Mickey Mantle Was a Better Hitter Than Willie Mays

Harold FriendChief Writer IOctober 15, 2011

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 21:  A view of the Yankee Stadium at sunset prior to the start of the last game at Yankee Stadium between the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees on September 21, 2008 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Yankee Stadium held it's inaugural game on April 18, 1923 against the Boston Red Sox and tonight's match will be the final game to be played at the historic stadium. During it's 85 years as 'The Home of Champions,' the stadium has also been known as 'The House that Ruth Built' and 'The Cathedral.' The stadium has been host to 33 World Series, three Papal visits and has been visited by legends such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Bera, Mickey Mantle and boxing great Muhummad Ali. In 2009 the Yankees will move across the street to a newly constructed stadium estimated to cost $1.3 billion.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

When the "experts" compared Mickey Mantle to Willie Mays, the first thing they mentioned was each player's batting average. Then they compared the number of home runs each player hit and that was usually followed by comparing their slugging averages. Finally, RBI totals and runs scored were cited.

Mantle struck out much more than Mays, which was considered a tremendous negative. Mantle walked much more than Mays, but on base average didn't become an official statistic until 1984.

After each had retired, Mays was generally considered the greater offensive player, although it was generally conceded that when he was healthy, as he was for most of 1956, Mantle more than held his own against Mays.

In 2011, a player's offensive abilities are measured differently from the days of Mantle and Mays.

Many of the recently created modern statistics fail to account for many variables and some might even be based on faulty premises, but they have made Mantle into a better offensive player than Mays, so more power to them.

Batting average is much less important today than it was when Mantle and Mays were active.

Mantle finished at .298. Mays finished at .302.  However, American Leaguers batted .256 during Mantle's career while National Leaguers hit .264 during Mays' career. Mantle hit 42 points higher than the league average. Mays batted 38 points above the league average. Of course, during the 1950s, the National League had many more great black players than the American League. Statistics are great.

Mantle's career on base average was .421 compared to Mays' .384. Each had a .557 slugging average.

Mantle's best single-season slugging averages were .705 in 1956, .687 in 1961 and .665 in 1957. Mays' best were .667 in 1954, .659 in 1955 and .645 in 1965.

Do you think they were pretty good hitters?

The most home runs Mantle hit in a season was 54 in 1961. Mays' single-season high was 52 in 1965.

Now let's go to the new measurements.

WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, purports to determine the number of wins a player added to the team above what a replacement player would add. A WAR value greater than eight is considered MVP quality and a value greater than five is All-Star quality.

Mantle's top WAR values are 12.9, 12.5 and 11.9. Mays' best are 11.0, 10.6 and 10.4.

Mays played for 19 full seasons. In 1952 (army), 1972 and 1973, he was a part-time player. Mantle played 16 complete seasons. He missed much of 1963 when he broke his foot in a fence at Baltimore and played in only 96 games his rookie season.

Mays' career WAR is 154.7. Mantle's is 120.2.

Offensive winning percentage purports to determine the percentage of games a team with nine of a specific player batting would win, assuming average pitching and defense. Mantle produced an .803 winning percentage compared to Mays' .748.

Willie Mays was the most exciting player in the game when he wasn't batting. Mantle was the most exciting batter since the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

On the bases and in the field, few could compare to the excitement Mays brought to the game, but when Mantle stepped into the batter's box, the possibility of seeing a ball leave Yankee Stadium, the sound of the ball meeting the bat and the chance that Mantle would eschew going for the downs and try to start a rally by dragging a bunt are almost indescribable.

It is fascinating to compare how Mantle and Mays were evaluated when they played to how their careers are evaluated today.

Regardless of one's preference, few players have been as great as Mantle or Mays.

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