Last week I looked at a deeply serious book by Jonah Winter. Today I look at another of his books, Mickey Mantle, the Commerce Comet, which has a completely different tone. This is an enthusiastic biography of a famous baseball player. As Winter notes in the front matter, Mantle “had a rough childhood” and is “famous for having suffered from the disease of alcoholism,” but this book doesn’t address those dark elements of his life. Instead, it’s an upbeat celebration of his amazing athletic accomplishments.
The narrative voice in this book is engaging and folksy:
“And that kid was fast. As legend has it, he learned how to run like the wind while darting to the outhouse, armed with a bat, pursued by the fearsome family rooster. You can look it up!”
The narrative switches back and forth between past and present tense. We hear all about Mantle’s growing-up years in the past tense, but when the story switches to the moment Mantle is discovered, we plunge into the present tense. A New York Yankees talent scout sees Mantle playing ball:
He walks up to Mickey and asks him how old he is.
“Sixteen,” Mickey tells him.
Too young for the major leagues.
Still, he asks, “Would you ever be interested in playing ball for the Yankees?”
he story switches back to past tense after Mantle has been discovered:
Here’s what happened: Mickey’s boyood dream came true–at age nineteen, the Yanks brought him up to the majors…
We switch back to present tense at another life-changing moment for Mantle, during the description of a World Series game where he was seriously injured, an injury he never fully shook, and then back to past tense to end the book.
The tense changes are artfully done–it’s easy not to even notice them–but they work to create the narrative arc of his life.
C.F. Payne’s art is wonderful, and don’t forget to notice the endpapers. Any Yankees fan will love them.
Mickey Mantle, the Commerce Comet, by Jonah Winter, illustrated by C.F. Payne. Schwartz & Wade, 2017.