Sports Collectors Digest: The Collective Works of Babe, Lou, Joe & Mickey

By Marty Appel

It sounds like a joke, right?

“The Collective Works of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.”

Just the thing to go on the bookshelf next to your Hemingways, Steinbecks, Orwells and Joyces.

So let’s face it, Babe, Lou, Joe and Mickey didn’t really write the books that are attributed to them. But they make for a fun collection, and we would at least like to think that at some point, they may have at least read the books, if not the manuscripts. And they are of course, the quartet of Yankee immortals whose books will always be of interest to fans and historians.

First, as for Gehrig – forget it, there were none. It seems as though Lou might have considered a book, perhaps an autobiography, when his career came to its untimely end in 1939. In a letter to his wife after his diagnosis, he wrote, “Playing is out of the question and {Dr.} Paul {O’Leary} suggests a coaching job or a job in the office or writing.”

So he did think of writing, but it just didn’t happen. He took an office job with the New York City Board of Parole, and had no time, or strength, to write. It would have been a wonderful contribution to the game.

Babe Ruth employed ghost writers Christy Walsh, his promoter/agent, and Ford Frick, a sportswriter who would become N.L. President and then Commissioner. The two often scripted newspaper columns for the Babe during World Series, offering his view of the games. Walsh, as “Babe Ruth,” wrote the foreword to a book called “Babe Ruth, The Idol of the American Boy,” by Dan Daniel of the New York Telegram in 1930. (Whitman Publishing). The six-page foreword is signed “Babe Ruth” but says “courtesy of Christy Walsh.” At least it was honest.

It was likely Frick who wrote “Babe Ruth’s Own Book of Baseball,” published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1928. Did Babe have anything to do with it? Probably. Frick must have spent time on train rides getting responses from him, and some of it is clearly his own. It’s not autobiographical, just filled with tales from the diamond, humor, and observations on things like “College Men in Baseball.” I found the glossary especially fascinating, filled with terms long removed from our language. “The Syracuse Car” was the “Pullman in which rookies and substitutes ride.” “Doing a Sammy Vick” was “overeating.” Great stuff.

Jerome Holtzman wrote an introduction to a reissue by Bison Books in 1992.

Babe’s autobiography was published by Dutton in 1948, the year he died. Work had begun on it in ’47, when he was first becoming ill with the throat cancer that would take his life. It was “as told to Bob Considine.” Considine was a well known journalist and radio personality, but not especially a sports expert. He was assisted by the uncredited Fred Lieb, who had covered most of Ruth’s career. Considine (whose son Tim was a popular actor in Walt Disney TV and film dramas), was thus Ruth’s ghost, while employing Lieb as his own ghost.

About nine weeks before he died, Ruth traveled to Yale University where he presented the typed manuscript to the Yale library. The Yale first baseman and future, 41st President, George Bush, accepted the gift. “I left out a few things,” said Babe. “Maybe there should have been two books – one for kids, one for adults.”

The published book, which begins, “I was a bad kid,” was one for younger readers.

And how closely did Ruth work with Considine?

There was a story about a New York book party right after the publication, at which Considine supposedly approached the Babe and asked if he would sign his personal copy. “Sure,” said the Babe. “And your name again?”

DiMaggio, as author, had three books attributed to him. As much as he always sought privacy, it was fairly amazing that he could be talked into this three times.

The first was an autobiography called “Lucky to be a Yankee,” published in 1947 by Rudolph Field. It was updated in 1948 for a Bantam Books edition, and then again in 1957 when Grosset & Dunlap reissued it as part of their growing Big League Baseball Library series, minus the introduction by James Farley, former U.S. Postmaster General and a major Yankee fan. Grantland Rice wrote a foreword. The book was actually written, but uncredited, by Tom Meany, a much respected New York sportswriter who wrote many baseball books and ended his career as the first PR Director of the New York Mets.

Perhaps the oddest sentence in the book comes near the end, when Joe rattles off great memories, and includes “The toy manufacturer, a friend of mine, who sent me a set of electric trains two months before Dorothy and I were married.”

Were these toy trains Joe’s “Rosebud?”

There is a chapter on hitting and outfielding in “Lucky,” and in 1948, Joe returned with “Baseball for Everyone,” an instructional book published by McGraw Hill, which also made its way to the Big League Baseball Library. Although instructional, it is woven with tales of real players, real moments.

This time, in an acknowledgment, Joe thanks Meany. Credit at last.

The book is interesting for the names it recalls, and for the solid advice offered to aspiring players. One has to believe that Joe was an active participant in its preparation, for how could he entrust Meany to get all the mechanics of a game right? The tips still read true today; it’s an excellent instructional manual.

