In ''7: The Mickey Mantle Novel,'' a comic, wild, sad and salacious reimagining of the late Yankee's life, Peter Golenbock has taken a calculated risk: that fans will want to hear fictional, profane, smutty and yet plausible stories about Mantle's sex life. The novel isn't entirely about sex, but its sexual content will be the news media's focus until ''7'' is published in March -- if only because of a seduction scene between Mantle and Marilyn Monroe, the M&M icons, both idolized, objectified and deified.
It is not a blasphemous work of fiction; many readers know that Mantle was an alcoholic and womanizer whose wife, Merlyn, did not divorce him despite the many humiliations he visited upon her. She and her surviving sons, Danny and David, wrote openly of their turbulent life with and without Mantle in a family biography, ''A Hero All His Life,'' in 1996.
Far from baseball sacrilege, ''7'' is actually the modern erotica companion to ''Ball Four,'' Jim Bouton's 1970 diary about pitching for the Yankees and the Seattle Pilots. Bouton made clear that teammates like Mantle went to great and silly lengths to see women naked (efforts repurposed in ''7''). The book stunned that era's stodgy baseball establishment, although it would cause barely a ripple of controversy if released in today's market of sexual tell-alls.
The difference between ''7'' and ''Ball Four'' is that Bouton's bestseller was based on reality, while Golenbock's pleads for readers to believe that only fiction can fully convey the Boschian life of Mantle, who emerges as a baseball Caligula, guided happily into group sex by a predatory Billy Martin.
Golenbock uses a device that sends us back to ''Ball Four.'' Mantle tells his story to Leonard Shecter, the sportswriter who shaped Bouton's writings into a book. Using Shecter, who died in 1974, is a clever ploy. Shecter was an inquisitive writer and he gives structure to the biographical fantasy; together they observe conjured scenes from Mantle's life, like the videos of past incidents employed in the Albert Brooks film ''Defending Your Life.''
Bouton said yesterday that when Golenbock sent him a few chapters of the book, he felt that he had accurately rendered Mantle's voice but had misfired on Shecter's. But only readers who knew Shecter will care. ''But I didn't help him with the book,'' Bouton said in a voice mail message.
Golenbock calls his novel an ''inventive memoir'' in his introduction, writing, ''Mickey's friends swear that the incidents in this book are true.''
But he admits that some of the incidents might be ''exaggerated or apocryphal.''
Fiction relieved him of verifying the incidents journalistically -- which was his right, especially because Mantle is dead. But thanks to Mantle's reputation, the sexual stories ring somewhat true.
Golenbock writes that tales told to him over the years by Martin and the former Yankees Bouton, Joe Pepitone, Whitey Ford, Tom Sturdivant and Hank Bauer as helpful. But he does not describe where the teammates' stories ended and his imagination took over. No need for footnotes here.
Golenbock lists Danny Mantle as a friend in his acknowledgments. The Mantle family said in a statement that it would be ''ludicrous and offensive'' to infer any help from Danny because his name was cited.
The burst of attention for ''7'' rests in what it says about Mantle and the predictable feeling of shock from his adoring public. But also noteworthy is its publisher, Regan Books, which acquired, and last month embarrassedly cancelled, O. J. Simpson's questionable book of murderous hypotheticals, ''If I Did It.'' Maybe it was nonfiction, maybe it wasn't, but Judith Regan, who runs her eponymous imprint for Harper Collins, called it a confession.
In a statement released by Regan Books, Regan defended the ''use of fiction to get at the deeper truths of a historical figure's life,'' and noted that Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth and Don DeLillo used public figures as fictional characters.
About ''7,'' she said: ''It is frank, unflinching, warts-and-all, and there is nothing shameful or 'sacrilegious' about it.''
Golenbock declined to be interviewed by telephone or by e-mail.
The viability of Golenbock's approach will soon be tested in a way he has never experienced in his autobiographical collaborations with Sparky Lyle (''The Bronx Zoo''), Graig Nettles (''Balls'') and Johnny Damon (''Idiot''), his biography of Billy Martin, and his numerous sports oral histories.
Brian Nielsen, an owner of Augur's Bookstore, five doors away from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., said he probably would not stock the book.
''Everybody knew he used to party and they just don't talk about it,'' Nielsen said of Mantle. ''It's not like he took steroids.''
Robert Thiel, a merchandise manager at The Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, Ill., said, ''I don't think fans are looking to see heroes stripped of their aura.''
He added: ''From what I've heard, with its fictionalized dialogue, I can't see fans buying it.''