“Best Wishes, Fritz Peterson #19” That’s how my copy of Mickey Mantle Is Going To Heaven starts. It is a book written by a famous former New York Yankee pitcher. He was an All-Star. He won 20 games once. He played with Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle – legends, not just Yankees legends, but baseball legends. He hung out with Joe DiMaggio, another legend, on Old Timers Game days. Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, Joe Pepitone, Jim Bouton… Fritz played with them all. For a spell, he was better than most of his competition. Then his arm went south and it all ended quickly thereafter. Mickey Mantle Is Going To Heaven covers this.
But there’s more to Fritz Peterson. There’s always more to somebody than what they put down in their memoir. Is this book a memoir? Maybe. Peterson has prostate cancer and thought he was going to die, so he put pen to paper and wrote before it was too late. So, even though he never uses the word “memoir,” we could call it that.
Is it a tell all? Kind of. He writes stories about Whitey Ford doctoring balls. He writes about Joe Pepitone’s hairpiece (two hairpieces, actually, one for under a cap and one for when he didn’t were a cap). He explains why he is mad at his former roommate, Jim Bouton, for writing the famous Ball Four. And he lets readers in on numerous practical jokes that are not only creative but disciplined; some of which took months to reach fruition.
Is this a religious book? Yes. And no. Yes it is, in that every chapter focuses on one, or a few, different baseball personalities. At the end of the chapter, we find out Peterson’s “verdict,” based upon each respective person’s alleged belief, or disbelief, in God as to whether or not that person will go to heaven, hell, or take a “dip” in the lake of fire for a while before eventually making his way to the Pearly Gates (he actually disputes the existence of Pearly Gates as well). It’s not a religious book in that every page is not inundated with scripture and suggested psalms (read Paul Byrd’s Free Byrd if that’s what you’re looking for). In his day, Fritz Peterson played hard and joked/partied just as hard. He doesn’t condemn his past. In fact, he glorifies it. So this religious man still knows a good time, even if he wouldn’t partake in some of the goings-on anymore.
Mickey Mantle Is Going To Heaven is, more than anything, a baseball book. It is about a baseball player who wanted to win it all but never did. It’s about a time in baseball before money and big free agent contracts. It’s about getting along with teammates and hating the competition (Peterson hates – HATES – the Mets but does write a chapter called “Even Met Fans Go To Heaven”).
Ironically, this book is not one that will ever pave the way for its author to grace the cover of Us Weekly. While Peterson’s famous “trade” of wives in 1972 was huge news in spring training of 1973, and that trade is what Peterson may be best known for today, very little about that transaction is covered. He devotes a chapter to his former best friend and fellow teammate and “swapper,” Mike Kekich, as well as a chapter called “A New Era In Journalism,” which is the one portion of the book that goes the farthest into the infamous episode.
But a reader can see Peterson held back. There is still a cloak of privacy over the author, whose second (and current) wife, the one he traded for, is never mentioned by name even though one could easily find it on Wikipedia. The How and Why of the ’72 event is never really answered, other than Peterson and his second wife fell in love. In a recent Jimmy Scott’s High & Tight Interview with Fritz Peterson, he says how the day after his divorce went through he married his second wife. So maybe, in today’s time, when we want and expect to know every private thought and action of our public figures, just maybe the How and Why is as simple as two bad marriages, four people trying to figure out how to be happy, and two people falling in love and staying there.
An interesting thought is that if Peterson and Kekich had done something like trading wives today, there would be a reality show one television (and baseball) season later covering the aftermath, earning untold riches for the participants. There would be the magazine covers, the book deals, the film. But 37 years later, the only book deal is Peterson’s. A film deal is in the works, he says, through Warner Bros. Whether it ever sees the light of day is anyone’s guess.
While the book is not perfect – there are typos and incorrect grammar throughout, it is a good book for those interested in the fun side of baseball, the side before slugging plus on base percentage meant everything. If you have a few hours one day, you’d be using the time wisely reading your copy of Mickey Mantle Is Going To Heaven.
Jimmy Scott is probably the greatest pitcher you’ve never heard of. Visit Jimmy Scott’s High & Tight to read more from Jimmy and guests Desi Relaford, Eric Valent & Real Baseball Wife Cassidy Dover. You’ll also hear a new interview every Monday morning with former MLB players, agents, wives and others; giving new outlooks on this great game we call Baseball. Go there now to hear Jimmy’s latest interviews with Rollie Fingers, Mike Vaccaro, Natalie Niekro and Lary Sorensen. You can follow Jimmy on Twitter or Facebook.