McGraw Hill, one of the few 1948 publishers still around today under the same name, has now reissued the book, (this time with an index), with the original typeface, original sketches and photographs, and a new foreword by Peter Goldenbock. It is rare that an old baseball book is reprinted, except by SABR or small publishing houses, and so good for McGraw Hill to produce this. Let’s hope others might follow.

“The DiMaggio Albums,” a two-volume, slipcased set, was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1989 with much anticipation. The early buzz was that Joe had somehow done an autobiography. Writer Richard Whittingham was recruited to compile the material, and many of the photos, magazine covers, even clippings, came from the collection of Barry Halper, whose residence Joe called home on visits to New York.

Autographed editions of the books were marketed for hundreds of dollars, but many found the books disappointing. It wasn’t a revealing autobiography at all, but a scrapbook – a collection of positive newspaper clippings (no Marilyn, of course), that was fascinating, but lacked any insight into Joe. The books did not sell as well as hoped, and were found on bookstore remainder tables within a year.

As for Barry, whose collection was critical to the book’s content, he received a leather-bound edition, but when he asked Joe to sign it, DiMaggio shooed him away and said, “you’ve got enough autographs.”

The first book “written” under Mickey Mantle’s byline was “The Quality of Courage,” published in 1964, his last great season. It was actually prepared by Sports Illustrated’s distinguished Bob Creamer, who later wrote “Babe” and “Stengel.” The book contained short bios of many heroic baseball figures, and Mick contributed little to their essays, other than approving them. (“How about one on Jackie Robinson?” said Creamer. “Yeah, he had guts,” Mick would respond.). The two met at Mick’s St. Moritz Hotel suite and the ice cream parlor Rumpelmayer’s to review the book on several occasions, but Mickey’s only small corrections were on the chapter about his father, which he took care to get right.

When the book was published by Doubleday, Creamer brought a copy to the Yankee clubhouse to get signed for his five children. “Sure,” said Mantle, “what are their names?” Bob answered, and Mick took the book to a quiet corner of the room and signed “To Jim, Tom, John, Ellen & Bobby, My best wishes – from the man who taught your father a few lessons in journalism – Your Friend, Mickey Mantle.”

“A very nice message on the spur of the moment,” says Creamer today, still touched by the gesture. “And as long as he lived, he always told me how he still gets nice comments on the book.”

In 1967, Simon and Schuster issued “The Education of a Baseball Player.”

This one, by Mickey, was written by Bob Smith, and contained autobiographical recollections as well as instructions. Mick did spend time with Smith telling anecdotes, like the time an older woman in the stands told him to knock off the profanity after striking out. He apologized to her. A nice story.

In 1977, Mickey’s name joined Whitey Ford’s and the New York Times’ Joe Durso in a book of funny, and sometimes profane stories called “Whitey and Mickey,” published by Viking. Some of the stories bordered on the kinds of things they resented Jim Bouton telling in “Ball Four,” but no one was very critical at that stage; the secret of Mickey’s runaround life was pretty well known by then.

So it was with some surprise that the long awaited real autobiography, “The Mick,” (Doubleday, 1985), reverted back to the PG-13 version of Mantle’s life. This one was written with Herb Gluck, who had co-authored Alex Karras’s football autobiography. Mickey said there wasn’t good chemistry between him and Gluck, and the book read like a 1957 version of Mick’s life.

In his final years, Mickey had his name on three other titles. In 1991, he and Phil Pepe prepared “My Favorite Summer – 1956” for Doubleday, a warm retelling of his Triple Crown year. “I was surprised by how actively involved he was,” says Pepe, the well liked newspaper columnist and broadcaster. “He read the manuscript pages on his frequent flights; he hand-wrote a lot of edits, and we met six or seven times in New York to tape and to go over material. You can be sure I still have those tapes and his handwritten notes!”

In 1994 came “All My Octobers,” (HarperCollins), his World Series recollections, written with Houston sportswriter Mickey Herskowitz. And that same year, he contributed photo captions and memories to “Mickey Mantle: The American Dream Comes to Life,” which was a companion book (written with Lewis Early) to a video of the same name.

After Mantle died in 1995, Herskowitz compiled “A Hero All His Life,” (HarperCollins, 1996), by the remaining members of the Mantle family – his wife Merlyn, and sons Mickey Jr., David and Danny. The first 31 pages however, was Mickey Sr.’s first person account, told to Herskowitz earlier, of his drinking years, his failings as a husband and a father, and his wish to do some things all over again. While Mickey’s name is not on the book jacket as an author, these 31 pages were the most revealing, most honest words he ever contributed to a book. Very hard to read with a dry eye.