“Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age”
By Allen Barra
Mantle’s death ended a dream Barra, an accomplished author and sportswriter, held for many years: To have a long interview with Mantle and the other iconic New York centerfielder of the same generation, Willie Mays.
Instead, Barra provides a dual biography in “Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age” ($27.00, 480 pp). Barra’s decades of research includes interviews with historians, early biographers, scouts, coaches and players.
“The more people I sought out who knew Willie and Mickey, the more I had a picture of two men who had never entirely grown up and who seemed just a bit bewildered that the world had passed them by while leaving them as famous as they had been in their playing days,” writes Barra.
Although much has been written individually about Mantle and Mays, especially Mantle, Barra does a nice job of blending their similarities.
Culturally, Mantle and Mays were light-years apart. Yet they were nearly the same age and almost the same size, and they came to New York at the same time. They possessed virtually the same talents and played the same position. They were both products of generations of baseball-playing families, for whom the game was the only escape from a lifetime of brutal manual labor.
Both were nearly crushed by the weight of the outsized expectations placed on them, first by their families and later by adoring fans. Mantle and Mays lived secret lives far different from those their fans knew (Mantle’s indiscretions have been widely chronicled).
While Mantle adored the limelight after his baseball career was over, Mays shunned it.
The unfortunate aspect of the book is that Barra had to rely on interviews with other sportswriters and historians because he was never able to interview Mantle before he died and Mays gave him just one sit down.
Mays talked about being too shy to approach Jackie Robinson and getting more kids involved in playing baseball.
But when the subject turned to civil rights, silence followed. “I don’t gotta say nothin’ to you about me and the civil rights.”
What will sure spark some debate is that Barra concludes that if Mantle and Mays, in their prime, lined up together to compete against all other players in the record book at the same time and under the same circumstances, it would be obvious they were the two greatest players ever.
Some of the stories are repetitive and can be found in other biographies of Mantle and Mays, but Barra succeeds in weaving them together.