Sports Illustrated Â | Â October 11, 2010
He was the most famous face of America’s most famous franchise, his mythology burnished by adoring fans, writers, teammates and opponents. And then, as detailed in his forthcoming biography, there was the other Mickey Mantle, at once innocent and insatiable
by Jane Leavy
It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.
â€”E.B. WHITE, “Here Is New York” (1949)
In the spring of 1957 Mickey Mantle was the king of New York. He had the Triple Crown to prove it, having become only the 12th player in history to earn baseball’s gaudiest jewel. In 1956 he had finally fulfilled the promise of his promise, batting .353, with 52 homers and 130 RBIs. Everybody loved Mickey. “Mickey who?” the singer Teresa Brewer chirped. “The fella with the celebrated swing.”
Men wanted to be him. Women wanted to be with him. His dominion was vast, and his subjects were ardent. (One fan asked Lenox Hill Hospital for Mantle’s tonsils, which doctors there had removed following the 1956 season.) Mantle accepted his due with that great drawbridge of a smile that yanked the right-hand corner of his mouth upward to reveal a set of all-American choppers. “When he laughed, he just laughed all over,” his teammate Jerry Lumpe said.
Why wouldn’t he? Wherever Mantle went in the great metropolisâ€”Danny’s Hideaway, the Latin Quarter, the “21” Club, the Stork Club, El Morocco, Toots Shor’sâ€”his preferred drink was waiting when he walked through the door. Reporters waited at his locker for monosyllabic bons mots. Boys clustered by the players’ gate, hoping to touch him. It wasn’t enough to gawk at his impossibly broad shoulders and his fire-hydrant neck. They wanted tactile reassurance that he was for real. They scratched his arms, his face and the finish of every car he rode in. A burly security detail became mandatory.
Womenâ€”none more beautiful than he wasâ€”waited in hotel lobbies. Arlene Howard, the wife of Yankees catcher Elston Howard, says that when she met Mantle for the first time, she thought,Â My God, who is that? Just the physical body, I’d never seen anything like that. There was something about his presence that was just absolutely stunning.
“He was adorable,” said Lucille McDougald, the wife of Yankees infielder Gil McDougald. “We used to joke about it: Who wouldn’t hop into bed with him, given the opportunity, just for the fun of it?”
In the locker room his teammates tried not to stare:Â What’s he talking about? What’s he doing? Later they would laugh, embarrassed but relieved to find out everyone else was doing the same thing. “It was the ungodliest feeling in the world,” said third baseman Clete Boyer.
Mantle didn’t want to stick out, but he did. He didn’t wish to be treated as special, but he was. He was uncomfortable being the center of attention, but he was the centerfielder for the most famous franchise in sports.
“He didn’t want to be exempted as one of the great ballplayers,” said teammate Tony Kubek, a rookie shortstop in 1957. “He just wanted to be with his boys.”
Oh, that night,” Carmen Berra said, recalling Billy Martin’s 29th birthday, the last one before you get old. On May 16, 1957, Mantle and Whitey Ford had planned a night on the town with Martin. Lucille and Gil McDougald were invited but had made other plans. Arlene and Elston Howard couldn’t get a babysitter. Teammates Andy Carey and Jerry Coleman were also invited. “Who’s coming?” Coleman asked. Hearing the guest list, he said, “I think I’ll pass.”
Bob Cerv and Irv Noren, former teammates in town with the Kansas City A’s, joined Carmen and Yogi Berra, Joan and Whitey Ford, Charlene and Hank Bauer, Merlyn and Mickey Mantle, Yankees pitcher Johnny Kucks and Martin for dinner at Danny’s Hideaway, where the birthday boy was toasted often and liberally. When everyone else headed to the Waldorf-Astoria for an after-dinner drink or two and Johnnie Ray’s 10:30 p.m. show, Cerv and Noren went home to bed.
The pastry chef at the Waldorf had baked a birthday cake, which the Yankees took with them when they decided to go hear Sammy Davis Jr. at the Copacabana. The Copa was a mainstay of New York cafÃ© society, the nightspot for “stay-outs” and “their pin-ups.” It was just off Central Park, at 10 East 60th Street, a sober limestone apartment building with a decorous burgundy awning that gave no hint of the Latin attitudes and latitudes prevailing in the basement. The Copa was the only club in town that bragged “three shows a night, seven nights a week, at 8, 12 and again at 2” and billed itself as “the hottest club north of Havana.”
