Liudmila Konovalova: The New Maya

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Dressed in black leg warmers and an insulated lavender down vest to ward off the cold that had chilled the magnificent opera house, the disarmingly gracious Konovlova, the prima ballerina of the Vienna State Ballet — the Wiener Staatsballett, sank herself into a rehearsal break just off an enormous ballet training room as she contemplated a journalist’s question about her childhood idol.

Like most Russian-born dancers, Liudmila Konovalova grew up fantasizing that she would follow in the toe shoes of the country’s fabled ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, who spent much of her career as a captive under fierce scrutiny and at the murderous whim of Stalin’s regime, but still shimmered as one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century.

Ballerinas Maya Plisetskaya and Luidmila Konovalova at the legendary Russian ballet icon's 85th birthday gala where Konovalova performed her signature Black Swan pas de deux. (Courtesy of Liudmila Konovalova, © Copyright 2016.)

Ballerinas Maya Plisetskaya and Luidmila Konovalova at the legendary Russian ballet icon’s 85th birthday gala where Konovalova performed her signature Black Swan pas de deux. (Courtesy of Liudmila Konovalova, © Copyright 2016.)

But for Konovalova, that fantasy was little more than a fairy tale, a seemingly unrealistic goal given her circumstances. The child of a broken home, she lived in a shelter as a teen and was rejected by the Bolshoi Ballet company after going through its academy. She had little reason to expect that one day her homeland’s ballet icon would wondrously connect with her artistically and personally, breathing new life into her dreams, not unlike Michelangelo’s near-touching hands of God and Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Much less could she have foreseen a scenario in which that would happen when she was literally down and out — and in the most embarrassing position possible.

But that was the spectacle Konovalova now remembered from Italy’s 2007 Premio Roma Dance competition at which Plisetskaya was head of the judging jury, and where Konovalova dreaded she had chosen to perform the challenging Black Swan pas de deux in front of her role model whose storied name was synonymous with “Swan Lake” in the world of ballet.

“I was thinking, the Black Swan is… one the most famous roles that Maya Plisetskaya did,” recalled Konovalova who had never met Plisetskaya until that competition, “and now I (am) gonna show her my Black Swan! I thought it’s a joke. That would be total fiasco.”

Almost prophetically, in the middle of her performance that day, Konovalova’s worst fears pirouetted out of control. Slipping and as her legs gave way underneath her, she felt certain that her dreams of winning the competition had just fluttered somewhere beyond her black tutu — all in front of Plisetskaya. 

“I finished my (Black Swan) variation exactly (as) the music was ending, seated on my ass,” said Konovalova, one of the select group of dancers who performed at the Ave Maya Gala at London’s Coliseum Theatre in 2016 honoring Plisetskaya, who died the previous year at the age of 89. “Yes, I fall completely on my popo, bottom, rear, ass — however you call it — it is the fact.

“I was sure I am out of the competition and plus such big shame… But right after I was sitting on my ass, Maya Plisetskaya stands up. (She) was clapping and laughing!

“So then we did (the) coda. I did my fouettés. This all went fine. We got a really good applause, but she was (giving) me standing ovation…”

The competition wasn’t over, though Konovalova figured she could no longer even place, much less win, and that in further rounds could only hope to complement her dance partner who was still up for a prize himself.

“That gave me time to give more to understand the situation,” she said, looking back on what appeared to be developing into a disappointing moment in her career. “I was officially working nowhere. I (was) finished with Russia. I had (a) contract to Berlin, but I (was) suppose to start in two months.

Liudmila Konovalova and Matthew Golding performing in 'Swan Lake.' Courtesy of Liudmila Konovalova, Copyright 2016.

Liudmila Konovalova and Matthew Golding perform in ‘Swan Lake’ in Moscow in 2015. (Photo by Alex Pankov. courtesy of Liudmila Konovalova, © Copyright 2016.)

“So I was girl from nowhere.”

Then, as all hope seemed gone, fate stepped in.

“Konovalova! Where is my Konovalova?” “Коновалова,где моя Коновалова!”

