This offseason at PSA, I have the pleasure of combining my two favorite things in the world: literature and baseball. These two pursuits have been the driving forces in my life since I could walk, and I relish the opportunity to share them both with this online community during the long, cold months with no Yankees baseball.
While free agent and trade rumors are fun this time of year, there’s nothing like a good book to reflect on where the franchise has been and where it’s going. There are so many poignant and well-written entries in this vein — plays, biographies, journalism, fiction. From the beginning, the Yankees have represented limitless possibility, and many talented writers have tapped into that spirit.
Jane Leavy is one such writer, and she penned the haunting, aching biography The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, originally published in 2010 after Mantle’s death. The book is a meditation on both Mantle and the social, cultural change in America during the Fifties and Sixties. Leavy spent a large portion of her childhood with family in the Bronx during this time as a huge Yankee fan, watching Mantle, Maris, and company at the Stadium often. Her grandmother regaled her with stories of watching Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio achieve unthinkable things on the field in the previous generation, but also in the Bronx community at a time when the borough was finding its footing.
The writing is imbued with a sense of tragedy and is personally meaningful to Leavy — her late-life interview with Mantle juxtaposed with his peak is also her journey to reconcile the Mantle she remembers with the broken, drunk, unrecognizable old man in front of her. The result is a prosaic, deeply felt chronicle of the inevitable catastrophe in Mantle’s life. Nature versus nurture is another looming topic — the prose really turns a biography into a tragedy in the best way.
Because of his public descent into chaos, Mantle is the perfect subject for such an undertaking. So much about him was generalized and immortalized to his peril later in life: the good looks relative to his time, ruddy face, blonde hair, do-no-wrong country-boy swagger. In reality, the only thing easy about his life was his smooth left-handed swing. All the factors seemingly working in his favor became reminders of the dangers of idolization in his later years. Nobody can be a hero forever. Likewise, nobody can drink forever. Mantle worked himself thoroughly to the end of his rope, and the self-destructiveness was painful to watch. One question represent the emotional thesis of the book: what happens when a legend wears his stardom to the ground?
Leavy’s breakthrough work came on the other coast, where she previously wrote a similarly excellent biography of Sandy Koufax. She worked magic with the reluctant Koufax and extracted untold meaning from the strong, silent Dodgers legend. Other ventures include a Ruth biography, and recently she announced her next book will release in 2025, a history of MLB’s development titled Make Me Commissioner: I Know What’s Wrong and I Can Fix It.
So welcome to Yankees book club! Unlike fight club, talking about book club is encouraged. Our first discussion will be on December 28th over the first half of the book.