The author of "The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood" says the resulting scars probably played a big role in the legendary New York Yankee centerfielder's lifestyle.
Leavy conceded to "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith Tuesday that there have been plenty of books written about "the Mick" - "give or take a thousand!" she joked.
So why pen another?
Leavy, who also wrote the definitive biography of Dodger icon Sandy Koufax, said, "It's been 15 years since (Mantle's) death, and one can look from the vantage point of history, and before all his contemporaries die, and look back and say, 'O.K. Why does this guy still hold such a place in the American imagination? Why is it that people who weren't alive when he played are still paying thousands of dollars for his signature?" '
"Basically," Leavy explained, "he embodied a kind of post-war American optimism - his muscles, which were honest muscles -- no steroids there! -- were sort of a natural resource. And that coast-to-coast smile. This is a time we could do anything, fix anything, hit anything -- from both sides of the plate!" (Mantle was a switch-hitter, perhaps the greatest who ever lived)
Despite all the past books on Mantle, it was only in Leavy's that word of the abuse came out. From Mantle's wife, Merlyn Mantle.
"She had disclosed it in passing, in a family memoir," Leavy explained to Smith. "And what she said was that she was not sure whether she should have mentioned it but, because it gave her the first time of feeling that she really understood her husband, she thought it was important to disclose.
"And I went back and talked to her about it, and he had been abused by his half-older sister. And he was mortified. One of the things about Mickey that everybody knew, is that he hated being laughed at. And she said that the half-older sister and her teenage friends would fondle him and then laugh and laugh. Well, I started to talk to other friends, and other women with whom he had long-term relationships, and he had disclosed bits and pieces of the story to lots of people. He had been abused also by neighborhood boys. He told one friend, that's how he learned to run so fast. Because if he could sense trouble coming, he took off. He told his companion of the last ten years about a relationship with a high school teacher. He said, 'That's the only way I got through high school." '
Smith observed that Mantle was known to be "perpetually in search of a good time … (in) sort of every way conceivable. Is that (the abuse) part of the explanation for that?"
"It is," Leavy responded. "After I heard these stories, I went to talk to experts about childhood sexual abuse. And what was astonishing, if Merlyn felt she understood her husband, I felt I understood my subject. There's a constellation of behaviors that they see over and over in survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Alcoholism and drug abuse. Promiscuity. Self-loathing. Shame. Inability to get close to others. And people who lead actually kind of double -- split lives. And Mickey mantle fits those to a 'T." '
Leavy showed Smith a sweater she cherishes - one given to her by Mantle.
"In 1983, I was a reporter at the Washington Post," she recalled. "And I went to interview my hero. And it's different to interview your hero, as opposed to somebody else's.
"And I was nervous. And I walked up, and waited for him, waited for him. He was late. He was hung over.
"When he finally shows up he says, 'Hi, I'm Mick.' And I said, 'Hi, I'm nervous.' And he said, 'Why, did you think he was going to pull on your - ' and I will spare everybody the anatomical part. And my childhood ended in a moment."
"And so," she continued, "two hours later, on a golf course, he was a completely different person. He was wearing my sweater. … And he saw that I was cold and I was shivering. And he was able to step out of 'his Mickness,' as I like to put it, and see me for what and who I was and what I needed. He was a man of great emotional I.Q. A term we didn't use back then."
"And there you have the sweater," Smith remarked. "And having that sweater around all those years you probably, you know, would come back and say, 'I've got to figure out why this guy was so important to me." '
Hence, the book.
To read an excerpt of "The Last Boy," click here.