by Randall Swearingen
“The Last Boy” by Jane Leavy is an awkward combination of a history book, a newsstand tabloid and a personal memoir. Most of the first fifteen chapters are an interesting history book about Mantle’s childhood, the mining industry in Picher, and a couple of Mickey’s historic games. Interspersed are chapters about the author’s personal one day encounter with Mickey in 1983 (the personal memoir). Unfortunately, most of the last five chapters resemble a tabloid full of gossip, rumors and accusations that were derived from memories that are now 20 to 60+ years old. These alleged stories paint a dark and troubling image of this American icon as an alcoholic, womanizing, mean, bitter and miserable man as well as a bad husband and father.
As Leavy acknowledges in her book, I, Randall Swearingen, have spent much of the past fifteen years researching, collecting, protecting and defending The Mick. I too have spoken to many people about Mickey’s life and career. I realize that Mantle was not a perfect person. None of us are. He became an alcoholic some years after he retired from baseball (but not during his playing days as Leavy alludes). Mickey may have had his bad moments but he was often a very generous, thoughtful and pleasant man (traits skipped over in this book). As a close friend to the Mantle family, I can attest that Danny and David feel strongly that Mickey was a great dad. So which is the “real Mick” – Leavy’s version or mine?
I’m reminded of the old saying, “Don’t believe everything you read.” After reading this book, those words have even more meaning to me. Leavy is obviously a very gifted writer. She is very meticulous and careful to not misstate facts. But, the tabloid portion of this book relies solely on people’s recollections which are far from perfect and thus perform a serious injustice to Mantle’s image.
On one hand, Leavy defends human memory by stating, “I believe in memory, not memorabilia.” On the other hand, she acknowledges the fragile nature of memory by stating, “Memory is a process, albeit a faulty one.”
In the book’s preface, Leavy couldn’t remember herself whether Mickey gave her his personal sweater in 1983 or another sweater just like it. That, in itself, speaks volumes about the reliability of human memory when the author, herself, can’t recall the details of her own encounter with Mickey.
Therefore, due to the imperfect nature of human memory, I seriously doubt that all the tabloid-ish memories recounted in this book are accurate. But, finding skeletons in closets is more profitable than not finding them.
The personal memoir portion of the book reveals what appears to be a personal vendetta by Leavy against The Mick. She describes in the preface that back in 1983, she could not write the truth about her encounter with Mickey, in fear of being fired, and thus giving him a “pass”. At the end of the preface she writes, “… I also believe that denial is treacherous and taking refuge in generalities is the same as giving him another pass.” Thus, she felt she had let him off the hook in 1983 and she felt compelled to make him pay today. She proceeds to define and prosecute the man known as Mickey Mantle using her one day experience with him as the foundation.
I personally choose not to believe all the stories and claims in this book because they are not consistent with my knowledge and experiences regarding Mantle. Rather, I choose to remember Mickey based on facts and memorabilia because facts and memorabilia don’t lie. Mickey played the game with courage, competitiveness, passion, pure unbridled talent, style, grace and class. He was a great teammate. He loved his family. Regardless of what people write now and in the future about him, Mickey Mantle was, still is, and will always be a great American hero. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised that one hundred years from now, adults will still be proudly wearing number 7 jerseys to Yankee Stadium as well as children on little league fields around the country. Long live The Mick!