|My Name was Mickey Mantle: Review by Bob Bailey
Willie Mays certainly had a superior career and Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and Sandy Koufax were stars of the first magnitude. But Mickey Mantle, the power-hitting speedster from Oklahoma, was the player who caught the imagination of young fans. Tape-measure home runs, the Triple Crown, pennants, and World Series victories made him the idol of boys growing up in that period.
Kaschak’s, My Name Was Mickey Mantle gives us a book that is part autobiography, part reminiscence, part hagiography, and part coming-of-age story. Growing up in Binghamton, NY in the 1960s Kaschak discovered Mantle as an eight-year-old and created a world in which he was Mickey Mantle. He didn’t copy Mantle or attempt to be like Mantle, he was Mantle. His imagination projected him on a path to baseball greatness as the next Mickey Mantle, ultimately surpassing his role model. While his personal worldview may have been a bit extreme, it was not wildly out of line with boys during the Mantle years. Growing up about 170 miles southeast of Binghamton in Clark, NJ, Mantle was my favorite player by a wide margin. I saw Mantle play many times in Yankee Stadium, untold times on television, and hundreds of games on the radio. Kaschak’s stories of growing up on the local ballfields, being picked last by the older kids when choosing up sides, being relegated to right field and the ninth spot in the batting order, entering organized leagues and moving through Little League and Babe Ruth teams all brought back memories (good and bad) of my childhood and probably for uncounted others.
The story runs through the heroics of a very good player in neighborhood games, and a top player in Little League. But mixed in are the disappointments. The key event of the book is the selection of a player to be elevated to a Little League roster in mid-season. Kaschak is sure he will be selected. He had so much going for him. He was the undisputed best hitter in his minor league. He had great power numbers and almost everyone expected him to be picked. Also, since the team seeking a new player was managed by his father-- it seemed like all the stars were aligned. When the announcement was made the star pitcher of the league was selected and Kaschak remained still seeking to be placed in the local Little League, Kaschak’s non-selection was devastating-- but ultimately a life lesson that he later found to be a crucial one that carried him through to adulthood. Among the lessons learned were that everything doesn’t go your way in life, but that doesn’t mean you don’t keep living your life.
So he continued on his current team and several weeks later he was elevated to the Little League when another opening appeared. But the life lessons did not stop. Over the course of years he came to recognize the difficult choice his father had made. It may have been unusual for a father not to choose his son for something the son so fervently wanted and that his son completely believed he deserved. But Kaschak came to see that his
father was picking the player that could best help the team. He came to see the ultimate fairness of the selection and have this awareness cause him to be focused as an adult on being fair in his decisions and being fair in his actions to others. Not a bad guiding principle to live by.
Throughout the book Kaschak gives his youthful self some very mature insights to the events he experiences. For a pre-teen it is difficult to imagine such intuitive understanding. But while he may not have had as deep an understanding of what was going on around him, it seems likely that he did have a sense that everything that happened to him was not a simple either/or choice. Over the years he may have refined these feelings into a deeper comprehension of the lessons of the events, but something was planted early in the young boy. My Name Was Mickey Mantle continues with Kaschak’s continuing to play baseball in the local Babe Ruth League and not making his high school baseball team when he first tries out. As he grows up his conception that he is Mickey Mantle fades and closes on a visit to Cooperstown and spending some time wandering in the outfield of Doubleday Field, where Mantle played an exhibition game in 1965. He knows that he was just pretending to be Mantle in his youth, but viewing that he was Mantle created memories, experiences, and insight to who he has become.
Bob Bailey is the author of, “History of the Junior World series,” a finalist for the 2004 Casey Award and, “Baseball Burial Sites.” He has contributed over a dozen articles to various SABR publications.