Startled out of her self-pity over having fallen in competition, Liudmilia couldn’t believe she was hearing Plisetskaya’s voice screaming her name in their native Russian tongue. “Konovalova! Where is my Konovalova?”

“I was scared… but went front… And then comes unbelievable thing,” said Konovalova, who found Plisetskaya reaching to embrace her. “She hugs me and tells me how great it was and that I gonna get a first prize, and that she remembers how hard was this variation of Black Swan, and I am doing it so light, like nothing.

“And that I am real ballerina.

“I thought I am dreaming… Deeply! And need to wake up… But it was the truth! Sometimes I cannot even talk about it because it sounds so unrealistic!

“So then it was second round and on to the third I had to repeat Black Swan again. She came to me right after third round was finished. She told me that it is the best Black Swan she ever saw. She told me that I will get first prize and I will not share it with anyone — normally very often they share the prizes — but Maya Plisetskaya said, ‘No way. She will get it alone!’

“And I got it! And got it alone! And I know that she was fighting for me, and because it was against their rules to give it just to me, and Maya Plisetskaya had major fight, but she did what she told me! And this you almost never see now.”

A touch of the hand of providence indeed.

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Feedback on Gehrig & The Babe Cover Mockup?

Just received the final cover mockup for ‘Gehrig & The Babe’ for my input. What do you think?

 

Gehrig and the Babe DUST JACKET

‘DiMag & Mick’ Reveals Mickey Mantle’s True Love

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Young lovers Holly Brooke and Mickey Mantle out on the town in Manhattan in 1951, his rookie season chronicled in DiMag & Mick. (Mickey Mantle Museum)

 

“Above Grand Central Station, there used to be this incredibly fabulously opulent apartment that looked like a palace that the original architect built as part of the original design, and in 1951 I knew someone — I knew a lot of people even then—who arranged for me, for us, to stay there one night that summer. And so Mickey and I spent one of the greatest nights of our lives there. It was a romantic, magical evening. We made love all night. We were both young and in love, and he wanted to marry me and spend the rest of our lives together.”

                                                                           — Holly Brooke in DiMag & Mick

MICKEY MANTLE FANS, memorize the name Holly Brooke.

In his new book DiMag & Mick, author Tony Castro reveals that the Yankees’ switch-hitting icon proposed to New York actress Holly Brooke during his 1951 rookie season and that they carried on a torrid love affair for years even after he married his high school sweetheart just to please his dying father.

Holly’s existence had been known since the 1950s and for decades, sportswriters and authors tried unsuccessfully to interview Brooke –but were never even able to track her down.

But Castro, the author of the critically acclaimed biography Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son, not only found the elusive Holly Brooke but interviewed her exhaustively about her relationship with Mick and her recollection of Mantle’s time in New York — including the friendship he shared with Joe DiMaggio but which few others knew about.

“What led to this book, DiMag & Mick, was an e-mail I received a few years ago from a man thanking me for having written so favorably in my Mantle biography about his aunt, an actress named Holly Brooke, who has been described in most books about Mickey as a showgirl who had been his girlfriend in 1951,” Castro said in an interview about writing the book.

“However, no biographer had been able to interview her or even locate her. I think most of us had assumed she was dead. Holly’s nephew, though, said not only was she still alive and well but that she was also willing to talk to me.

“That began a series of almost daily visits and conversations that proved to be incredible. She convinced me with her stories and some strong documentation that her love affair with Mickey lasted beyond his marriage in 1951 and carried on well into the 1960s.”

Holly had lived with Mantle much of his rookie year, even when he was sent down to the minors to play in Kansas City, which had a Yankees’ minor league team at that time. She was also the reason Mickey asked to have his uniform number changed from 6 to 7 when he returned to the majors, a number that was her date of birth.

In the book, Castro writes:

On August 22, 1951, the Yankees’ new prodigal son returned to New York, arriving with Holly on a Super Chief train at Grand Central Station and passing through what was then known as the “Kissing Room,” where travelers once embraced their sweethearts, friends, and family, and offering cozy access to the Biltmore Hotel above. That was where Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald had honeymooned, she whispered to Mickey as they snuggled arm and arm with the crowd.

