#9: Mickey Mantle, CF, New York Yankees, 1951-1968


Call me a Yankee homer. Go ahead. I will not fault anyone for that assessment. Gehrig was the greatest First Bagger of all time, but Mantle is damn close to the best CF of all time. Plus, he is my favorite player of all time.

Where to begin with the Mick. How about this: he was the fastest player of all time. ALL TIME. I heard a few years ago that Jose Reyes could go from the batters box to first base in four seconds. Mantle could do it in 3.8. Mantle was an absolute anomaly, a freak of nature. He could not only hit the ball longer than anyone, he was FASTER than anyone. Faster than Mays, Irvan, Aaron, Henderson,  all the Negro League dudes. Mantle was a comet. The Commerce Comet. Honestly, Mantle holds a special place in this scribes heart: Mantle was the man I grew up idolizing. I own more Mickey Mantle books than Popeye owns spinach. I loved the dude, and was devastated, at 14 years of age, when he passed away in 1995. The Mick was the greatest talent, and the greatest drinker, to ever grace the major league stage. But he was a hell of a player, and I hope people realize that. He was like a gazelle in center field, covering more ground than his famous friend in Flushing named Mays, and his plodding friend in Flatbush named Snider.

Mickey Mantle. The name flows off the tongue. Just the perfect baseball entity. Mantle was, and remains, the freakiest talent baseball has ever seen. 4.3 speed. Unfathomable power. Bo Jackson was a freak of nature, we al observed it from 1988-1991. Mantle was better. Faster, stronger. If it wasn’t for DiMaggio (my goomba!) in 1951, Mantle would have equaled, or eclipsed, Willie Mays. He had greater talent, greater abilities. He was, simply put, greater. That sentiment was widely held of the time. Willie Mays is one of the two or three greatest players of all time, but, minus the DiMaggio-caused knee injury, minus all the Billy Martin alcoholic influence, Mantle should have been the greatest player ever. All the tools were there, besides the fact he thought he would be dead by thirty.

I hope to God people realize what a player Mantle was. Did he strike out a bunch? Yessir. Walks? You betcha. His triple slash statline? .298/.422/.557. Mantle was so underrated he was overrated. And vice-versa. 536 homers.

I recognize Mickey Mantle underachieved relative to his talents. The man was still an amazing ballplayer.


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