I don’t know how this is going to turn out, but it is going to be interesting to find out.

When Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were active, the majority of fans rated Mays ahead of Mantle, often with the disclaimer that if Mickey had Mays’ health, it might have been different.

Now that we have “experts” such as Bill James and his ilk, a bevy of measurements exist that have led to the conclusion that Mickey was better than we thought.  The primary reason is that his peak years were better than Willie’s.

Mickey Mantle’s best season was 1956, when he won the Triple Crown, leading the majors with a .353 batting average, 52 home runs, and 130 RBIs.

His next best season was 1957, when he batted .365, hit 34 home runs, and had 94 RBIs. 

Following the 1957 season, New York Yankees’ general manager “Lonesome” George Weiss wanted to cut Mickey’s salary, claiming that with the exception of batting average, Mickey had fallen well short of his 1956 numbers.

Bill James and his sabermetricians have changed all that.

It is difficult to conclude that any one of a number of seasons was Willie’s best.  His highest batting average of .347 was achieved in 1958, but he hit “only” 29 home runs in Candlestick Park.

In 1955 Willie hit 51 home runs, and in 1965 he hit 52.  His best RBI season was 1962, when he drove home 141 San Francisco Giants.

Let’s select 1954, when he won the batting title, as one of Willie’s best two seasons, and 1955 as the other.

Mickey Mantle                            
Year   2B    3B    HR    RBI    BA    OBA    SA
1956    22    5    52    130    .353    .464    .705
1957    28    6    34    94     .365     .512    .665
Willie Mays                            
Year    2B    3B    HR    RBI    BA    OBA    SA
1954    33    13    41    110    .345    .411    .667
1955    18    13    51    127    .319    .400    .659

It is closer than one might think, but Mantle gets a slight edge.  While Mickey’s walks bolstered his on base average, Willie hit many more triples.

Another factor is that Willie’s role with the 1955 New York Giants was to drive in runs, because he was the primary, and with the possible exception of Henry Thompson, the only real RBI threat on the team.

Mickey had Yogi Berra, Moose Skowron, Hank Bauer, and a young Ellie Howard, which meant there was more of a chance that a Mickey Mantle walk would lead to a Yankees’ rally, than a Willie Mays walk would lead to a Giants’ rally.

Now let’s examine their third and fourth best two seasons.  

For Mickey, let’s take 1961, which some claim was his second best season, and 1958.

For Willie, let’s use 1965, when he hit 52 home runs, and 1957, when he had at least 20 doubles, 20 triples, and 20 home runs playing on a terrible New York Giants’ team.

Mickey Mantle                            
Year    2B    3B    HR    RBI    BA    OBA    SA
1961    16    6    54    128    .317    .448    .687
1958    21    1    42    97     .304    .443     .592
Willie Mays                           
Year   2B    3B    HR    RBI    BA    OBA    SA

1965    31    3    52    112    .317    .398    .645
1957    26    50    35    97    .333    .407    .626

It is impossible to decide which player had the best four top offensive seasons, especially since Willie played on Giants’ teams that often were out of contention and Mickey didn’t, at least until 1965.

All that the above does is confirm the greatness of both players, but let’s conclude by examining the top four offensive seasons of the best player in the game today.

Albert Pujols                           
Year   2B    3B    HR    RBI    BA    OBA    SA

2006    33    1    49    137    .331    .431    .671
2004    51    2    46    123    .331    .415    .657
2009    45    1    47    135    .327    .443    .658
2003    51    1    43    124    .359    .439    .667

Any comments?


Mickey Mantle at Baseball Reference

Willie Mays at Baseball Reference

Albert Pujols at Baseball Reference

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