“I don’t know if Mickey knew who F. Scott Fitzgerald was,” said Holly, smiling as she dreamily remembered that day. “I shouldn’t say that. He was a very smart man. He just didn’t like to show it, but his mind was like a steel trap. Once he heard or saw something, he knew it by heart. I suspect that’s what helped make him such a great hitter and ballplayer. But I think he enjoyed being seen as that good ol’ country boy.

“We had a drink at the Kissing Room. We had come in a day early, and Mickey didn’t have to report back to the team until the next day. He didn’t want to go to the Concourse Plaza where they had a room for him. That was all the way out in the Bronx, and we were in Manhattan and at Grand Central Station, and we had the day to ourselves, and I had come to think that we would have the rest of our lives together as well.

“‘Holly, I want you to marry me,’ Mickey said to me that night. He had said it earlier, but I think, returning to New York, he knew he now had it together. The Yankees wanted him back in the majors, and this time he knew he was going to stick with the team for good, and that he would live up to all they were expecting of him. We had talked about marriage. He had talked about marriage. He had talked about wanting to marry me and about adopting my son. But this time was different. He was so insistent. And when he asked me to marry him this time, it wasn’t like the other times. He knew the only person who could stand in our way was his father. But Mutt had seen us together in Kansas City, just as he had seen us together here in New York before Mickey was sent down. And in Kansas City, I think he saw in Mickey’s face his determination to be with me. There in front of me, Mickey said to his father, ‘Dad, so what if she’s older than me? She’s seven years older than me. Mom was ten years older than you when you married her, and she had been married before as well. If it can work out for you and Mom, why couldn’t it work out for Holly and me?’ I thought Mutt was going to cry. He left our room, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did shed a tear later. You could tell that Mickey had hit a soft spot. So that night back in New York, Mickey says to me, ‘Dad won’t like it. You saw what he’s like. He wants me to marry Merlyn, but I can’t. I’m not in love with her. I’m in love with you.’ So I’ll bring him around.’ And, of course, I said, ‘Yes, Mickey, I’ll marry you. I love you.’ And he told me he loved me, too. ‘You’re the love of my life, Holly.’ And that’s how we left it. Mickey was going to talk to his father—‘Come hell or high water,’ I think is how he said it—and we were going to get married as soon as the season ended. Mickey said the only thing that would be more perfect was if the Yankees won the World Series as well.”

Holly also had a toddler son that Mantle wanted to adopt as his own, and Mickey proposed to her and likely would have married her if it hadn’t been for his father.

After the 1951 season, Mickey’s father learned he was dying, and he demanded that Mickey marry his hometown sweetheart as his dying wish. Of course, it was just part of the unusual hold that Mickey’s father held over him.

Of Henry Cisneros, Dreams and Mortality

Henry Cisneros, housing secretary under President Clinton is battling early stage prostate cancer, it was announced Tuesday.

MY FATHER NEVER said so, but I always got the impression that he wished Henry Cisneros had been his son.

Henry and I grew up at the same time in Texas in the 1960s, each of us attending Catholic schools in our respective hometowns and sometimes competing against each other in interscholastic league speech and drama contests.

The only time my father attended one of those competitions, he saw Henry deliver an interpretation of one of Abraham Lincoln’s addresses — the one appealing to the better angels within us — while I did two soliloquies from Hamlet using a Welsh accent I nailed from listening to a recording of Richard Burton.

My father was blown away — by Henry’s performance.

When he learned Henry was going to Texas A&M, my father asked me to reconsider my choice of colleges. In the 1950s and 1960s, A&M was the place all Mexican-American military veterans wanted their sons to attend — the school where they could join the corps, graduate as second lieutenants and serve their country as officers.

“Dad, Henry’s the son of a general,” I said, lying. I had no idea what Henry’s father did. “He’ll be an officer. Heck, he’ll probably be president one day. I’m the son of an enlisted man. I can’t lead men on a football team, much less on a battlefield. I’m a rebel and an outlaw. You said so yourself.”