The Yankees and their baked goods arrived in time for the 2 a.m. show. Jules Podell, who ruled the club with an iron fist and a massive gold pinkie ring, was a Yankees fan. “They put a special table for us up front,” Carmen said. “We were the kings and queens of New York.”
Being of regal stature meant you could disappear below the city streets into a fantasy world (capacity: 670) populated with boldfaced names and the gossip columnists who lavished ink on them. Leonard Lyons, Walter Winchell, Ed Sullivan and Dorothy Kilgallen mingled with talent scouts, casting agents, sports stars and the wise-guy colleagues of the club’s very silent owner, mob boss Frank Costello.
Also celebrating that night, at two large tables near the Yankees, were members of an upper Manhattan bowling club, the Republicans, who had begun their evening with dinner at Mama Leone’s. There were 19 in their party, among them Edwin Jones, 42, of 600 West 188th Street, a Yankees fan who went over to pay his respects to the players and draped a familiar arm over Martin’s shoulder.
What happened after that would remain a matter of dispute. One thing everyone agreed on: They had all had a lot to drink. Words were exchanged between the two parties, and between the bowlers and the stage. And then there were fisticuffs, as reported by eyewitness Leonard Lyons in his column in theÂ New York Post. “The great battlefields include Bastogne, Verdun, Gettysburg and the kitchen of the Copacabana,” Lyons wrote. “The nightclub fracas … was preceded by a racial slur, directed at Sammy Davis Junior’s farewell show.”
“They were calling Sammy Davis Jr. Little Black Sambo,” Merlyn Mantle told me in the summer of 2009. “Four guys came to his aid. They asked the [bowlers] to tone it down.”
Hank Bauer, the Yankees’ rightfielder, said, “We’ve got ringside seats, great big round table, and we’re drinking B&B and coffee. And this big fat Jewish guy came walking by me.” Bauer assumed he was Jewish because he owned a deli.
“He was at a bowling party. He said, ‘Don’t test your luck too far tonight, Yankee.’ I give him my best vocabulary: two words. And now he’s down at the end of the table, him and his son-in-law, I think it was. The son-in-law went back to the men’s room.”
Martin, an improbable peacemaker, got up from the table to go have a talk with him. Mantle followed. “So Ford says, ‘You better go see what the hell’s happening,'” Bauer said. “My wife, Charlene, says, ‘It ain’t none of your business.’ I say, ‘Yes, it is.’ I went back there, and I opened up the door. I saw nothing but tuxedos. And Yogi and Johnny Kucks ran into me and said, ‘Get the hell out of here.'”
Edwin Jones, the convivial bowler, was unconscious on the floor.
In his May 19 column Lyons wrote, “On my way out I saw the victim being carried into an ambulance, and so I returned to the Copa lounge and there met the ballplayers. Yogi Berra noticed I was asking questions. He feigned utter innocence, walked toward me and greeted, ‘Hello, what’s new?'”
Years later Lyons would tell his son, film critic Jeffrey Lyons, about the rest of the conversation. “Yogi and my father were about the same height,” Jeffrey said. “He couldn’t see easily over Yogi’s shoulder. Yogi shifted left and right to keep my father out. My father said, ‘You give me an exclusive, and I’ll tell you the way out the secret passage when it was a speakeasy.'”
Thus the New York Yankees made their getaway.
At 3:16 a.m. Jones was admitted to the emergency room at Roosevelt Hospital, where he was treated by a young medical resident named Cedric Priebe, whose report noted, “Nose broken (but not displaced); ribs, scalp and jaw bruised; X-rays inconclusive.”
Jones didn’t know who or what had hit himâ€”he said he remembered nothing until he woke up at the hospital, into which he had walked on his own two feet. The next morning he was well enough to receive reporters at his apartment, where he professed affection for Bauer. “I’m not going to make a case of it,” he said.
To which his lawyer, Anthony Zingales, replied, “You be quiet.” Leonard Jones, the victim’s brother, filed a complaint against Bauer, a retired Marine known to his teammates as the Bruiser, charging him with felonious assault.
The morning papers had already gone to bed by the time the Bauers got back to their apartment at the Concourse Plaza Hotel in the Bronx. “About four o’clock in the morning the phone rang,” Bauer said. “It’s a writer. ‘Hank, what are you going to do about this?'”
“I says, ‘Now what the hell are you talking about?'”
“‘Well, this guy claims you hit him.'”
“I said, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t hit anybody.'”
