The inquiry arrived via e-mail with a note of urgency from my publisher: You might want to take a look at this. Mrs. Frank Sullivan had just received a condolence call from a dear friend who had learned of her husband's death on page 162 of The Last Boy, my 2010 biography of Mickey Mantle. Mrs. Frank Sullivan was upset. She was also surprised because her husband, an All-Star pitcher for the 1950s Red Sox, was sitting beside her on their porch in Kauai watching the sunset and sipping his favorite wine from a box. Mrs. Frank Sullivan wished to know how soon I might declare him undead.
I was appropriately mortified. Mickey murdered the ball, sure, but I had killed Frank. My apology was prompt and profuse. I had tried to find Frank Sullivan, honest. Two former teammates (at least!) and one heretofore unimpeachable online source had reported that Frank was putting on his pants one leg at a time in a better world.
I had grieved for him and, truth to tell, for myself because Frank wasn't just another dead ballplayer. He was responsible for the best line ever uttered about Mantle, maybe the best line ever uttered by a major league pitcher. Asked how he pitched to the Mick, Frank answered on behalf of the 548 menaced hurlers who faced Mantle over 18 years: "With tears in my eyes."
I had to use it. So I put Frank in the past tense.
The "late" Frank Sullivan e-mailed the next day:
Dear Jane, it would distress me big time if you were to lose a minute's sleep over this. I know I haven't. And besides, you're probably not off by much.
Sully, who is now 82, pitched for the Red Sox from 1953 to '60, in the era before the ball club attained Most Favored Nation status. He was far better than the teams he played for, a two-time All-Star who deserved a kinder fate—certainly from me. "Water off a duck's back," he said when I called to make further amends. "Don't forget you're dealing with a guy who was booed by thousands."
He doesn't remember when he said what he said about the Mick, what occasioned it or to whom he said it. Mantle had a way of obliterating memory. "He was spooky good," Frank says.
Theirs was a liaison dangereuse, a template for the complications faced by every pitcher who threw to the Mick. It lasted nine years, on and off: 27 one-night stands, home and away; 79 brief encounters at the plate (including unofficial at bats), each preserved in box scores and encrypted in agate type.
AB H 2B 3B HR BB IBB SO HBP SH SF AVG OBP SLG