‘Mickey and Willie,’ by Allen Barra

For the last few weeks, I spent my commutes to and from work, as well as my time in the car running errands and driving back and forth to Kansas City, listening to an audiobook: Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age by Allen Barra.  For some reason, it never occurred to me to consider the two men simultaneously.  I suppose that it didn’t fully click that they played Major League Baseball at the same time (funny how clueless I can be about something that I usually feel I know so well!).  But I am glad to have come across this biographical study of how the lives and careers of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays paralleled each other in so many ways.Mickey and Willie

In spite of the fact that their backgrounds differed so greatly, Mantle and Mays were virtually the same age, practically the same size (though Mantle was slightly bigger), and they both arrived in New York at the same time.  Both played center field and both had close relationships with their dominant fathers as they grew up in the South.

They even paralleled one another in the ways that they differed.  Mantle was white, Mays was black.  Mickey drank heavily, while Willie couldn’t stand alcohol.  Mickey stayed married to one woman, but was a notorious womanizer.  Meanwhile, Willie Mays married twice, but if there were any extramarital affairs, he kept them private.

The biggest thing these men shared in common was their celebrity and the expectations that came with that fame.  Both players experienced the fickleness of celebrity, being cheered one moment and booed in the next.  Each had a song written about him (“Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)” and “I Love Mickey”).  When Mantle was rejected for military service, fans turned on him for being a draft dodger.  When the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco, Willie Mays was booed for not being Joe DiMaggio and, likely, for being black.

The question of who was the better player comes up frequently in the book.  The answer Barra seems to hint at appears to indicate that it was Willie Mays, though Mickey Mantle would’ve had the title if only he would have taken better care of himself.  Mantle himself publicly conceded that Mays was the better player.  Mays, evidently the more prideful of the two, hated the idea of anyone being considered better than himself.

Barra puts his own personal touch into the book as well.  He discusses his own idolization of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.  He even admits that, the older he became and the more he learned about the two ballplayers, the more disillusioned he became.  Even in spite of this, he continued to admire them, accepting the fact that, in spite of their greatness on the diamond, Mantle and Mays were only men, after all.

All in all, I found this book a worthwhile read (or, in my case, a worthwhile listen).  The reader gets biographies of two players simultaneously, and it is done in a fashion that presents a perspective not usually found in biographies.

5 thoughts on “‘Mickey and Willie,’ by Allen Barra

  1. Precious, be careful out there driving. kind of off topic, but then again, is there an off topic? or just driving off the road and that’s my point here, about Egyptian drivers having to pull over to the side of the road when the diva Oum Kalthoum used to come on Egyptian radio to perform Fakarouni. Freaking long song that comes in waves or sections whatever they’re called in egyptian with intermissions and cheers and what not. These broadcasts-concerts came on the air suddenly so people were shocked and well, her emotional level is moving, disturbing and all that so they wisely pulled over to the side of the road and she doesn’t even start singing until 5:50 into the song, but the place goes pin dropping silent. The song is called “It Reminds Me” or that’s a loose translation an Egyptian guy gave me…. about love and that fragrance, that reminder and well, that sort of ties together with you rediscovering the past while driving. So be careful or do like the egyptians and pull over the damn car and if you have 59 minutes, ohhhhhhhhhh.

    1. Or I can listen to it while sitting at my desk at this thing we call work. I’m five minutes in, and I like it! …. Okay, just hit 5:50. This is getting even more interesting. I think I’m going to have to finish this.

      1. a few years ago i tried to make a transliteration of the words to this entire song for the purposes of singing along. You never know when a local karaoke bar might offer Oum Kalthoum’s “Fakarouni.” Sheeeesh, that would clear the place out quickly. But seriously. i found the experience amazing, to try and write down the words; amazing because it was so difficult. Really gave me a feeling of WOW over human languages. I struggled so much to put those sounds on paper in English letters and people actually speak those sounds and share intimacy and laughter with them! I felt like a sand grain in a giant universe, grateful to have baseball broadcasters to keep me company.

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