My father had once said writers were all rebels and outlaws, and I wasn’t about to let him forget it.

All this came back to me today as I read about Henry having prostate cancer. I pray and hope he’ll beat it. But what the news about Henry did was shake my foundation of well-being and forced me, for the first time, to seriously confront the mortality not only of someone so close to my dreams as a youth but also of myself as well.

Over the years, Henry’s life and mine have passed each other in Texas, Washington, Los Angeles and anywhere there were political conventions of any significance. I’ve interviewed Henry numerous times and, in our own ways, we’ve praised each other on our successes as well as consoled one another on our falls from grace, personally and professionally.

People who grow up together invariably have nicknames for each other, monikers that we use behind their backs. I don’t know what Henry’s was for me — I’ve heard them all from other friends and I imagine it might be something similar. Mine for Henry was Manolete, the Spanish bullfighter who rose to glory in the years after the Spanish Civil War.

I called him Manolete because I have never seen a picture of Manolete smiling. He always seemed so serious, almost sorrowful and tragic. Henry struck me that way, even when he was smiling, as if something very sad was going on in his life. I’ve never thought of myself as a playboy, but, in contrast, you would have thought I was the life of the party.

“Henry, it’s only words,” I recall saying to him after a debate tournament. His team hadn’t won, but neither had mine. Henry, though, wore that game face, as if blaming himself or as if he were facing a firing squad or some fierce 2,000-pound animal in a bullring. “You’re a great debater. You’ll win the next tournament.”

I think we all sensed that Henry was destined for true greatness, if anyone we knew ever was. He became mayor of San Antonio and the rising Latino star of the Democratic Party. In 1984, Democratic Presidential Nominee Walter Mondale considered Henry as a running mate before choosing Rep. Geraldine Ferraro. In 1992, President Bill Clinton named Henry to his Cabinet. But we all have our secrets, and Henry’s doomed him. He was found to have lied to the FBI about a mistress, hush payments to her and a sordid affair that destroyed his dreams.

My father kept up with news reports of the investigation as if… well, as if Henry were his son. My father learned Henry had been betrayed by a journalist to whom he had confided about his affair, and you would have thought I was that writer who ratted him out.

“You work in a profession full of s— of b—— and Judases,” my father said to me at the time.

“And rebels and outlaws,” I reminded him.

A few years later, as my father lay on his deathbed, I wasn’t sure what else to say. We had made our peace, what we could anyway. I just wanted to say something more that would ease his final hours.

“Dad,” I said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t more like Henry Cisneros. I’m sorry I couldn’t fulfill your dreams. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t fulfilled my dreams either.”

My father shook his head, as if to protest. He had tears in his eyes, and I thought we would just sit there for a while longer.

“I don’t care about Henry,” he said, finally. “I care about you and what you did or tried to do. A father’s dreams for his son are never fulfilled. They’re just that — dreams. The important thing, and what I’m proud of you for, is that you had the courage to chase your own dreams. Your dreams — not someone else’s.”

Q&A With Tony Castro About ‘DiMag & Mick’

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Tony Castro is the author of the new book DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers. He also has written Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal SonThe Prince of South Waco, and Chicano Power. He is a former staff writer for Sports Illustrated, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.  

Q: Why did you decide to write a book looking at both Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle?

A: Dating back to my childhood, I’ve long had an undying interest in both Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

My father was a New York Yankee fan and returned home from World War II with a huge poster — off an old New York market calendar, I believe – of DiMaggio in that classic swing of his. A few years later, the DiMaggio poster in my bedroom was joined by one of Mantle finishing off his own powerful swing.

Those two posters covered most of an entire wall in my bedroom, and it used to upset my mom because they dwarfed the crucifix that hung between them.

Our parish priest used to come over for dinner once a month or so, and my mom once tried to shame me by showing him the signs of what she saw as my sacrilege.

I don’t think she realized that our parish priest was the coach of our CYO baseball team because he looked at the juxtaposition of the posters and the crucifix, and he said, “Señora Castro, I think these are all just innocent representations of the role models close to Tony’s heart, each with their symbolic pieces of wood on which their great stories have lived and died.”

b10411_e2281795fe9e4f0ebcbba977693c73f2My mom never brought this up again. I suppose there’s Roman Catholicism and then there’s Baseball Catholicism.

