MICKEY MANTLE:STORIES & MEMORABILIA FROM A LIFETIME WITH THE MICK
by Mickey Herskowitz with Danny and David Mantle
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 175 pages, $35
No baseballlegend won America's hearts the way Mickey Charles Mantle did. Babe Ruth wasidolized, Lou Gehrig sentimentalized and Joe DiMaggio lionized, but Mantle wasloved. "For two generations of fathers and sons, Mantle was baseball, a guywho hit the ball over buildings, who inspired the phrase tape-measure homeruns," Mickey Herskowitz writes in his unique new book on the Mick.
Mantle was thereason Little Leaguers everywhere fought over their teams' number 7 jersey. Hehas been gone for 11 years, a victim of cancer and his own careless lifestyle,but his name is still a magical one to baseball fans who remember a simplertime before the DH, divisional playoffs and steroid scandals. This book is forthem, though perhaps the word book doesn't do it complete justice. Includedwith the text are 10 removable reproductions of Mantle memorabilia, including amoving letter on Motel Cleveland stationery that the Mick wrote to his wife,Merlyn, and Mantle's first baseball contract, with the Class D Independence(Kans.) Yankees, which would earn him a salary of $140 a month.
Maybe it's thepinstripes on the inside covers, the infectious Mantle smile on the front orthe myriad family photos inside, but this book, written with the help ofMantle's sons, David and Danny, feels personal. This is Mantle's life story,feet of clay (i.e., his excessive drinking) and all, rich in behind-the-scenesnuggets. Like the time Mantle was on a talk-radio show with Paul Simon andduring a break asked Simon why the famous line from Mrs. Robinson ("Wherehave you gone, Joe DiMaggio?") wasn't about him. DiMaggio's name had theright number of syllables, explained Simon, who was actually a Mantle fan as aboy. Another time Mantle was posing for a photo at Disneyland, surrounded byDisney characters. When the photographer ordered Goofy to move to the right,Mantle slid over. "I've been called worse," Mantle would say later.There's also a fond remembrance of Mantle's hellacious knuckleball. It was goodenough that he begged Yankees manager Casey Stengel to let him pitch an inninglate in a blowout. That never happened, but it was that same knuckleball thatbroke the nose of unwitting rookie catcher Jake Gibbs during a sidelinetoss.
Mantle's appealis enduring in part because he was an American hero during the nation's age ofinnocence. His impact was only fully felt by his son David when David was 17and attended Old-Timers' Day in Arlington, Texas, in 1973. He was sitting inthe stands when his father was introduced, and the ensuing ovation lasted, itseemed, forever. "My eyes welled up with tears and every hair on my armsand neck stood up," David writes in the book. "That was a definingmoment for me."
Mantle's life wasa series of defining moments for many fans. This book offers a preciousopportunity to savor those too-fleeting moments a little longer.
Tackling an Enigma
JIM BROWN: THE FIERCE LIFE OF AN AMERICAN HERO
by Mike Freeman
William Morrow, 289 pages, $25.95
"I'VE ALWAYS admired you as a football player,Jim," said a white sportscaster to Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brownafter a game in the mid-1960s. "I've never looked at you as aNegro."
Brown responded, "You have to look at me as aNegro. Look at me, man! I'm black."
Since he landed in the Browns' backfield in 1957 aftera stellar three-sport career at Syracuse, Brown has never let anyone forgetthat he is black. "[Brown] helped to redefine what it meant to live as ablack man in America," writes Mike Freeman in Jim Brown. Freeman, alongtime newspaper reporter and now online columnist, has framed Brown's lifein the ongoing saga of race in America: showing the complicated athletethoroughly immersed in the civil rights movement.
An excellent storyteller, Freeman describes in depthfor the first time how the FBI kept tabs on Brown for at least five years inthe 1960s when Brown was head of the Negro Industrial Economic Union. But whatresonates most is Brown's fierce determination to do things his way and fightdefiantly for the causes he believes in. --Farrell Evans
Mantle's mighty swings--and his misses--made him an icon for ageneration.
ERICK W. RASCO