Sunday, October 28, 2012

30 in 30 - Day 27: Mantle

Not sure if any of you have noticed (or care) but ESPN (and TSN in Canada) have begun airing a second batch of 30 for 30 documentaries.  So far I've seen about 3 or 4 of the new offerings (9.79* being one of them).

As I near the end of my month long project, I was beginning to think that this was becoming a bit of a grind.  But when I end up watching my doc for this project.....and then another one from the new 30 for 30 offerings, I realize that I'm just a huge fanatic of sports docs.

Grind?  No.  This is a wonderful time to be a fan of sports documentaries.

Tonight's film - Mantle

Mantle (2005)
60 mins.
Rated: NR (a couple profanities from Mick, but the rest is good)

"This special explores the life and career of one of baseball's most enduring icons, Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle.  August 13, 2005 marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Mickey Mantle, who lived a life as rich and extraordinary as a Hollywood script.  At the height of his career, Mantle was the toast of New York, yet behind his country charm and good looks there was a wayward lifestyle that harmed his marriage, his relationship with his four sons, and his health."  (source: HBO)

I watched this film on good ol' dvd.  Borrowed it from a friend (another Thank You!).

Once again, HBO shows its strength in the sports documentary genre.  They need to pump out a big box set of all their docs.  That would be an awesome Christmas gift eh?

The doc begins with a really nice montage.  The music really sets the tone and the editing shines.  Some great cutout photo effects mixed with some grained textures creates a very inviting start to this story.

We hear quick clips from Bob Costas, Billy Crystal and others, but it is those two who I am happy to see the most.  For me, when I hear anything Mickey Mantle, I want to hear it from them.  They are the truest of fans when it comes to the Yankees icon.

Much like Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe, I never got to see Mickey Mantle play, but to hear so many people talk so greatly about the player makes me instantly gravitate towards him.

We hear of Mickey's life growing up...far, far away from the big city of New York.  Born into baseball, he is named after the great Detroit catcher Mickey Cochrane.  His favorite time as a kid is when his dad would take him to St. Louis to watch baseball.

He would learn at an early age how to hit from both sides of the plate and the fundamentals of the game were drilled into him early.  There's some really nice archive photos used as well as some nice "setup" shots.  Lunch boxes on the porch, bats propped up by the door.  These pieces of video create a nice mood and mesh well with the archive footage.

Drafted by the Yankees in 1951, he was given $1100 to sign with the club.  He was immediately placed in the role as the 'heir' to the greats.  Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio.......a huge weight on his shoulders.

He struggled early on and was booed by the New York fans.  So much so that he was sent to the minors for a while.  He even wanted to quit.  His dad, who drove out to talk to him, didn't call his bluff.  He gave Mick no sympathy.  Mantle decided to give it another go and immediately improved his play.

In his first 14 years, the Yankees made it to the World Series 12 times.  He became massively popular.  His speed, power and explosiveness were second to none.  We all know him as a great hitter, but there's some excellent footage of him fielding the ball.  Love it.  Bigger than life, Mick's face was everywhere.  Advertisements for everything.  Television, magazines, newspapers, radio....everything.

There was a tremendous amount of hero worship going on.  And Mickey was catching on.  He had a lot of fun as a result.  New York was a hotbed for the clubs.  He was a regular at many of the top joints, having a few drinks after the game.  There was also plenty of alcohol in the clubhouse at the time.

The time away from home eventually cost Mickey his family.  Married in his first year with the Yankees, he had four boys, all of whom were drifting away from Mick as he was on the road all the time.

A pivotal moment in Mickey's career occurred early on.  During the 1951 World Series, Mantle hurt his knee and watched the rest of the series from a hospital room.  In that same hospital was his father who was battling Hodgkin's disease.  He watched his dad pass away at a very early age.  That was a lot of emotional and physical pain for him to endure and Mickey began thinking about his own mortality.

Mantle's career was briefly gone over and soon the doc reaches the end of his career.  In 1964 his production dropped off.  Mother's Day, 1967 he hit his 500th homerun.  You could see the pain he was going through as he battled with injuries his whole career.  By spring training, 1969 he was forced to retire.

There's some great footage of Mickey Mantle appreciation day and he speaks of Gehrig who was in the same place before him.  Mantle felt like he could have been a better player.  He was saddened by his career.

His life after baseball was where the struggles really began.  He didn't enjoy the business ventures he attempted and began drinking a lot more. His sons were all grown up and would often be his drinking buddies.  This built more of a relationship between them than ever before.

By the early 80's, Mickey's life was out of control.  What really saved him was the memorabilia era.  He started making good money for signing his name.  It saved his career.  Mantle's auto became one of the most sought after signatures.  The whole time, Mick never could figure out why so many people idolized him.

1994 and Mickey hit rock bottom.  His drinking was to the point where he needed help.  One of his sons died at 36.  The result of alcohol problems and Hodgkin's disease.  This was the moment where Mantle turned his life around.

He finally found peace with his father's death, he built a better, happier life, he was able to tell his sons that he loved them.  But Mickey was sick....he needed a new liver.  After receiving a transplant, he made a plea to the public.  He told them that he wasted his life, he has a strong body that he just let go to waste.  He became a strong advocate for organ donation.

During Mickey's liver transplant, the doctors found cancer in his lungs.  Family and teammates had time to say their goodbyes to the legend.  In 1995, Mickey Mantle passed away.

We hear parts of Mantle's eulogy presented by Bob Costas and are left with the lasting impression and legacy of an icon that will live forever.

This was another solid effort from the boys at HBO.  A lot of good archive footage, great photos, Liev Schreiber is at the narrating helm (which felt a little odd in this one for some reason) and some fantastic pace and flow.

My big beef is that it was only an hour and that it was done before the days of HD.  This is presented in good ol' 4:3 aspect ratio.  As well, it was only an hour. There was a lot more of Mantle's playing career that I would have loved to have seen.  They glossed over the race to 61 in 1961 (maybe because it was Maris who was the real story there).  But I would have liked more baseball action.

We hear clips sporadically from Costas, Crystal, Richard Lewis and I would have liked more from them as well.  For such an iconic player, it's tough to put it all in under an hour.

A must for the Yankees fans, a solid watch for anybody who enjoys baseball and just a good doc for those looking to learn more about one of the greatest ball players of all time.

I feel like a broken record...

3.5 out of 5

Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...

New York Times

LA Times


Up next...More Than A Game

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