Years later, I had the good fortune to meet and befriend Mickey Mantle. It was 1970. I was a young newspaper reporter, a few months out of college, working in Dallas; and Mickey was a couple of years into his retirement, virtually an exile in Dallas, a retired baseball legend in what was then and still is a big pro football city.

He was also a pariah among sportswriters because of his horrendous behavior among them, which had worsened toward the end of his career.

As I go into in the book, Mickey and I hit it off that first afternoon getting drunk over hamburgers and golf. Perhaps he was longing for the attention he’d had at the top of his career, and I was someone who could play golf any afternoon and could drive him home because he was usually too drunk to drive and then help [his wife] Merlyn retrieve his car. I was a decent golfer and, working on an afternoon newspaper, I could usually sneak off to play 18 holes early in the day.

And DiMaggio I met in 1978 in San Francisco through his longtime friend Reno Barsocchini.

But I never thought about writing a book about either of them or any book, for that matter. I’d written a book early in my career, a civil rights history about Cesar Chavez and Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s – Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America (Dutton, 1974) – that basically killed my first marriage, and I’d sworn not to do that again.

But when Mantle was dying in 1995, I wanted to read my sons a book about Mickey — and that’s when I discovered that all those books I’d read about him years ago were not very good.

That’s when I decided to write my Mantle biography, Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son (Brassey’s, 2002).  I had hoped to follow that with a biography of Joe DiMaggio, but the Richard Ben Cramer book of 2000 pretty much saturated the market and with its brutal one-sidedness killed for the time what was left of the DiMaggio image.

What led to this book, DiMag & Mick, was an e-mail I received a few years ago from a man thanking me for having written so favorably in my Mantle biography about his aunt, an actress named Holly Brooke, who has been described in most books about Mickey as a showgirl who had been his girlfriend in 1951.

Mickey Mantle with actress Holly Brooke, his girlfriend in New York during his 1951 season.

Mickey Mantle with actress Holly Brooke, his girlfriend in New York during his 1951 season.

However, no biographer had been able to interview her or even locate her. I think most of us had assumed she was dead. Holly’s nephew, though, said not only was she still alive and well but that she was also willing to talk to me.

That began a series of almost daily visits and conversations that proved to be incredible. She convinced me with her stories and some strong documentation that her love affair with Mickey lasted beyond his marriage in 1951 and carried on well into the 1960s.

She had lived with Mantle much of his rookie year, even when he was sent down to the minors to play in Kansas City, which had a Yankees’ minor league team at that time. She was also the reason Mickey asked to have his uniform number changed from 6 to 7 when he returned to the majors, a number that was her date of birth.

Holly was older than Mickey, had a toddler son that he wanted to adopt as his own, and Mickey proposed to her and likely would have married her if it hadn’t been for his father.

In 1951, Mickey’s father learned he was dying, and he demanded that Mickey marry his hometown sweetheart as his dying wish. Of course, it was just part of the unusual hold that Mickey’s father held over him.

With this material, especially since Holly had also known DiMaggio, it just seemed tailor-made for a book centered around Mickey and Joe, set around 1951, the only season they played together and using all that as a backdrop to destroy that longstanding myth that DiMaggio and Mantle had been bitter enemies. It just wasn’t true.

Q: Why were they portrayed as bitter enemies, and how would you characterize the dynamic between them?

A: In spring training of 1951 – Mantle’s rookie year and DiMaggio’s final season – sportswriters made Mickey out to be the next coming of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio rolled into one.

The Yankees’ manager, Casey Stengel, largely championed this, talking openly to writers about it in a way that was ridiculous because of the pressure that talk like this can place on an unproven rookie – a 19-year-old rookie, at that. Still, Mantle had a spring training performance for the ages.

DiMaggio, who had already announced he was retiring at the end of the season, was preparing to play with tremendous daily pain from heel spurs that continued to bother him even after a couple of operations.

