Veteran sports journalist and biographer Barra (Yogi Berra, 2009, etc.) returns with a dual biography of two of baseball’s all-time greats.
The author does not employ Castor and Pollux imagery in his treatment of these two very similar athletes, but he might as well have. Throughout his well-researched and generous tale, he continually alludes to the similarities of these Hall of Fame centerfielders. From their baseball-playing fathers to their eerie physical resemblances to their remarkable multiple talents (hitting, power, speed, throwing arms), Barra highlights the enormous improbability of two such gifted athletes arriving simultaneously. Of course, there were differences. Mays, an African-American, always had to contend with race; there were critics who thought he did not do enough for civil rights. Mantle was an alcoholic (Mays never drank), a weakness that tarnished his image and limited his still-remarkable achievements. Mantle also suffered a bad knee injury in the 1951 World Series, and Barra reminds us that Mays hit the fly that Mantle was chasing at the time. Another difference: Mays entered the military, and Mantle, classified 4-F because of his osteomyelitis, had to endure taunts early in his career about his courage. Barra follows both men from childhood to the present (Mantle died in 1995), writing about their families, marriages, miscues, relationships, friendships (they liked each other) and post-baseball lives. He includes some social history, as well, including the Curt Flood lawsuit, and he blasts Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. The author argues that both players should have won MVP awards more often than they did.
Ages are “golden” only in misty-eyed retrospect, but Barra excels at showing these athletes’ superhuman abilities and all-too-human frailties.