Tuesday, January 29, 2008

TW Hit List - Mickey Mantle

Williams admits to not expecting much from Mantle when he first saw him come up to the bigs. He took big swings and missed a lot. In fact, he says Casey Stengel benched him for parts of his rookie year to prevent him from setting a record for strikeouts. But Mantle matured and developed. And while always having a big swing and striking out often, he became one of the greatest and most popular sluggers in the history of the game.

Mantle played his whole career with the Yankees. So a shy boy from Oklahoma with a reputation for humility was given the biggest stage in baseball to display his talents. It is well known that Mantle’s career was injury-plagued. It is well known that he often played through considerable pain. And yet that he played and put up such big numbers cemented his popularity. He won three MVP awards, including in 1956 when he won the Triple Crown, and led the AL in home runs and slugging percentage four times. He finished with 536 home runs, a .298 batting average and a .979 OPS. Williams makes the point that he was much more the free swinger than the others we’ve discussed so far, except for Mays. Both Mays and Mantle swung hard and missed a lot, which Williams claims as reason for their lower respective batting averages. Williams says, “Mickey hardly knew what protecting the plate was. . . .He didn’t know you that you had to hit certain pitchers a little differently than you did certain other pitchers. . . [Mays and Mantle] continued to swing for the fences regardless of the count.” I don’t disagree with him, but to be fair to Mantle, his average was subpar for his last four seasons which were likely his most painful ones.

Still, Mantle was doubtless a great hitting talent with famous power. We had mentioned that Jimmie Foxx had that distinctive “bomb” sound when he hit one. Williams says Mantle had it too. “It was so distinctive that a blind man could pick out a Foxx or Mantle home run.” We forget that Mantle also had great natural speed and was a rare combination of speed and power for his day (BBB). In addition, Mantle was a switch-hitter and surely the greatest in the game’s history when he retired. Yet Williams is careless when he says, “Mantle was the greatest switch-hitter this game will ever see.” Either I am misunderstanding Williams or I would have done very well to glean stock tips from him before his death. Even careful baseball observers like Williams make mistakes when they presume to foretell history’s end. Greatest ever seen? That’s it? Pack it up? Is baseball closing shop? Is switch-hitting going to be prohibited? Has God decreed? But there is more. “One of the greatest records anyone will ever have and one that will never be beaten is his 18 home runs in the World Series.” His record is surely impressive and he may be the greatest World Series hitter ever (he also leads all-time in RBI’s, runs, total bases, and bases on balls), but it is taking nothing from Mantle to deny him a monopoly on the future. Given enough time, someone on some team may yet come along that challenges these records, and the future is a notoriously long time.

But such abandon does serve to declare Mantle’s justly esteemed position as one of baseball’s all-time greats. He went about to hit the ball as hard as he could every time at the plate. Who could not respect this? I don’t care what the statheads may or may not say. The game is for the fans. And Mantle was the kind of player the fans come to see. “If I had played my career hitting singles like Pete [Rose], I’d wear a dress.”


At 5:31 PM, Blogger dil8d halo said...

He played through pain yet nowadays guys get doped up on cortizone or whatever. He was a man.


Post a Comment

<< Home