The Yankees issued a statement that their private investigators had satisfied general manager George Weiss that none of the players had struck anyone. The afternoon tabloids blared the news:
YANKEES’ BAUER IN COPA BRAWL!
BAUER: I DIDN’T SOCK GUY IN KISSER
TheÂ Post listed possible managerial sanctions, including “the silent treatment.” But manager Casey Stengel had plenty to say to the papers. He benched Berra and Ford and dropped Bauer to eighth in the batting order. Martin was injured and not expected to play. He didn’t expect to remain a Yankee, either. “I’m gone,” he told Mantle, who batted third as usual.
“I’m mad at him, too,” Stengel said of Mantle. “But I’m not mad enough to take a chance on losing a ball game and possibly the pennant.”
As far as the Yankees’ higher-ups were concerned, Martin was the chief suspect because he always was. Just who hit whom was far less important than the precedent set by the morning’s 72-point headlines. Martin’s birthday party was prima facie evidence that things weren’t exactly as they had once appeared in the Wheaties ads featuring the Mick’s all-American mug. The Copa kerfuffle was the first public intimation of Mantle’s off-field embrace ofÂ la vida loca.
Not everyone in New York was in Mantle’s thrall. At Yankee Stadium, Frank Gifford, the splendid flanker for the New York football Giants, shared a locker with Mantle. “Excuse me, he shared a locker with me,” Gifford corrected. They also shared Hollywood looks, a 1956 championship ring and the Most Valuable Player trophy. The Yankees called Gifford “Sweetness.” Gifford called Mantle a “total ass—-. Not a nice person. I didn’t know him, but I didn’t want to know him. The little bit I was around him, I didn’t want to be around him. We deified somebody who hits the ball a long way, ’cause he’s got a bad knee. Other than that, what did he do? What did he really do to help society in any way?”
Gifford, whose extramarital athletics were videotaped in a 1997 tabloid sting, has survived his own public shaming, but he has hardly softened his stance: “I’m just not a Mickey Mantle fan. I never was. He hit a ball a long way, and then he was a sexist. He was not my kind of person. We were MVPs the same year. I would hate to think I was even close to what he was.”
Sportswriters buttressed the myth of the Mickâ€”or, at the very least, didn’t challenge it. The Copa story, in fact, was broken by city-side reporters. The sportswriters’ unstated code of honor was to look the other way. The writers traveled, ate and drank with the team. Their tab was often paid by the team. “You couldn’t write one word of it, the debauchery,” said Jack Lang, the longtime executive secretary of the Baseball Writers Association of America. “It wasn’t just liquor. It was the women.”
One of the more egregious examples of sports-deskÂ omertÃ was recalled by Bert Sugar, a Hall of Fame boxing writer who learned his trade at the rail of Toots Shor’s. One day he was at the bar with John Drebinger, theÂ New York Times man who, over 40 years, wrote the lead story on 203 consecutive World Series games. Drebby, as his colleagues called him, regaled Sugar with a tale from an overnight train trip with Babe Ruth’s Yankees. “The writers had their own car, and dinner had been served,” Sugar recounted. “They’d cleared the tables, and they’d just dealt out a hand of bridge when the door to the back of the car flew open, and Babe Ruth ran down the aisle naked. And about 10 feet behind him a woman, equally naked, with a knife in her hand, comes running out! And Drebby says one of the guys looks up from the table and says, ‘Well, that’s another story we won’t cover!'”
It was a liquid time in America. The language, the culture, and the national pastime were suffused with booze: Raise a glass. Wet your whistle. Line ’em up. And always, have one for the road. As Toots, the Prohibition bouncer turned saloonkeeper, declared, “I never felt guilty about a drink in my life. It’s beautiful, legal or illegal.”
Stengel divided the Yankees’ clubhouse into “them milk drinkers” and those he called “whiskey slick,” which is how Mantle and Ford came by their shared nicknameâ€”Slick. Stengel’s notion of drinking responsibly was to warn his players not to drink in the hotel bar because “that’s where I do my drinking.” His notion of punishment? Put hungover transgressors in the starting lineup. After one dispiriting loss, he threatened to make nonperformers “go out and get a double Scotch and a woman.”
