It looks like “batter up!” again on the theatrical boards: Mickey Mantle is the subject of a new play that writer-producer David Leaf is working on with the cooperation of Danny and David Mantle, sons of the incredibly talented but careless New York Yankees star, who died in 1995.
Broadway World reports that Leaf has begun putting a team together for the show, which has Broadway ambitions.
He's known for delving into the lives of pop music heroes, first gaining notice with his 1978 book, “The Beach Boys and the California Myth,” then directing or co-directing the documentary films “The Night James Brown Saved Boston” and “The U.S. Versus John Lennon.”
Leaf told Broadway World that Mantle was his first hero, and promises to "bring him to life, flaws and all" on the stage. Together with Willie Mays, Mantle brought a previously unseen combination of power and speed to ballparks of the 1950s and '60s. But Mantle was plagued by injuries and undermined by alcoholism and after-hours carousing during his playing days.
Theater critics tend to save some of their fiercest brushback pitches for well-known actors or writers who attempt plays without having established their stage bona fides, so Leaf could be batting under pressure while trying to expand the roster of distinguished baseball plays.
Veteran playwright Lee Blessing's well-received baseball biography, “Cobb,” dealt with the ferocious early 1900s Detroit Tigers star, Ty Cobb. Richard Greenberg, a big Yankees fan, took home a best-play Tony Award in 2003 for “Take Me Out,” which speculated about what might happen if a gay baseball star decided to come out of the closet. The protagonist’s aplomb, if not his sexuality, was modeled on Yankees star Derek Jeter.
Less promisingly, “The Babe,” a one-man show about Babe Ruth, took a critical drubbing and closed four days after its May 1984 Broadway opening.
“Bleacher Bums,” a 1977 play conceived by Joe Mantegna for Chicago’s Organic Theater Company, paid homage to long-suffering Cubs fans. Dennis Franz was also in the original Chicago and off-Broadway cast.
Dodgers lore came to the stage with “Mr. Rickey Calls A Meeting,” a fictionalized account of preparations for Jackie Robinson breaking major league baseball’s racial barrier in 1947. Sheldon Epps directed the show by Brooklyn playwright Ed Schmidt in 1990s stagings at the Old Globe in San Diego and the Pasadena Playhouse.
A flipside of that show would be “Fences,” August Wilson’s Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about a fictional former great of the Negro Leagues who's undone by his bitterness over the racism that excluded him from major league stardom.