Allen Barra’s latest book, Mickey and Willie, is about two legendary baseball figures, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. The author wants his readers to understand that this is not a dual biography but a book paralleling the intersections and similarities between the lives of these two players. His theme throughout this book is to show how they were the products of baseball playing families that shaped their lives.
The author told blackfive.net that both these player’s lives were remarkably similar since they were the same age, about the same size, received fame at about the same time in the same city, New York, lived in the shadow of Joe DiMaggio, and had secret lives where they struggled with being a role model. In addition, both father and son saw it as an escape from a lifetime of brutal manual labor: Willie would have become a steelworker in the South and Mickey a miner in Oklahoma. Barra sees these figures as “the last great products of the industrial baseball leagues. These leagues were a big factor in organized baseball from WWI through the Eisenhower years. As manufacturing in the US dropped off so did this league.”
Barra traces their lives from the time their fathers taught them the game of baseball, becoming the most influential figures in Mantle and Mays’ lives. That is until they entered the Big Leagues where Frank Forbes and Hank Bauer, fellow big leaguers, became their mentors, acting as older brothers.
Throughout the book the author distributes tidbits of trivia. Here are just a few he emphasized to blackfive: Mantle received his famous knee injury chasing down a fly ball hit by Willie Mays, and Willie Mays came up with his own nickname, the “Say Hey Kid.”
When asked whom he thought was the better player, Barra responded, “If Mickey was injury free he would be considered the greatest. Mickey in his peak years was better than Mays. Give Mickey two good knees and he would have been better than Mays. A joke in the New Yorker, ‘how I would have loved to see what Mantle could have done on steroids. To find out why I hope people will read the book.”
Throughout the book he shows how the two players faced both trials and tribulations. Mantle’s personal life was a disgrace from being a heavy drinker to having constant affairs. Mays suffered anxieties and did not have a successful personal life. Barra wanted to show how “these two men were very immature. They had a problem growing into adults. It is tough to carry the burden of being that great athlete as well as that great person. I am hoping, if the reader gets nothing else out of this book, ‘beware of hero worship.’ It is ok to love and admire athletes, but as Red Smith says, ‘Don’t G-d them up.’”
Anyone who loves the game of baseball will want to read Mickey and Willie. This book offers a lot to those who want to learn more about the legendary figures, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.