Why Mickey Mantle Gets Better with Each Passing Year

Harold FriendChief Writer ISeptember 2, 2011

Mickey Mantle
Mickey Mantle

During most his career, Mickey Mantle was ranked among the top two or three players in the game, right up there with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

Over the last few decades, evaluating players statistically has resulted in Mickey Mantle becoming better in 2011 than he was when he was an active player.

This is not an attempt to claim that Mays, Aaron or Mantle was the greatest.

During the 1950s, the most important statistic was batting average. The best hitters were considered those who batted at least .300.  Anything less than an artificial cutoff mark of about .270 was bad.

Sluggers such as Gus Zernial, Roy Sievers, Hank Sauer and Wally Post were underrated because of their low batting averages.

The number of walks a batter accumulated was mentioned, but usually with the disclaimer that a walk was rarely as good as a hit.

Mickey Mantle hit at least .300 seven times in his career. In 1962, he hit .321 but had only 377 at-bats in 123 games. He finished with a .298 average, which was one of his greatest regrets.

Mays finished at .302 and Aaron at .305, but Mantle had many more walks than either of them.

In 1957, when he was bothered by a terrible case of shin splints that limited his playing time, Mantle walked 146 times and had a .512 on-base average.

Coming off his Triple Crown season when he batted .353 with 52 home runs and 130 RBI, batting .365/.512/.665 with 34 home runs was underappreciated.

The emphasis was that Mickey hit only 34 home runs, batted in only 94 runs and didn't even have 500 at-bats. Today, Mickey's 1957 season is considered by some as the best of his career.

Mays's best on-base average was .425 in 1971, when he hit only .271 with 112 walks.

Aaron's best on-base average was .410, also in 1971, when he hit .327 with 71 walks.

Lifetime, Mantle had a .421 on-base average, compared to Mays's .384 and Aaron's .374.

Mantle, Mays and Aaron had good protection in their respective lineups.

Mantle had Yogi Berra, Bill Skowron, Roger Maris and Elston Howard in the batting order, while Mays had Don Mueller, Hank Sauer, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey.

Aaron had Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, Joe Torre, Felipe Alou, Rico Carty and Darrell Evans.

Mantle was willing to take a walk. Mays and Aaron wanted to swing the bat.

OPS is the sum of a batter's on-base average and slugging average. Its emphasis has helped Mickey's ranking tremendously.

Mantle had a .557 slugging average. So did Mays. Aaron slugged .555. It couldn't get much closer, but because of his walks, Mantle's OPS is .978 compared to Mays's .941 and Aaron's .929.

The league OPS when Mantle played was .715. When Mays played it was .730 and when Aaron played it was .722.

Statistics can be used to support many positions. It is undeniable that Aaron hit 219 more home runs than Mantle. Mays hit 124 more. 

Modern statistics helps to illuminate some of Mickey Mantle's accomplishments that were not as well appreciated when he played.