Mantle vs. Mays: the Great Debate

Bronx Baseball DailySenior Analyst IMarch 24, 2009

The Fantasy Baseball Hall of Fame blog took another look at the great debate: Who’s better: Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays?

“It’s an age old argument that every avid baseball fan has a particular, and usually fervent, opinion – who would you rather have manning centerfield and batting third – Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays?

Both are among the elite all time greats, not just Baseball Hall of Famers, but inner circle Hall of Famers.  Both were not just admired, but loved by their fan base, and were the faces of their respective organizations.  Not that this matters in a subjective investigation into their worth, but it helps explain why fans can feel so strongly that “their” guy was the best.

While the argument is still clearly undecided, many people can live with the following distinction:  Mays had the better career, but Mantle had the best peak.  The rub of course, is the definition of peak.  Is it 3-years, 5-years, or 7-years? Is it something else?”

They determine that Mays had the better overall numbers, mostly because he had more years in the league, but the pair’s overall averages were very similar. The biggest difference that gave Mays the edge: stolen bases. They point out that over the long haul, that would have made a big difference when it came to which one you would have wanted on your fantasy team.

Mays also had 22 strong fantasy seasons compared to Mantle’s 16, but when you start narrowing down their peak years from 15 to ultimately three, two, and one, Mantle starts catching up.

“And there it is.  While Mantle outpaces Mays just once in FBHOF score, he clearly becomes the better hitter in all three summarizations.  He scored more runs, hit more homers, and drove in more runners than Mays by considerable margins.  Mays of course maintains his commanding lead in fantasy terms because of his stolen base output, but the general public is more concerned with power numbers and batting average, and is likely where the line of thinking began.

Note that Mantle also held his own in batting average as Mays never put together a .340 batting average and 45 HR’s in the same season.  Mantle’s best effort was a hitter’s delight - .353 AVG, 132 R, 130 RBI, 52 HR.  Mays excellence was more subtle and balanced – close to a 40-40 year with good run producing and a very good batting average.”

Basically, if you were drafting the two players, Mays would have been the smart choice in the long runhe stole more bases and played more years. But there is no denying that if you were going to take either in a random year, Mays never quite reached the heights of Mantle, in their peaks.

Makes you wonder what kind of player Mantle was if he didn’t inflict so much abuse upon his body.

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