Mickey Mantle passed away on this day, 25 years ago.
I remember it well because even the non-sports fans I worked with at the time seemed dejected and had many questions about the Mick. “Exactly how great was he?” and lines of questioning of that nature dominated the water cooler conversation even amongst the sports-phobic crowd. I remember thinking at the time, this is the first baseball player I can remember passing who obviously transcended baseball.
Books have been written by people who’ve done far more homework than I have about Mantle’s greatness so there’s no need for me to do a deep dive on that topic in a blog. Although I will note, that to me, he’s one of the best ten players to ever step on a field and to paraphrase Bill James, we spend way too much time talking about how great he “could have been” and not enough about how great he was.
But I will take a moment to give some modern-day perspective to illustrate just how next level he was.
“I can’t play anymore. I don’t hit the ball when I need to.” – Mickey Mantle, March 1st, 1969
In 1968, his final season that convinced him that he “can’t play anymore”, he played in 131 games at first base and appeared as a pinch hitter in 14 games (remember – no DH at the time, which he certainly would’ve benefitted from). He posted the following stats:
547 PA, 143 OPS+, 2.7 WAR.
Here are the MLB first baseman in 2019 to have better OPS+ and WAR with as many PA:
Yes, that’s it.
In fact, Mickey’s 143 OPS+ and 2.7 WAR were both exactly what Josh Bell posted in 2019 – the OPS+ being the 2nd best in MLB among 1st basemen, behind Alonso’s 148.
So Mickey at age 36, with two destroyed knees, was as good as a 26-year-old All-Star who’s one of the best at his position in 2019.
It’s safe to say, when Mick stated “I can’t play anymore”, his standards were somewhat high.
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