Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mickey vs. Tiger: A Tale of Two Eras


I just finished reading The Last Boy, Jane Leavy’s interesting focused biography of Mickey Mantle. The tale is told from her personal and unique perspective and it’s not a typical sports biography filled with scores and stats. She tells of his upbringing, his fear of dying young and his self-destructive behavior, and she doesn’t hold back. He was an epic womanizer, the Tiger Woods of his day, and cheated on his long-suffering wife throughout the course of their marriage. He even hit on Ms. Leavy back in 1983 when she first met him for an interview. Mickey was also a world-class alcoholic, eventually receiving a liver transplant and dying of liver cancer in 1995.

Sportswriters in the old days protected the athletes and there was no Internet, no Twitter and no such thing as a cell phone with a camera. But tabloid newspapers and expose’-type magazines [see photo] published stories about Mickey’s escapades, which the public didn’t seem to care about. Yet the '50s and '60s were a time of sexual denial and public modesty. You would have thought that people back then would not have tolerated Mickey’s behavior, but he kept endorsing products and was beloved until he died.

Fast forward to the present and the Tiger Woods scandal. Why was it a scandal? In contrast to Mantle’s heyday, anything goes when it comes to sex today. Pornography is delivered unsolicited to your email. Sexuality, vulgarity and nudity can be seen on television at all hours. Senators, congressmen and governors and even a president commit sexual indiscretions on an almost daily basis and continue in public life without apparent consequences. Yet when Tiger’s infidelity (what a quaint term) came to light, he was universally reviled, and he lost millions of dollars in endorsements.

What strikes me is the contrast between the eras. The uptight mid-20th century tolerated the unbridled Mantle and the “anything goes” first decade of the 21th century shunned the prowling Tiger.

Other than the fact that Tiger is back to playing golf in a relatively protected environment, he is a virtual recluse. I’m sure he will eventually be more visible but meanwhile, why did he have to disappear? I don’t condone his actions. His goody two shoes family man persona was obviously a sham. But why is he a pariah and Mantle a god to this day?

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