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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mickey Mantle: The Commerce Comet. Written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by C. F. Payne. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"Maybe it was all that pressure to be perfect, to be the next DiMaggio. Mickey called his pa and told him he wanted to quit. His pa drove up to Kansas City - but it wasn't to give his son a pep talk. "I thought I raised a man," he said. "You ain't nothin' but a coward. Get your clothes and let's go home. You come and work with me in the mines."

Baseball season is in high gear! Mickey Mantle is one the players I heard much about when I was in my teens. Although I was not a Yankees fan, one could not help but be wowed by his many  accomplishments! They still talk about him.

Jonah Winter certainly proves himself a big sports fan with this new addition to his long list of picture book biographies honoring some of the most iconic players in league history. Mickey Mantle's story is laid bare in his fine new book. One of the greatest hitters in baseball (and THE greatest switch-hitter of all time), Mickey's road to super star status was marred by a sad and life-altering childhood. It would impact him for the rest of his life. Readers learn that in an author's note that prefaces the title page.

It was Mickey's father who decided that he would be a ball player. He wanted a better life for his son than the one he was leading in the mines. His apprenticeship began when he was still in diapers. Every day was spent playing ball with his father and grandfather. They taught him to switch hit; his family rooster taught him to run! Mickey did not seem destined to be a star player. Often sick, it wasn't until he was fifteen that he finally hit his stride.

"By junior year, the kid was unrecognizable - bulging muscles, legs like tree trunks. Girls wanted to date him. Boys wanted to BE him. What did Mickey want? Nothing much - just to be the greatest ballplayer who every lived."

He wanted to take Joe DiMaggio's place in the Yankee lineup. He soon signed with their system and played for two years in the minors. He began to make a name for himself while there. And, the rest is history. Mr. Winter continues the story, through successes and down times. A serious knee injury, the death of his father, and a return to glory due to determination and grit, won him accolades from every front. Though never perfect, he was certainly someone to watch - and fans did so at every game he played.

Engaging storytelling and focused acrylic and pencil images bring The Mick to life for readers who may have only heard stories about him, and who never saw him play. His career is not diminished in any way by those facts. This is a worthy and honorable look at a sports hero.

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