Mickey Mantle Produced the Two Greatest Seasons of the Modern Era

Harold FriendChief Writer ISeptember 15, 2011

NEW YORK - MAY 02:  The plaque of Mickey Mantle is seen in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium prior to the game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox on May 2, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the White Sox 12-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Mickey Mantle has had the finest back-to-back seasons in the modern era, which started in 1947.

In 1956, Mantle won the Major League’s Triple Crown when he batted .353, hit 52 home runs and batted in 130 runs. In 1957, he batted .365 with 34 home runs and 94 RBIs.

Wins Above Replacement is a powerful statistic that takes into account everything that a player accomplishes.

WAR asks the question, “If this player were injured and his team had to replace him with a minor leaguer or someone from the bench, how much value would the team be losing?”

Mantle's WAR of 12.9 in 1956 is the highest since 1947. Only Babe Ruth, both in 1923 (14.7) and in 1921 (14.0) topped Mantle’s 12.9. Mantle had a WAR of 12.5 in 1957.

Barry Bonds’ best three seasons produced WAR of 12.5, 12.4, and 12.2. Willie Mays’ highest was 11.0, Lou Gehrig’s best was 12.0 and Ted Williams’ top WAR was 11.8.

Derek Jeter’s best was 8.0.

There are a few reasons Mantle is rated so highly based on WAR.

He was a center fielder, which is more difficult to play than left field, where Bonds and Williams played. Center fielders have more value than first basemen, which moves Mantle ahead of Gehrig, Pujols and Jimmy Foxx.

Mantle was an outstanding base runner. In 1956, he is credited with five base running runs, followed by seven in 1957.

In 2001, Bonds had none, which he increased to one in 2002. Willie Mays did better in this category than Mantle’s best only once in his entire career.

In 1956, Mantle stole 10 bases when league leader Luis Aparicio stole 21. In 1957, Mantle stole 16 bases. Aparicio led with 28 steals. Mickey was caught stealing once in 1956 and three times in 1957 for a success rate of 87.5 percent.  In each of those seasons, Willie’s success rate was below 80 percent.

In 1956, American Leaguers batted .260 compared to Mantle’s .353. In 1957, they hit .257 compared to Mantle’s .365.

Fine, it has been revealed that batting average is a misleading statistic. How about the fact that in 1956, the league OPS was .735 compared to Mantle’s 1.169? The following season, the league’s OPS was .708 compared to Mantle’s 1.177.

For most of 2011, the fact that Mariano Rivera was on his way to setting a new saves record was acknowledged but largely underplayed. Part of the reason was that Derek Jeter’s pursuit of his 3,000th hit received the attention. Another factor was that “saves” are a more tenuous measurement than batting average.

Some “experts” are trying to convince a gullible audience that Mariano Rivera ranks higher among the greatest all-time New York Yankees than Mickey Mantle.

Such a statement merely exposes the ignorance of those who make the a claim. Those "experts" should take Abe Lincoln’s advice.

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."