DiMaggio also wasn’t a very open person or teammate. Sometimes people forget or don’t know that he was the son of Italian immigrants who didn’t speak English and didn’t become citizens until after World War II.

Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle as rookies on the 1951 New York Yankees team.

Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle as rookies on the 1951 New York Yankees team.

Joe was also a high school dropout who, until his death, was insecure about his education and his background. When he came up to the Yankees in the mid-1930s and being Italian, about the only way he might have otherwise gotten into Yankee Stadium was as a hot dog vendor, if he hadn’t been able to hit incredibly well. We sometimes forget about the anti-Italian discrimination that was rampant in America in the first half of the 20th century.

There was tragedy from that for DiMaggio even after his crowning moment. In 1941, he hit safely in 56 consecutive games, perhaps the most remarkable record in baseball. He was the prince of New York and a hero in America.

But in December, Pearl Harbor was bombed, and soon America was at war with Japan, Germany AND Italy. And what does the country do? It sends Japanese Americans into internment camps, and there were even plans to do the same with Italians.

Fortunately, for DiMaggio’s immigrant parents, the U.S. does not do this, but it does place strict restrictions on their mobility. His parents have a fishing boat and a restaurant in Northern California that they’re not allowed to travel to, and they eventually wind up losing their means of income.

This is all happening just months after Joe DiMaggio’s greatest season. Lesser men might have begun rioting. Even in 1951, the bias and discrimination was there. Consider how Casey Stengel referred to DiMaggio behind his back: He regularly called him “Dago.”

A big deal has been made about the racial slurs some ballplayers and managers used against Jackie Robinson, and some lost their livelihoods because of that. But Stengel calling DiMaggio “Dago” was hardly a term of endearment, and little has ever been made about the discrimination that DiMaggio had to endure. And Joe, like Jackie, was just too classy and turned the other cheek.

But it was part of the climate in 1951, as was just the resentment among some of the Yankee teammates as well as some in the press.

DiMaggio was the highest paid Yankee of the era before free agency. He made more money as a rookie in 1935 than Mantle did in his rookie season in 1951.

And unlike Mickey, who was known as a “great teammate” – which is even written on his Yankee Memorial Park plaque at the Stadium – DiMaggio was a loner whose close friends were non-Yankees. In fact, none of his teammates from that 1951 team had been around when he broke into baseball or even in 1941, DiMaggio’s greatest year.

That spring training of 1951 sportswriters were extolling the virtues and talent of Mickey Mantle and how he was being groomed to succeed Joe in center field and as the star of the Yankees, especially since DiMaggio had been slowed by his injuries and age.

And there was intense competition among those writers covering the Yankees. Remember that at the time there were about a dozen daily newspapers in New York, and you’ll find in old newspaper clippings the seeds of a feud between DiMaggio and Mantle in 1951, making it seem that Joe’s usual aloofness was caused by some kind of resentment of Mantle for being there to replace him in center field and stealing his thunder in what was to be his farewell season.

After 1951, after DiMaggio’s retirement and absence from the Yankee clubhouse, this imaginary feud took on a life of its own, fueled in part by some of Mickey’s Yankee teammates and their loyalty to Mantle.

And there was no one to challenge this, except, of course, for DiMaggio and Mantle who went to their graves denying there was any animosity between them, as well as the two women most prominent in Mickey’s life –his wife Merlyn, and Greer Johnson, who was Mickey’s companion the last 10 years of his life.

Their denials were always reported, but I suspect no one took them seriously. Especially after Billy Crystal’s 2001 HBO film 61, about Mickey and Roger Maris’ chase in 1961 of Babe Ruth’s home run record.

The irony or paradox in the film is that while it is about the friendship between Mantle and Maris, it also bursts the myth of the alleged rift between them that writers had effectively made up – while it still promotes the equally false myth of a feud between Mantle and DiMaggio.

There’s even a scene of Mantle becoming physically sick and being driven to a drunken binge because of an appearance by DiMaggio in the Yankee clubhouse. It was absolute fiction, perhaps typical juvenile fan behavior believing that you can somehow enhance your childhood hero by tearing down some competitor to his legacy.

