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7: the Mickey Mantle Novel
By Peter Golenbock
The Lyons Press Copyright © 2007 Peter Golenbock
All right reserved.
Chapter One The doctors said my cancer was going to kill me, and on August 13, 1995, they turned out to be right. I had termites. I heard that's what the Babe called them when he was dying. They got me, too. Fucking termites ate away my insides, and there wasn't a damn thing anyone could do about it. In my final days I didn't even have the strength to get out of my hospital bed and take a piss.
What really got my goat, I had stopped drinking right after my son Billy died, two years before. The doctors had said my drinking was killing me, so I went to the Betty Ford Clinic and quit cold turkey. I guess I didn't stop soon enough. The cancer hit my liver and spread through my body and ate me up until I looked like a skeleton. I shouldn't kick, though. I certainly had my share of good times.
Hey, what's the difference between a radial tire and two hundred blow jobs? Ya give up? One's a Goodyear. The other's a great year.
Hey, that's a joke. Get it? I got some real doozies. As I was saying, throughout most of my life, I was a hero to many people. I was as big as Elvis, but what no one ever understood was it never meant squat to me. I never could figure out this hero business. Why people worshipped me never made any sense. Twenty-five years after I put my bat down for the last time, I made more money in a year than I ever made as a ballplayer!Nearly half my life of not doing jack shit, and people were still paying me forty bucks a pop to sign my name to a picture, and I was signing thousands of them! Did you know one of my first baseball cards sold a few years ago for $275,000? That was from 1952, and two hundred seventy-five grand is a hell of a lot more than I made in 1952. You know why they're so rare? Back then kids would mail hundreds of them to me at the stadium to sign. I threw them all out. Fuck 'em, I couldn't be bothered. I never could understand why anyone wanted to save a piece of gum-smelling cheap cardboard with my picture on it. It seems ridiculous, when you think about it. For years those cards had no value whatsoever, but millions of people hung on to them anyway. The ones that exist today are owned by people smart enough not to send them to me as kids.
And if card collecting is dopey, autograph collecting is dopier. It's just somebody's name on a piece of paper. What good is it, unless it goes with a phone number and you get it from a really great-looking gal, and she calls you, comes over, and fucks your brains out?
Still and all, I have to admit I am grateful to all the old Yankee fans who would line up and pay me for my autograph. Wasn't for that, I probably would have been on welfare or in the gutter somewhere. If I was frugal, which I wasn't, I suppose I could have made do on my baseball pension. But after I retired the fans continued to pay big bucks for my fun, and so I tolerated them a lot more than I did when I played. When I was a player the fans were as big a pain in the butt as the pain-in-the-ass newspaper reporters.
It's one of my two big regrets, my not being nicer to the fans. They always were wanting something from me, but I never felt I was deserving, and often I'd punish them for that. I wanted to make them see that they shouldn't be hero-worshipping anyone, especially someone so unworthy as me, that the guy they worshipped was just a regular lunch-pail guy dressed up in a uniform to look like a hero.
We had fountain pens back then, and sometimes I'd deliberately squirt ink on their clothes, or I'd try to slam the bus window on their fingers, or if I didn't want to be bothered, which was most of the time, I'd tell a guy to "fuck off" and then I'd watch as he'd slink away, and I'd wonder who was the bigger asshole, him for asking or me for ruining his afternoon. Looking back, I'm really sorry I acted that way. I wish I could have been nicer. To all of you out there who met me on a day when I was not fit for the company of strangers, please, please forgive me. I wasn't myself. My best self.
If I played today and pulled some of that, I'd get sued, suspended, and probably released. Fans would look at me like I was a real head case. I suppose I was. Maybe that's why it's taken me nearly twelve years since I died to make it up here, to, well, the really big leagues. Took me that long to figure that out.
It wasn't until after I retired that I began to fully understand how important I had been to so many people. It was weird. No sooner had I quit, but it seemed like every week or so someone would mail me a fat scrapbook with clippings about my career. I had a pile of them. I spent hours sitting on the can reading the articles.
I have to say I was astonished that people had spent so much energy and time accumulating that stuff. They collected newspaper and magazine articles and photos about my life, when I figured they would have gotten a hell of a lot more pleasure collecting stuff about their own lives.
That's because I never saw myself as a hero, even when I was playing in the World Series or winning MVP awards. To me, a hero is someone who does something dangerous like the astronauts or someone who makes peace in the world, like Albert Einstein or George H. W. Bush. (I was a friend of Bush's son, George W., the former Texas governor, who at one time owned the Texas Rangers. We used to go out and get wasted together. The man can hold his liquor, let me tell you. The Rangers never won shit when he was the team president, but he was a lot of fun to be with. I was surprised he didn't end up commissioner of baseball. Or in rehab.)
