sports, love women, and don't mind a little gratuitousness in their summer reads. ( )
  jordan7hm | Jun 16, 2007 |
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A fictional memoir inspired by the life of the iconic baseball star places a surprised late Mantle in heaven, where he confesses the truth about how he hurt his loved ones, alienated his fans, succumbed to alcoholism, and otherwise fell short of deserving the adulation directed toward him throughout his career.… (more)

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