In reality Mickey Mantle was a tragic figure. In pure baseball terms he was one of the greatest players of all-time but could have been even greater. He was plagued by injuries his entire career. He may have been the fastest player in the majors but suffered a debilitating knee injury when he caught his spikes on a rubber drain in the Yankee Stadium outfield during the 1951 World Series (ironically on a fly ball hit by Willie Mays). He lost his blazing speed and was tortured by constant physical ailments throughout his playing days. The fact that he had a Hall of Fame career is a testimony to his fortitude and high pain threshold.
Off the field Mantle was the complete anti-hero. He was a drunk and a womanizer. He used crude language around women, was often rude to fans and people in general, and was hardly ever home with his wife and kids. More likely he was off partying with teammates Billy Martin and Whitey Ford or spending the night with one of his mistresses.
There were times when Mantle could be quite generous and thoughtful, but there was never any consistency to him. His drinking escapades undid him. His infidelity didn’t help matters, either. He was haunted by his father’s early death to cancer and his father’s cold-blooded attitude towards him. He was also sexually abused as a child. All four of his sons ended up with substance-abuse problems and two died of cancer.
All these revelations are detailed in a 2010 biography of Mantle by Jane Leavy, “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood.” Leavy worshiped Mantle growing up but was brought back to earth by his inappropriate behavior toward her during an interview in 1983. Her research for this book was exhaustive, as she spoke with Mantle’s family, teammates, friends and many associates. She covers the good and bad in Mantle’s life. It’s safe to say it’s the definitive biography of the man.