A drunk gets on an elevator. He goes up one flight and a beautiful blonde gets on. He says, "Can I smell your pussy?" She says, "Why no, what do you think I am?" He says, "Then it must be your feet."
I was just a guy who played baseball, and most of the time I didn't even play it all that well. Hard to imagine, but they paid me big bucks to play a game I'd have played for free. When I hit a home run or made a catch, I wasn't being heroic. I was just doing what I was getting paid to do. I was doing the one thing my dad trained me to do. You can't be a hero if you're doing that.
No one could have known it, but being Mickey Mantle was a curse for a long, long time. If I'd known back when I was a kid what I know now, I like to think I would have told my dad to stick his ball bat where the sun don't shine and leave me the fuck alone, to pick the neighbor's kid and rest his hopes and dreams on him. Not that dad would have listened to me. Dads never listen to their kids. They have their own agendas. My dad had a very strong will. He had been a ballplayer as a kid, but when the Depression hit, he had to go to work. When I was born, he decided I was going to fulfill his dreams, and all he ever cared about was my becoming a professional ballplayer. That's why he made me practice every afternoon after he came home from the zinc mines. He even named me after a baseball player. Mickey Cochrane. A catcher for Detroit. My name actually is Mickey; it's not a nickname for Michael. I often wondered why my dad named me after that guy. Good thing dad didn't like Mel Ott. I'd have been Melvin Mantle. Would they have called me "The Mel"? If he had liked Goose Goslin or Heinie Manush, maybe I'd a ended up being called The Goose, or worse, The Heinie.
Say, what do you get when you cross a Cabbage Patch doll with the Pillsbury Doughboy? Give up? An ugly little bitch with a yeast infection.
I can talk more about my childhood, but I have this burning desire to do it in a book, a real book. When I was alive and kicking, I wrote a string of books. Publishers liked me to write them because they knew when I'd go to a bookstore to sign them, people would flock like sheep. Since I usually charged more for my autograph than the store charged for the damn book, the autograph collectors got a bargain, and the publisher got a sale. I suppose a few buyers even read them. Whether they did or not, I ended up making the bestseller list almost every time. Kinda makes a mockery of the book business, don't it? All those great philosophical college-smart writers busting their humps to write about life and death and pain and suffering, and they sell two thousand copies, and all I have to do is talk into a tape recorder for a few hours about my career, sign my name at Barnes & Noble, and bingo, a New York Times bestseller. Nothing to it. You would have to say I had led a charmed life.
My first autobiography was called The Making of a Ballplayer. Later I did a book all about my playing in the World Series. I did another one about the 1956 season, called My Favorite Season. I was going to do one about the 1961 series and call it The Infection in My Ass that Kept Me from Playing, but my publisher didn't think that was a good idea.
The thing is, I had too much pride to just let some hack sportswriter take a bunch of clippings and make a book out of my life, like some players do. Any time I wrote a new book, I felt I should write something different, so with each book I was forced to confess something new about my life. Charging for autographs aside, I always believed in earning my money, so you can't keep writing the same shit every time. Not long before I died and ended up here, I went on HBO and admitted to Bob Costas that I had a drinking problem. I told them how I had gone to Betty Ford to dry out. Now, I guess, it's time to write all about it.
I swore in the AA meetings I would look at myself honestly, so I have to tell the whole story. I know there will be people who will ask, Mickey, does the public really want to know the whole story? But somehow I ended up in heaven, so how could it hurt? God looks a hell of a lot like Casey Stengel, by the way. Only not as old.
Lies and coverups and misinformation is for those who passed and went to the other place where the sportswriters, politicians, and umpires end up. Although not really, it turns out. But I need to find the right guy to write this book with me. Once I find him, I can get started, and not only will I be able to recount some of the best moments of my life, but most important, I might be able to explain myself-to myself-to figure out why I turned out the way I did-to figure out why I loved to get rip-roaring drunk and screw the first willing ole gal who walked into the bar. And I know there will be a wide audience of guys who will read my stories and nod their heads knowingly, because they do it, too, only they don't do it as much, or as well. I used to live in Texas, and I know a hell of a lot of them because I would meet them almost every night. I also met them in Manhattan, Chicago, Kansas City, and Detroit. In Boston they were the whole city.
