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  • Writer's picturePaul Semendinger

COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#7)

By Paul Semendinger

***

Mickey Mantle was the greatest Yankee to wear uniform #7. Of course.


Mickey Mantle was arguably the third greatest Yankee of All-Time. Only three Yankees earned over 100 career WAR in pinstripes:

  • Babe Ruth 143.4

  • Lou Gehrig 113.6

  • Mickey Mantle 110.2

After Mantle, it's not really close. Ruth, Gehrig, and Mantle are light years ahead of the other legendary Yankees:

  • Joe DiMaggio 79.2

  • Derek Jeter 71.3

  • Yogi Berra 59.6

  • Bill Dickey 56.4

  • Willie Randolph 54.1

  • Alex Rodriguez 54.0

  • Bernie Williams 49.6

Mickey Mantle was that good. Mickey Mantle was that great.


But, Mickey Mantle was even greater than one might imagine. A good argument can be made that Mickey Mantle was one of the greatest players to ever play the game.


Many people consider Willie Mays the greatest baseball player of all-time. He might have been. The purpose of this article isn't to debate that point, but one can point to some stats that demonstrate that at his best, Mantle was every bit as good as Mays. And, maybe even better...


Willie Mays' best single season by OPS+ was 1965. He won the MVP that year as he batted .317/52/112. Mays' OPS+ in 1965 was 185.


Mickey Mantle had five full seasons (FIVE!) with an OPS+ above 185:

  • 1957 OPS+ 221 .365/34/94

  • 1956 OPS+ 210 .353/52/130

  • 1961 OPS+ 206 .317/54/128

  • 1962 OPS+ 195 .321/30/89

  • 1958 OPS+ 188 .304/42/97

That's a powerful statement. Mickey Mantle had five seasons with an OPS+ better than Willie Mays' best season by that measurement.


And there is more:

  • Willie Mays' best OPS in a season was 1.078. Mickey Mantle's was 1.177

  • Willie Mays had five seasons with an OPS above 1.000. Mickey Mantle had eight.

  • Willie Mays' best slugging percentage was .667. Mickey Mantle's was .705.

Let's look at their career numbers in OPB/SLG/OPS:


MAYS .384/.557/.940

MANTLE .421/.557/.977


These are pretty straightforward numbers and they show that Mantle was an offensive powerhouse just as good as Mays. And, again, an argument can be made that Mantle was better.


But... there's more:

  • Willie Mays played in five World Series. His team won once.

  • Mickey Mantle played in twelve World Series. His team won seven times.

***

Now, to be fair, lifetime WAR tells a story that is much more favorable to Willie Mays. In this area, Mays crushes Mantle (156.1 to 110.2). If WAR is the statistic that ends all arguments, the case is settled. Willie Mays was a better player. Still, I don't think many fans today realize how truly great Mickey Mantle was.


There aren't many players that can hang with Willie Mays. Mickey Mantle does.


In short, Mickey Mantle wasn't just the greatest Yankee to wear uniform number 7, Mickey Mantle was one of the greatest players to ever play the game.


***

Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com and the SABR BioProject.

***

PREVIOUS ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES: (All the links should work. If not, please let us know.)


13 Comments


Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
Mar 23, 2023

Mays also beats Mantle 73.5 to 64.7 on WAR7, the best seven years of WAR, meaning his peak was higher.


One bit of No. 7 trivia: The first one was Leo Durocher in 1929.

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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Mar 24, 2023
Replying to

Rickey Henderson was also singularly great. He was one of the most unique players in the history of the game. He, too, is an inner-circle Hall of Famer.

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Lincoln Mitchell
Lincoln Mitchell
Mar 23, 2023

Mantle was probably a better hitter than Mays, but many forget that Mays lost almost two full seasons to military service. If he had played those two years he would have ended up with more than 700 home runs and more than 2000 RBIs. Mays obviously played in a much tougher ballpark for hitters, but OPS+ reflects that. Mays was ultimately the better player for two reasons. First, he could stay healthy and on the field more; and second, he was a much better defender. Advanced metrics show him with fully 27.8 more dWAR than Mantle. Contemporary observers shared that assessment. One quick measure of that is that Mantle never won a Gold Glove, but Mays won the award 12…

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fuster
Mar 23, 2023

Joe DiMaggio characterized Mantle as 'a bum'

Joe D observed Mantle's transcendent talent and observed Mickey staying out all night drinking with the %^&*( Billy Martin

and saw that abuse of his body would undermine his talent.


the abuse and the poorly-treated injuries kept Mantle from an even greater career.

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fuster
Mar 23, 2023
Replying to

the booze and the leg injuries robbed him of his great speed


3.1 seconds to first base from the left-hand batter's box.


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yankeesblog
Mar 23, 2023

Mays also had a tougher hitting environment when the Giants moved to Candlestick Park. I think he would have broken Ruth's single season and career HR records in a more neutral or hitter-friendly park.

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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Mar 23, 2023
Replying to

Fair points. But Mays did have 7 years in New York.


And, Mantle, as a right-handed hitter, also had Death Valley in Yankee Stadium, the place home runs went to die.


Mantle wasn't Mays. I acknowledge that above, but he was a lot closer to Mays than most people realize.


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