Well, Mickey Mantle doesn’t need that kind of help. The newer analytics used in baseball today seem to indicate that Mickey was far the greater ballplayer, as if you can truly compare different eras.

As for the “feud,” Richard Ben Cramer’s biography of DiMaggio, nasty as it was toward Joe, bolstered the idea of its existence, as did one major biography of Mickey Mantle, which claimed that the first time DiMaggio and Mantle ever spoke was Oct. 5, 1951, the second game of that season’s World Series.

That was the game in which Mickey suffered a terrible knee injury when he slipped on a sprinkler cover in right center field as he tried to avoid running into DiMaggio as he caught a fly ball.

Mantle went down “as if he’d been shot,” according to some of his teammates and in horrible pain. DiMaggio, after catching the fly ball, ran over to check on Mickey, supposedly initiating the so-called first conversation between the prize rookie and the old pro.

Of course, that’s pure fiction, too. In researching the book, I found an audio tape recording that proved that claim to be an utter lie.

On the morning of April 16, 1951, DiMaggio and Mantle were with their New York Yankees teammates about to board a train to Washington for the season’s Opening Day against the Senators.

They were being detained for a few minutes for recorded interviews for CBS Radio’s famous news program Hear It Now when a remote microphone picked up DiMaggio and Mantle’s unrehearsed conversation, a conversation that unfortunately would soon be overlooked and forgotten.

On the recording, the veteran DiMaggio — who only weeks earlier had announced he would retire at the end of the 1951 season — sounds enthusiastic and supportive, engaging Mantle in a genuine manner that is both refreshing and surprising. It’s a wonderful exchange, and it may not even have been the first conversation they had.

And they had many more long friendly exchanges during that season, according to Holly Brooke who was present several times when Mickey and Joe spoke at restaurants or had dinner together. So much for that so-called authoritative story that they didn’t speak until Mickey’s injury in the World Series.

Q: How did you research the book, and what surprised you most in the course of your research?

A: In recent years I spent countless hours talking to Holly Brooke, getting her to recall the details and dialog of anecdotes she remembered. I revisited sources from my Mantle biography and rechecked clippings from numerous magazines and newspapers.

I also had folders full of notes from my conversations with Mantle in the early 1970s in Dallas and in the 1980s when we reconnected while he was traveling for memorabilia shows, and my conversations with DiMaggio and his friend Reno Barsocchini in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The most surprising thing that I found had to have been the CBS radio audio tape because it leaves no doubt that right after spring training where their animosity supposedly bloomed they were, in fact, talking like friendly teammates, and Joe was giving Mickey advice and Mickey was talking as if he were awe-struck of Joe DiMaggio.

Q: What do you see as each player’s legacy today?

A: They were if not the greatest players of their era, then certainly among the top two or three during their time.

Of course, they went about it differently. DiMaggio never left anything on the field. He had a passion for always being at his best. Mantle, unfortunately, didn’t always take all his talents on to the field.

DiMaggio retired almost at the right time. He may have wished he had left at the end of 1950. As it was, he still left having been part of a World Series championship team in 1951.

Mickey went to his grave second-guessing his decision to play as long as he did, long past when he could run well and when it hurt his fans just to watch him swing the bat. Not to mention that the Yankee teams near the end of his career were mediocre at best.

At their prime, DiMaggio and Mantle were as good as any ballplayer has ever been, with the possible exception of Babe Ruth. But at their time, DiMaggio and Mantle were the greatest players on the greatest baseball team during arguably the greatest era of the game.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have a dual biography of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig — Gehrig & The Babe —  to be published in April by Triumph Books. I’m currently working on a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I wouldn’t be surprised if some time in the future — based on the evolution of analytics in baseball, on his incredible statistics during the golden age of the game, his injuries notwithstanding, and because of his ability to do this as a switch-hitter – that Mickey Mantle doesn’t become widely acclaimed as having fulfilled those great expectations once placed of him: being recognized as the greatest player of all-time, greater than Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and all the rest.

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