The Tuesday Discussion: The Best In Centerfield?
This week we asked our writers:
Who was the greatest centerfielder the Yankees ever had? Was it Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle…or someone else?Embed from Getty Images
Here are their responses:
Ed Botti – He was way before my time. But everyone I know that saw him play all told me DiMaggio was the greatest. Made every play look easy. Clutch. A winner. And there was also that 56 games!
Paul Semendinger – My goodness… how do you choose?
DiMaggio has 9 World Series wins compared to Mantle’s 7.
Mantle was a 20 time All-Star, DiMaggio, 13.
DiMaggio had three MVP Awards. So did Mickey.
DiMaggio hit .325.
Mantle hit 536 homers.
Mantle had a longer decline, DiMaggio retired before he faced that reality.
DiMaggio lost three seasons to WWII, Mickey did not.
Mantle was a switch-hitter. DiMaggio wasn’t.
DiMaggio’s lifetime bWAR was 79.1.
Mantle’s lifetime bWAR was 110.2.
Mantle’s WAR7 was 64.7, DiMaggio’s was 52.3.
If I had to choose, and I guess I do, I’ll say that Mantle was the better player. But, boy is it close and boy is that tough.
Ethan Semendinger – Both are legendary ballplayers, but if I had to choose, I would take Joe DiMaggio.
56 game hitting streak. After Ruth and Gehrig, it was DiMaggio who propelled the Yankees to their continued greatness.
Mantle was great, but DiMaggio was the more iconic player.
Tamar Chalker – My favorite player of my youth was Bernie Williams, so he is on my short-list of favorite Yankee Cfers, but it was the stories about Mickey Mantle that fed my early love of all things baseball and Yankees. It is why the number 7 always had a role in my uniform numbers (when I could control that) through college. He is one of the top players I wish I had seen live.
Mile Whiteman – So, I set about looking at baseball-reference.com to discern who I thought to be the better centerfielder – Mantle or DiMaggio. Something to consider – the two players encountered the peaks of their careers in two different eras – DiMaggio in the late 30s/early 40s and Mantle in the late 50s/early 60s. Mantle had variables like longer seasons, more relief pitching, integrated teams, expansion and more extensive travel in his mix.
Some numbers to consider:
Career OPS+: Mantle 172, DiMaggio 155.
Hardware: DiMaggio three MVP’s, 5.45 career shares; Mantle three MVP’s, 5.79 career shares
World Series: DiMaggio .271/.338/.422 with 8 HR in 51 games. Mantle .254/.374/.535 with 18 HR in 63 games
Career WAR: DiMaggio: 79.1, Mantle 110.2
Highest Season WAR: DiMaggio 9.4 (1941), Mantle 11.3 (1957)
Defense WAR per 650 plate appearances: DiMaggio 0.2, Mantle (-.04). Mantle’s defense deteriorated rapidly towards the end of his career. DiMaggio lost a step at the end of his career, but was still a serviceable center fielder in final season of 1951, at age 36.
Baserunning: Both were excellent baserunners who took the extra base more than 50% of the time they opportunity came up
A wild card in this comparison – DiMaggio lost his age 28, 29 and 30 seasons due to military service during World War Two. For context, Mantle’s comparable age seasons (1960-1962) resulted in one MVP award and two second place finishes. The loss of those seasons is a huge loss for the Yankee Clipper as one can assume that adding three average seasons brings him up to par in the “counting stats”, and likely moves him significantly ahead in the Hardware department.
I love Mickey Mantle. He was a Yankee great and most compelling to me, my dad’s favorite player.
I think DiMaggio was just a tiny bit better.
Andy Singer – This is a question that shouldn’t require a ton of thought – it’s Mantle, and it’s not even close. I actually think that Mantle has somehow become underrated in recent years, possibly due to the fact that he shared an era with Willy Mays, or maybe because injuries (the most serious of which was arguably caused by DiMaggio) derailed the meteoric trajectory of his career, but in any case, Mantle was simply one of the best players in the history of the game, and likely the best switch hitter the game has ever known. If there’s one player in MLB history I wish I could go back and see in person, it’s Mantle. Any answer otherwise undersells just how valuable Mantle was even after his prime.