Mickey Mantle Didn't Make His a Double in 1961—And Neither Did Roger Maris

Randy S. RobbinsContributor IIIAugust 10, 2012

Mickey Mantle, who probably hadn't doubled, waits to congratulate Roger Maris, who definitely didn't double.
Mickey Mantle, who probably hadn't doubled, waits to congratulate Roger Maris, who definitely didn't double.

Generally speaking, power hitters should rack up a prodigious amount of doubles.

They certainly hit the ball hard enough to reach the outfield wall or split the gaps in the alleys. And except for Harmon Killebrew, whose feet of lead carried him to only 290 career two-baggers—against nearly twice as many home runs (573)—the majority of sluggers do possess doubles totals that correlate with, or at least approach, their home run totals.

Ted Williams slammed 525 doubles to complement his 521 clouts. Lou Gehrig’s 534 doubles outdid his 493 round-trippers. And Hank Aaron, a four-time league leader in two-base hits, collected 624 of them while smashing 755 home runs.  

This is, of course, partly a function of home-stadium dimensions, among other variables, such as foot speed.

What I find most curious about this correlation is that, of the 42 seasons in which a player has hit at least 50 home runs—the traditional mark of a truly superlative slugger—the fewest number of doubles hit in the same season is shared by a pair of teammates.

Teammates who were locked in the most famous home run race in baseball history.

Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris—each known for excellent baserunning and speed in the field—lashed only 16 doubles apiece in that monumental 1961 season. That’s one every 10 games—not a heck of a lot for two premier power hitters.

Yes, they were busy swatting 115 round-trippers between them. But considering that both were fleet afoot—and that Mantle, as a switch-hitter, could consistently utilize all parts of a ballpark—it’s rather amazing that Mantle probably ordered more doubles at Toots Shor’s than either he or Maris hit that season.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Maris, a dead-pull hitter aiming at Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch, rapped only 195 doubles in his career, an average of 22 per season.

But Mantle, for all of his ability to club a ball to Yankee Stadium’s deep left field, averaged only one double more per season than did Maris, posting a career total of 344—substantially fewer than his 536 career home runs.

Contrast this dearth of doubles with Albert Belle, whose 50 home runs in 1995 were abetted by a league-leading 52 doubles.

How stubby-legged Hack Wilson managed to double up Mantle and Maris' combined doubles and tack on three more during his epic 1930 season surely serves as a testament to the rabbit ball.

Even chunky Prince Fielder and the still-chunkier Cecil Fielder waddled their way to more two-baggers while reaching the half-century mark in home runs—35 by Prince and 25 by his father.

Of course, not all 50–home run hitters so widely outpaced the M&M Boys. Plodders such as Jim Thome and Ralph Kiner each logged 19-double seasons while reaching 50 homers. And, in his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s magical 60, Hank Greenberg managed only 23 two-baggers (although in Greenberg’s defense, that doubles figure was an anomaly, as the slow-footed slugger actually averaged a hefty 44 doubles per season during his career).

Bizarrely, the next-lowest doubles total for a 50–home run season after Mantle and Maris belongs to Willie Mays, who slammed a mere 18 in 1955 (he also hit only 21 in his other 50-homer season, 1965). Even stranger, Mays stands just 40th on the all-time doubles list, which seems conspicuously meager for a player with such speed and strength and who also enjoyed hitting in the cavernous alleys of both the Polo Grounds and Candlestick Park.

And although Harmon Killebrew never reached 50 home runs in a season, it bears mentioning that, in 1964, when “Killer” smashed a Major League–best 49 round-trippers, he hustled up a mere 11 doubles—which may well be the fewest ever for a player who clouted at least 40 home runs in a season.

The mark for fewest doubles by a home-run champion since 1900, by the way, is dubiously held not by some forgotten batsman swinging a 52-ounce club at a dead ball, but by Dave Kingman, who, in 1982, lumbered his way to just nine doubles while leading the National League with 37 homers. (Kingman’s basement-level .432 slugging percentage and .717 OPS were positively Dead Ball Era, however.)

At that home runs:doubles ratio, Kingman would have undercut Mantle and Maris in two-baggers even had he surpassed Maris’s record 61 home runs. (Four home run champions preceded Kingman in single-digit doubles totals, but theirs were 19th-century schedules only a fraction of the length of a modern season.)

In any case, who needed Mantle and Maris to swat doubles when the 1961 New York Yankees were launching a then-record 240 homers and bashing their way to 109 wins and an easy World Series title?

Still, knowing which 50–home run hitter knocked the fewest doubles in a season is a good bar bet.

And knowing the player who tied him for that mark is a great way to go double or nothing on that bet.