It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.
—E.B. WHITE, "Here Is New York" (1949)
In the spring of 1957 Mickey Mantle was the king of New York. He had the Triple Crown to prove it, having become only the 12th player in history to earn baseball's gaudiest jewel. In 1956 he had finally fulfilled the promise of his promise, batting .353, with 52 homers and 130 RBIs. Everybody loved Mickey. "Mickey who?" the singer Teresa Brewer chirped. "The fella with the celebrated swing."
Men wanted to be him. Women wanted to be with him. His dominion was vast, and his subjects were ardent. (One fan asked Lenox Hill Hospital for Mantle's tonsils, which doctors there had removed following the 1956 season.) Mantle accepted his due with that great drawbridge of a smile that yanked the right-hand corner of his mouth upward to reveal a set of all-American choppers. "When he laughed, he just laughed all over," his teammate Jerry Lumpe said.
Why wouldn't he? Wherever Mantle went in the great metropolis—Danny's Hideaway, the Latin Quarter, the "21" Club, the Stork Club, El Morocco, Toots Shor's—his preferred drink was waiting when he walked through the door. Reporters waited at his locker for monosyllabic bons mots. Boys clustered by the players' gate, hoping to touch him. It wasn't enough to gawk at his impossibly broad shoulders and his fire-hydrant neck. They wanted tactile reassurance that he was for real. They scratched his arms, his face and the finish of every car he rode in. A burly security detail became mandatory.
Women—none more beautiful than he was—waited in hotel lobbies. Arlene Howard, the wife of Yankees catcher Elston Howard, says that when she met Mantle for the first time, she thought, My God, who is that? Just the physical body, I'd never seen anything like that. There was something about his presence that was just absolutely stunning.
"He was adorable," said Lucille McDougald, the wife of Yankees infielder Gil McDougald. "We used to joke about it: Who wouldn't hop into bed with him, given the opportunity, just for the fun of it?"
In the locker room his teammates tried not to stare: What's he talking about? What's he doing? Later they would laugh, embarrassed but relieved to find out everyone else was doing the same thing. "It was the ungodliest feeling in the world," said third baseman Clete Boyer.
Mantle didn't want to stick out, but he did. He didn't wish to be treated as special, but he was. He was uncomfortable being the center of attention, but he was the centerfielder for the most famous franchise in sports.
"He didn't want to be exempted as one of the great ballplayers," said teammate Tony Kubek, a rookie shortstop in 1957. "He just wanted to be with his boys."