No one in baseball thought Mantle’s drinking was exceptional, because it wasn’t. Only Merlyn’s father seemed to think Mickey’s drinking was problematic. One day, back home in Commerce, Okla., during the 1956–57 off-season, when Mickey volunteered to babysit while Merlyn was out shopping, he took Mickey Jr. with him to his favorite watering hole. When they didn’t return as expected, Merlyn’s father, Giles Johnson, a church deacon, went looking for them. When he found them at Mendenhall’s, his son-in-law was on the floor wrestling with another patron. Mickey Jr. was sitting on the bar holding his father’s beer. It was “the first time I went to a bar and tasted my first beer,” Mickey Jr. recounted inÂ A Hero All His Life, the family memoir he wrote with Merlyn and his brothers Danny and David. “It wouldn’t be worth telling except that I was three years old.”
Danny Mantle picks up the story. “Grandpa took the beer out of his hand and grabbed Mickey Jr.,” he said. “When he walked by, he picked up Dad’s head and went, ‘Don’t ever do this again,’ and dropped it back down. Dad went back to fighting, and Giles walked out with Mickey.”
Whitey, Mickey and Billy: grown men with little boys’ names. Stengel called them his Three Musketeers. In 1956, under the full-time influence of Martin (who had been released from the Army just in time for the ’55 World Series), Mantle had one of the best years anyone has ever had in a baseball uniform. “I wish somebody would influence me like that,” Martin said later.
Martin was Mantle’s closest friend and polar opposite. Mantle was tongue-tied, country-fed and shy; Martin was swaggering, street-smart and volatile. “Billy was a fighter, not a lover,” said Noren, who roomed with Mantle while Martin was in the Army. “Mickey was a lover, not a fighter.”
For Mantle, the Yankees’ locker room was a sanctuary, a safe haven where he was understood, accepted and, when necessary, exonerated. He was a guy’s guy who called everyone “bud” or “pard.” But he was unafraid to show tears, whether they were generated by a country-and-western song or a dying child placed in his arms outside Griffith Stadium in Washington,Â D.C. Gentle was the word his teammates used most often to describe him.
Beat writers suspected there was another Mantle, one who didn’t begin every conversation with an expletive. But few outsiders saw that Mantle. Imagine the surprise when he showed up at a Chicago hospital to visit the mother of a female acquaintance with a raft of teammates in tow and a bouquet of flowers.
When Martin rejoined the Yankees, the roommates resumed their prank-playing partnership. They staged water-gun battles in the locker room, and from the safety of the clubhouse they took aim at unsuspecting female noncombatants standing on the ticket line. “The Yankees’ clubhouse was, like, below street level,” Mantle told me in 1983, when, as a reporter forÂ The Washington Post, I spent a weekend interviewing him in Atlantic City. “We had windows, like, where people are walking along. Girls used to come stand there, and we used to shoot water guns up in their p—. We could see ’em kind of flinch. They’d be looking around trying to figure out where the f— that water is coming from.”
Martin and Mantle were gleeful peeping Toms. At the team hotel in Detroit they crawled onto the window ledge, dead drunk, hoping to see a teammate getting lucky. Twenty-two stories above the street, acrophobia kicked inâ€”and there was no going backward. They had to crawl all the way around the building through decades of pigeon droppings to get back to their room. To their great regret they didn’t cop a glimpse of anything.
During contract negotiations with Weiss, the Yankees’ general manager, in January 1957, Mantle had asked for $65,000, twice his ’56 salary. Weiss replied with a threat, producing a fat file of incriminating evidence. To wit: “Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle left the St. Moritz at 6 P.M. Came in at 3:47 A.M.” (Stengel’s method of surveillance was simpler: He’d send the elevator operator upstairs after midnight to get autographs, thus documenting the curfew breakers by their absent signatures. Stengel’s biographer, Robert Creamer, cited the Ol’ Perfessor’s lesson for tomcatting ballplayers: “It ain’t getting it that hurts them, it’s staying up all night looking for it. They gotta learn that if you don’t get it by midnight, you ain’t gonna get it, and if you do, it ain’t worth it.”)
There was nothing funny or subtle about Weiss’s attempted blackmail, recounted Mantleâ€”who got his $65,000 after the intervention of Yankees ownershipâ€”inÂ The Mick, the 1985 autobiography he wrote with Herb Gluck. “He pats the folder, leans back in his chair, and twiddles his thumbs…. With slow deliberation he checks through a batch of papers and suddenly slaps them down on the desk. ‘Here, take a look,’ he says, the venom returning to his voice. ‘I wouldn’t want this to get into Merlyn’s hands.'”