Of course, a lot of people won't want to read a book like this, people who are deeply religious or who don't like to look at naked gals, or women's libbers who think the word pussy is obscene unless you're talking about their cat. And women who suspect their husbands are cheating will not want to read this book. But I'm betting there are enough closet Peeping Toms who want to hear in detail about the great puss I had or read about blow jobs and orgies. I won't write about this stuff because sex sells-there's no money in heaven-but rather I have to write it because this stuff was real. These aren't made-up stories. They happened. It was what my life was all about, and if I'm going to make any sense of my life, I have to find out why I turned out to be the puss hound I ended up being. And maybe then my long-suffering wife Merlyn will understand. And maybe I will, too-but to do this I need to find the right sportswriter to work with me on it.
Turns out, not all the sportswriters end up in hell. Up here I found a wide variety of guys to choose from: Grantland Rice, Frank Graham, Arthur Daley, Red Smith, and Dick Schaap. Rice was before my time, Frank and Arthur loved me, never gave me any trouble. I never saw Red much. He wrote a column. Dick did TV, though he did write a lot of as-told-to books. He was one of the few sportswriters who I actually liked. Dick was smart, but he was one of those mythmakers. All athletes were his heroes. He once wrote a book about George Steinbrenner, and he never wrote one unkind thing about him. That's damn hard to do, and that's not what I need. I'm looking for a hard-nosed, skeptical guy who will ask the hard questions and force me to tell my story right.
I thought to myself, Who did you know who wasn't afraid to offend people? Then it hit me. The sports book that created the biggest stink when it came out was Ball Four, which was written by my big-mouth Yankee teammate Jim Bouton and published just after I retired. Boy, was I pissed when that hit the stands. Funny thing about Bouton: for a couple of years in the sixties he was a real fine pitcher. People forget that. He won eighteen games in 1963 and twenty-one games in 1964. I even gave him the nickname "Bulldog" 'cause he pitched so tough. He'd throw a pitch, his hat would come off, and he'd grunt. He was a competitor, I'll give him that. Then he hurt his arm from jerking off so much. Ha! Bouton was a different kind of duck. He didn't drink much, and he read books and spent a lot of time hanging out with reporters, guys most of us either didn't trust or hated, so none of his teammates trusted him very much.
And we turned out to be right about that. Anyone who liked those scumbags were suspect because few of the writers had any character. All they cared about was beating each other out for stories. They snuck around and wrote shit about you, whether it was their business or not, and what really made us mad, they had the right to give their opinions, whether they knew what they were talking about or not. Some of them were in bed with the owners, and so if a player got in a salary dispute, he would find himself getting reamed out in the papers. Looking back, we were lucky the reporters, as bad as they were, were nothing like reporters today. If players today did some of the stuff we did, the stories would be all over ESPN in a New York minute. It's hard to imagine the players today have much fun living under a microscope.
But the reporters from our day were bad enough. Fuckers ruined my buddy Roger Maris's career in New York. But Bouton liked them anyway, and I guess he was sneaking around like they did, 'cause all those years he kept a diary, and after he left the Yankees, he ended up on the Seattle Pilots, where he pitched for the worst team in baseball. The team was so bad it left Seattle after one year. Bud Selig bought it and moved it to Milwaukee. Guess Bouton figured his career was about over, so he'd make some money writing a book.
During that 1969 season he wrote what became Ball Four, in which he wrote that I liked to drink and that a bunch of us-including him-would go on the roof of the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., with a telescope to peep through high-rise windows at naked stewardesses, which was true, but that didn't mean he should have written about it. This was the sixties, for crying out loud, when nobody told nobody nothing. At first it really pissed me off, because those things weren't the things I wanted anyone to know. Hell, I had a wife and kids. What was he thinking? The worst part about it was after he wrote that, the next time I went back to the Shoreham, the stews, who were no dummies, kept their blinds drawn.
But then after Ball Four came out, a funny thing happened. Almost immediately, it seemed like I had become an even greater hero because I had done those things. People loved me more, they said, because Ball Four made me more human.
And once Bouton told the whole world that I drank, it gave me the courage to talk and write about it a little myself. I even wrote a little bit about some of the shit Billy Martin and I pulled. Not much, but just enough to give people an idea of how much fun Billy and I had together.
People don't remember anymore, but Bouton didn't write that book by himself. He had help. The more I think about it, the more I want that SOB to work on this book with me. His name was Leonard Shecter. He wrote for the New York Post. A rag, but it had a kick-ass sports section in those days. Shecter had a way of making a dull story exciting, I'll give him that. But he was an aggressive guy, and he scared me, so I avoided him whenever I could. I guess it bothered me that Bouton liked him when I was so afraid of him. But it goes without saying, without Lenny Shecter, there wouldn't have been a Ball Four.
Excerpted from 7: the Mickey Mantle Novel by Peter Golenbock Copyright © 2007 by Peter Golenbock. Excerpted by permission.
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