Sports Biography: From (What Micky Mantle Called) ‘That Jack Armstrong Shit’ to Men and Women in Full.

By Faran Fagen

Sports author Jane Leavy was once asked if Yankee great Mickey Mantle was “our guy.”

The reply was, “no—he’s a guy.”

Bestselling author of acclaimed books on Sandy Koufax and Babe Ruth, Leavy admired Mantle not just for his prowess on the diamond, but because he “owned his flaws.” (Just like the rest of us.)

Leavy, along with fellow all-pro authors David Maraniss and Arnold Rampersad, shared center-stage on the second day of the 38th Key West Literary Seminar in front of an audience of hundreds at the San Carlo Institute in Key West. They led a discussion, moderated by Kate Tuttle, called “Sports Biography: From (What Micky Mantle Called) ‘That Jack Armstrong Shit’ to Men and Women in Full.”

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author Maraniss’ favorite writing subject was Roberto Clemente. He loved the way Clemente threw the ball and the unique way he wore his uniform. But mostly he identified with Clemente because “he was a hypochondriac like me,” he said. Maraniss discovered this while writing his biography of Clemente.

Meanwhile Rampersad, a biographer and literary critic, spoke a lot about the process of interviewing. He said it’s important to go through written records such as letters and journals, and then talk to people so you know whether or not those records represent the truth.

“You will get a some made up stuff so you need to be careful,” Rampersad said. That advice hit home with the audience, much like Leavy’s account of the research she did that lead her to discover that Babe Ruth had been abandoned by his divorced parents.

In addition to talking about her lengthy book on the Babe, Leavy shared that Sandy Koufax declined to be interviewed for his biography—although he did verify everything Leavy wrote.

“Sandy said my book was an unauthorized biography by a very neat lady,” she said.

Faran Fagen is a teacher at Pembroke Pines Charter High School and a KWLS Teacher & Librarian Scholarship recipient.

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