Nonetheless, it remained a giddy, high-octane time. The players lived over the speed limit, and Mantle was a get-out-of-jail-free card. There were no rulesâ€”and there was no one to enforce them. After the death of Mutt Mantle in 1952 there was no one to say no to Mickey Mantle. The son would not grant that authority to anyone again. “He wasn’t under anybody’s finger anymore,” Merlyn told me. “He could do what he wanted.”
Miss Marjorie Bolding tried to teach Mantle some manners. He had met her at Manhattan’s Harwyn Club, a swank joint where Grace Kelly had announced her engagement to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Bolding was a Southern belle from Birmingham and an aspiring actress and writer. She recalled, “The maÃ®tre d’ came over and said, ‘Mr. Mantle wants to meet you.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know who Mr. Mantle is.’ He wanted me to come over to his table. I said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t go to anybody’s table. If he wants to meet me, he’ll have to come to my table.’
“I remembered that I’d seen him on television, advertising Chesterfield or Camel cigarettes. So I get up to go to the little girls’ room, which was very small, just one little booth. I came out of the stall, and Mickey was standin’ in the little girls’ room! He had his hand across the door and said, ‘You’ve got the prettiest blue eyes I ever saw.’ I said, ‘Do you really smoke those cigarettes?’ He said, ‘Nah, I don’t smoke.'”
It was the beginning of what she calls “a unique and personal” relationship. The first time they went out for a drink he asked her up to his hotel room. He said he had something he wanted to show her. She ignored her mama’s warning and went. “We’d become friends by then,” she said. “He showed me what he wanted to show me and started the procedure to kiss me. But when he got a little too amorous, I said, ‘Oh, Mick, if you think I came up to your room because I’m gonna go to bed with youâ€”let me tell you right now, that’s not gonna happen.’ And I got up and walked out of his room, and he came runnin’ up the hall. He said, ‘I’m sorry, Marjorie, I’m sorry.’ I walked out of the hotel, and he came down and got me a cab. But he realized right then that I was totally differentâ€”I was a Southern lady. He liked me because I didn’t go to bed with him.”
What a time it was, to be a young girl from Alabama barhopping with the man. “There were [times] I don’t think we got out of the limousine for two days!” Bolding said. “He was the most fun. Nobody could play ball like Mickey, and nobody could play like Mickey.”
His teammates cleared out of his room when Bolding visited. If call girls were present, Mantle quickly let them know Bolding was different. And he never said a bad word about his wife. “Ever, ever, ever,” Bolding said. “He had respect, if you can call it respect, for the wife and what she represented in his life.”
Merlyn was forthright about Mickey’s infidelity inÂ A Hero All His Life: “He was married in a very small geographic area of his mind.” Merlyn had come to understand that her husband regarded marriage as “a party with added attractions.”
Mantle knew New York’s demimonde as well as its cafÃ© society. His roommate, Noren, introduced him to a celebrity essential: the fixer. Julius (Big Julie) Isaacson, the president of the International Union of Doll, Toy and Novelty Workers, was also a would-be pitcher who threw with such velocity that he could knock down a wallâ€”but only if he didn’t aim at it. He was 6’3″ and weighed a couple of hundred pounds. A boxer, he later managed Ernie Terrell when Terrell became heavyweight champion. Big Julie was a good friend to have when you were falsely accused of getting someone pregnant. “Mickey had a problem,” said Isaacson. “A girl was trying to shake him down. It wasn’t his. We had the girl come over to the Edison. We met her there. Took her to the East River and told her she had two choices: Leave Mickey alone, or this.”
Weiss was not the only high-level official who took an interest in Mantle’s off-field activities. Mantle was one of millions of Americans on whom FBI director J. Edgar Hoover kept tabs. He never was the subject of an FBI investigation, but when his name surfaced in other probes, Hoover kept the notes. In 1969 John Ehrlichman, counsel to President Richard M. Nixon, requested a background check on Mantle and a group of other baseball personalities. The FBI responded, “Our files reveal that information received in June, 1956 indicated that Mickey Mantle was ‘blackmailed’ for $15,000 after being found in a compromising situation with a married woman. Mr. Mantle subsequently denied ever having been caught in a compromising situation. Mr. Mantle readily admitted that he had ‘shacked up’ with many girls in New York City, but stated that he has never been caught.
“A confidential source, who has furnished reliable information in the past, advised in June, 1957, that a very prominent Washington, D.C. area gambler and bookmaker arranged dates for members of the New York Yankees baseball club at a Washington, D.C. house of prostitution. Allegedly, Mr. Mantle was one of the members of the team who was entertained at this house of prostitution.”
