Friday, November 26, 2010

Jane Leavy

From Randy Dotinga's interview with Jane Leavy about her new book, The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood:

Q: What were you hoping to learn about Mickey Mantle?

I set out to answer a question posed by a man named Cromer Smotherman, who was a teammate of [Mantle's] in 1950 in Class C ball. The manager assigned this guy, a first baseman, to be Mantle's minder, to keep an eye on him and help try to regulate his moods because he was so hard on himself when he didn't do as well as he ought to have.

I asked this guy, "If you could speak to Mickey today, what would you ask him, what would you want to know?" The man actually got fairly choked up, and he said, "Mickey, why did you do it? Why did you choose to lead the life that you led? What happened? You were not that kind of person."

Those became my marching orders: to answer that question and to answer a second question: Why does he still have purchase on the American imagination 15 years after his death and decades after he played his last game? I was at a luncheon today and there were people lining up to buy the book who weren't born when he was playing.

Q: What made him unique?

There was a sense of optimism in the profligacy of his talent, the riches of his sheer power and speed. A miner's son in a godforsaken corner of the country that had been and would continue to be devastated by horrible environmental pollution, he seemed to epitomize what was best about us. He seemed to touch a sense of our potential, our resources and our strengths. It was that coast-to-coast smile, a name that had the meter and cadence of poetry.

And he left room for ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue