Castro, Tony. DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers. Lanham, MD: Lyons Press, 2016.
Reviewed by Brett L. Abrams
The author, a long-time sportswriter, spent many hours with Mickey Mantle on golf courses and at bars during the 1970s and 80s. Castro spent time with Joe DiMaggio’s friends and familiars. The result is this book which uses an impressive amount of primary material about Mantle’s life and details that DiMaggio’s cohorts provided him to be a dual biography. The central issue at hand is whether the pair liked one another or not. Stories generated from sportswriters and carried on in the biographies of both men painted a picture of the two men not talking during their one year as teammates (1951). Conversations with Mantle, his wife, mistress, and DiMaggio’s cohorts all claimed the rivalry was untrue and provided examples of the pair talking and going out to dinner.
The author raised the question about why the stories of animosity persisted. His best answer was that sport writers and biographers did not talk with DiMaggio so they made things up or came up with the best angle they could. Neither DiMaggio or Mantle liked or respected the beat writers and both believed that the writers made things up (7). While I’m convinced that this may be the main reason for the stories of discord between the two stars, Castro provided very little context about the media of the era, except that they thought highly of themselves (15). We don’t really understand how many and who the reporters were, how they worked or the environment in which they worked.
The strengths of the book lay in its presentation of the baseball careers and the psychological makeup of both players. We learn about the DiMaggio’s first marriage and divorce and how the loss of his parents coincided with a decline of his physical abilities as a player during the early 1950s. Castro did a good job provide insight into how teammates felt about DiMaggio and the antagonism between the fading star and the team’s new manager Casey Stengel. One interesting facet involved the prejudice that Stengel showed in his comments toward DiMaggio. Castro’s discussion of the interment of Italian-Americans during World War II, helped provide some valuable context to what DiMaggio and other Italian-Americans faced during the era.The author detailed the long career of DiMaggio and paid particular attention to his 56-game hitting streak and what it meant to the citizens in the country.
The book contained a significant amount of detail regarding Mantle’s performance on the field and life off of it. Castro covered Mantle’s up and down rookie year, including his nearly quitting the game. The Mick became one of the game’s biggest star and Castro detailed how he hit, his injuries, and also his partying habits in the New York nightclubs of the 1950s. Castro covered the usual argument about baseball’s position in the sports and popular culture of the decade and how Mantle was the last American hero, a symbol of the age’s innocence.(147) Whether this decade was really one of innocence has been problematized by academics studying groups other than Caucasian Americans.
As the author documented the off-the-field lives the men led, Castro illustrated that he understood the situation the two men found themselves in as baseball stars on the most successful team in the nation’s biggest city. The two became celebrities with all the associated fawning and worshiping that came with the territory. That was the inevitability of their success as players (193). However, Castro did little with the insight, not providing a discussion of celebrity culture. This limited engagement with notable scholarship became more apparent through the lack of citations and a bibliography comprised of 50 books.
While this book has limited value for sports historians, it will please many a fan of the team, the men, and baseball history.
Brett L. Abrams writes about popular culture, entertainment and sports. His books include Hollywood Bohemians, Capital Sporting Grounds, and The Bullets, The Wizards and Washington, D.C. Basketball. He is an electronic records archivist. He is currently working on a book about fans of six NFL teams.