Merlyn said that she had no knowledge of her husband’s FBI file, but she had no doubt who was leading him astray. “Why can’t you get Whitey Ford to room with Billy on the road?” she asked Noren one day.
He told her, “Merlyn, he won’t do it.”
On June 24, 1957, the Copa Six were summoned to appear before a grand jury at the Criminal Courts Building in lower Manhattan. The Manhattan district attorney had declined to prosecute Bauer, so Edwin Jones pursued his only remaining legal remedy: a citizen’s arrest on a charge of felonious assault. He demanded $250,000 in damages. Bauer exercised his right to have the case presented to a jury, which his lawyer no doubt hoped would be stacked with Yankees-loving peers.
Mantle was the last of five players to testify. He took the stand with a mouth full of bubble gum. Admonished about his lack of decorum, Mantle obligingly removed the offending wad and stuck it to the bottom of his chair. “I was so drunk I didn’t know who threw the first punch,” Mantle testified. “A body came flying out and landed at my feet. At first I thought it was Billy, so I picked him up. But when I saw it wasn’t, I dropped him back down. It looked like Roy Rogers rode through the Copa on Trigger and Trigger kicked the guy in the face.”
The grand jurors were still laughing when they handed down their decision.
BAUER IS CLEARED IN ASSAULT CASE; GRAND JURY REFUSES TO INDICT YANKEE PLAYER
The next day at Toots Shor’s, Mantle announced the formation of the Mickey Mantle Hodgkin’s Disease Research Foundation at St. Vincent’s Hospital, in memory of his father, who had died of the disease. On July 3 Bauer sued Edwin Jones for false arrest, seeking $150,000 in damages. New York’s most famous bowler was never heard from again.
Yet Billy Martin’s birthday party would turn out to be a watershed event, and not just because it had given Weiss the occasion to trade him to the Kansas City A’s on June 15. It was the day sportswriting began to grow up. The era of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil would not withstand TV’s cathode glare or the skepticism of increasingly irreverent sportswriters, for whom questioning authority would be a generational prerogative.
That September, Mantle was hitting .369, with 34 home runs and 91 RBIs, when he landed in the hospital with what the Yankees called “shin splints.” He had injured himself playing golf with pitcher Tom Sturdivant on a day off, and playing golf on an off day, unlike imbibing, was against Stengel’s rules. Hurling his putter in frustration, he had broken a tree limb and sliced his leg down to his shinbone. He missed five games, his first of the season.
While he was recuperating at Lenox Hill Hospital, America was reading about the hijinks that took place in Hank Bauer’s apartment above the Stage Deli in 1951, Mantle’s rookie season. The exposÃ© in the September 1957 issue ofConfidential magazine was a follow-up to one penned six months earlier by Holly Brooke, a New York showgirl with whom Mantle had had a rookie-year fling. Mantle, Martin and Bauer appeared arm-in-arm, grin-to-grin beneath the cover line, THERE WAS NO UMPIRE AROUND WHEN … THESE YANKEES HAD A BALL! In the May 19 issue of theÂ New York Journal-American, Dorothy Kilgallen had hinted at the same when she wrote in her column, “The prelude to the Hank Bauer nightclub fracas has been worrying the Yankees’ brass for some time. Ask anyone who lives in the neighborhood of the colorful Stage Delicatessen, where Hank and Mickey Mantle used to be quite famousâ€”and not just for playing ball.”
George Weiss saw the printer’s ink on the wall, and he was plenty worried. “People have been looking for incidents since the Copa affair,” he would lament in a 1960 interview withÂ The Saturday Evening Post. “A national TV network was considering the Yankees for the same sort of inspirational show that is built around institutions like West Point and Annapolis. This might have steered some good prospects to us, and the players could have made some extra money appearing on the program. But the project was shelved after the Copa affair.”
Mantle was the Last Boy in the last decade ruled by boys, when it was O.K. to laugh at them for being themselves, and O.K. not to know and O.K. to forgive what you did know.
Several years before Mantle entered the Betty Ford Clinic in January 1994, his friend Tom Molito, a videographer, would film him at a particularly liquid New York banquet. When Mantle was shown the footage by Molito in an effort to compel his friend to confront his addiction, he was furious. “I asked him if he had ever met Elvis,” Molito said. “He didn’t understand why I asked.”
Excerpted from THE LAST BOY: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood,Â by Jane Leavy. Copyright Â© 2010 by Jane Leavy. Published by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers.