Yankees: Why Mickey Mantle was the Best Switch Hitter of All-Time

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Some of the greatest baseball players of all-time have played for the Yankees, even if it was just for a short stint in their career. Mickey Mantle played in Yankee Stadium for his entire career. Why does this matter?

Some of the greatest baseball players of all-time have played for the Yankees, even if it was just for a short stint in their career. Mickey Mantle played in Yankee Stadium for his entire career. Why does this matter? What importance does it make? So did Derek Jeter, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Don Mattingly. Well, Mickey Mantle hit more home runs than all of those guys, while hitting from both sides of the plate. He also did it in the same gigantic ballpark as DiMaggio and Gehrig, but DiMaggio never hit a home run over the left-center wall.

When Mantle played at old Yankee Stadium the monuments were once in the field of play, not only making for a more challenging fielding effort but a needed tape measure home run. A home run today would never amount to one ball hit over the left-center wall while the monuments of

“When he hit the ball the sound came through the television set like a fire cracker (Sam Romano, Yankees Fan)

Yankees greats Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Miller Huggins, were still in play. Mantle became the holder of the phrase “tape-measure home run,” after hitting a home run in Griffith Stadium that was measured at 565 feet. This was the only time that someone stopped to measure one of his home runs and is still the longest recorded home run in history. He also smashed one that hit the Yankee Façade in right field. This ball, with the right math, was estimated to be a 734 foot home run, although it was never proven/ measured. “When he hit the ball the sound came through the television set like a firecracker. If it didn’t hit the façade it might have hit the El Train.” said fan Sam Romano recalling it as a 14-year-old.

Mantle always said after hitting a home run, “I didn’t want to show up the pitcher. I figured he felt bad enough already.”

Mantle played a style of baseball that has disappeared many would agree. He never showboated nor did he look up after hitting a home run. He gave it 100 percent at all times. He was able to think the game as much as he allowed his raw talent to take the Yankees to seven World Series Titles.

Mantle was an injury-stricken ballplayer that still strung together some of the best statistics we have ever seen.

Mantle broke his leg in right-center field trying to keep up with playing both right and center field almost simultaneously his rookie year. He started out in right field in his rookie season because

If I’d known I was gonna live this long, I’d taken better care of myself.” (Mickey Mantle)

DiMaggio was still playing. The Yankee fan base did not want to part with the Yankee Clipper in Center Field until he retired. Casey Stengel, the Yankees manager, knew that DiMaggio was getting old and could not play the position as well as years past. So, he told Mantle to try and pick up the slack. So, when he stepped on one of the drainage ditches, he broke his leg. He had to be carried off the field. Mantle would drink, smoke and keep going past curfew many nights which lead him to say later in his life that if
he knew he was going to live as long as he did, 63, he would have taken better care of himself.
The Babe Ruth question also applied to Mickey; if he had taken better care of himself would he have been even better?

Mantle not only hit and fielded like no other player in the league, with the exception of maybe Willie Mays, but he was one of the fastest players in history. He tallied on numerous occasions less than 4 seconds to first base from the right side of the plate while having countless more come from the left side in his first five seasons. He wasn’t paid to steal but did it with the best of them barely getting caught although he only stole over 20 bases once. He ran a 3.1 to first base from the left hander’s batter’s box which is still to date the fastest time recorded by a baseball player.

Mantle had brittle bones and ligaments due to his father, Mutt Mantle, being a coal miner.

It also did not help that Mutt was a chain smoker. Mutt worked 8-hour shifts in the mines, and the family knew that he either stopped working or would follow suit with the other coal miners, dead by the age of 40. If he did not die from cancer, he would have died from Tuberculosis. Such a sad thought for such a young Mickey. Mutt was Mickey’s inspiration, mentor, and idol. Mutt did die at the age of 40 which was Mickey’s rookie year with the Yankees. Just after Mickey broke his leg, he was sent down to the minors. He was recalled from the minor leagues after Mutt gave Mickey a pep-talk to jump start him to a .360 season.

The first season with 162 games in 1961 came with controversy as Maris and Mantle battled for Babe’s record.

When Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, Mantle had 54 home runs already while being burdened with an injury for the final nine games of the regular season. He was ahead of Maris by two homers before he was injured in his 153rd game. No duo on the same team has come close to their total home runs in the same season.

The difference was that Maris started the previous year off terribly, hitting less than .220 with only a few home runs. So, Stengel made a switch to put Maris batting third, and Mantle hit fourth, Ralph Houk, the manager after Stengel retired, kept this going. In ’61 Maris was never intentionally walked. Proving Mantle did not need anyone to protect him, and Maris did.

This proved to be the best lineup switch in history helping them to become the M&M boys.

Once this switch happened, no one would want to walk Maris, for Mantle would be on-deck, giving the Yankees almost a guaranteed run, possibly two. Maris walked 94 times while Mantle led the league with 126. It also allowed Maris to see more fastballs, so there were not men on base with the best hitter in the game coming to the plate. Mantle began to see more curveballs and was still able to make the adjustments necessary to continue to produce for his ball club. He had a small stretch where he was in a slump, but after he got acclimated Mantle had his best home run total of his career being the protector for Maris. They competed for the same title and the same record that year, but never saw each other as enemies instead they became the best of friends.

Mantle regretted playing the last few seasons, but the Yankees needed the money, realizing that they were not going to have a good team for years to come.

The Yankees predicted right as they signed Mantle for the last four seasons and did not appear in a World Series from 1964 to when Billy Martin’s Yankees lost to the Reds in 1976, then beat the Dodgers in 1977. So they paid Mantle $100,000, the highest paid player in the game at the time, to be on the field for the Yankees fan base. At this point in his career he already had his best seasons and from then on his body did not allow him to be the same. He did not play in as many games as he once could and finally had to move to first base in his final two seasons to stay healthy long enough to play 144 games. He would have finished his career with a .300 average if he did not play his last season, when he batted .237, finally proving to be human, bringing his career batting average to .298. When he retired, he was third on the all-time home run list behind only Ruth and Mays.

More from Yanks Go Yard

Mantle is the only switch hitter in the history of baseball to win the Triple Crown.

In 1956 he had 52 home runs, 130 RBIs, and a .353 batting average. The following season he hit .365 and did not win the batting title, the only year he won it was the year he won the Triple Crown despite hitting .300 or more ten times. He won seven World Series championships with the Yankees while appearing in 12. To this day he holds the records for the most home runs in World Series play with 18. He finished top 5 in the MVP voting nine times while winning the MVP three times, which no switch hitter has ever done.

Tony Kubek, the shortstop on three of Mantle’s seven World Series championship teams and someone who was never afraid to tell it like it is, once said that if Mantle had played in a ballpark as small as Fenway, he would have hit over 800 home runs.

He had 38 in Fenway as a visitor. Whether this is true or not is always going to be left up to the imagination, but it stirs up some of the best controversies. Mantle made outs that would have landed in the streets of Boston as a right-handed batter.

Berra’s Analysis

One game Elston Howard made an out that the other team’s center fielder ran down and caught it behind the monuments. Mantle made an out in the same place, which was at the time a 460-foot plus out, depending on how close it got to the wall. Then, Yogi Berra pulled a ball dead down the right field line and hit a 308-foot home run. Berra told them with his typical humor that someone should teach them how to pull the ball.

The players that give Mantle the most struggle for the title of the best switch hitter.

Pete Rose could be seen as the best with the record for most hits in a career, but he did not hit

There’s a strong case for Mantle being the best switch-hitter to have ever played the game

200 home runs and only won three World Series. He did win the Rookie of the Year but only won the MVP once. Then, there is Eddie Murray who is the only switch hitter with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. The difference is that he had a career batting average of .287 and only led the league in home runs, walks, RBIs and OBP one time. He also never won the MVP of the league though he won the ROY award and was a consistent player hitting 20 home runs in 20 of his 21 seasons. Then, there is Chipper Jones. He puts up a good argument as well, but was not able to lead the league in home runs and only led the league in batting average and OBP once. He did win the MVP once and one World Series, but was not able to lead the league in baseball’s top statistics year in year out like the unstoppable force Mantle proved to be. Like Mantle, though, Jones never played in a full 162 games always being stricken by injuries. Not to discredit any of these fantastic switch-hitters along with others that did not make this list.

What made him the best switch hitter of all-time?

He did not finish his career with an above .300 average. He did not surpass 2,500 hits. So let’s admire the best switch hitter there ever was.

Mantle proved to be far superior to all the other switch hitters, as he led the league in runs five times, triples once, home runs four times, despite having over 100 RBIs four times the only time he won it was with the Triple Crown. He also led in walks five times, on-base percentage three times, slugging percentage four times and intentional walks twice. The amazing part is he did not win the OBP when he had one of .512 in 1957. He also never had the most hits in a season despite having 188 while winning the Triple Crown. He filled every column with surprising statistics especially for how many 100 walk seasons he had, 10, proving he made the most out of every opportunity. He showed that a healthy Mantle which began taking cortisone shots before games so he could play was the most difficult out in the game. He gave pitchers nightmares as he could hit the ball out of any park including Yellowstone. He put up these fantastic statistics while having multiple seasons where he did not finish 100 games.

Next: Six Great Moments In Yankees History

So with his full resume that could go on for about a mile and a half, he not only is baseball’s best switch hitter, but arguably the best all-around player in history, but that can be saved for another day.