The New York Yankees may very well have the most storied history in professional sports. They have set the bar for greatness for sports as well, amassing an incredible 27 World Series Championships and 40 American League Pennants. Of course, a franchise can’t have such a rich history without legendary ballplayers, and the Yanks are unmatched in that department by a wide margin.
Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle are the classic “passing the torch” scenario. “Joltin” Joe patrolled center field in the pinstripes from 1936 to1942, then from 1946 to 1951, in which time he led the Bronx Bombers to nine titles in thirteen years.
Mantle came to the Yankees in 1951 as a right fielder, then took over center in 1952 after DiMaggio retired after the 1951 season. The Spavinaw, Oklahoma product was the best switch hitter for power the diamond has ever seen, and he led the Yanks to seven championships before his subsequent late career decline and retirement in 1968.
Both are Yankees legends. Both are Hall of Famers. Both have a list of accolades that together could probably produce a novel. But, who was better overall?
“Joltin” Joe DiMaggio
Career Statistics (13 MLB seasons):
Batting Average: .325 Hits: 2,214 Homeruns: 361 RBI: 1,537
13x All-Star, 9x World Series Champion, 3x American League MVP, MLB Record 56-game hitting streak, MLB All-Century Team, MLB Hall of Fame member.
Mickey Mantle: “The Mick”
Career Statistics (18 MLB seasons):
Batting Average: .298 Hits: 2,415 Homeruns: 536 HR: 1,509 RBI
16x All-Star*, 7x World Series Champion, 3x American League MVP, Gold Glove 1962, 1956 Triple Crown, MLB All-Century Team, MLB Hall of Fame member.
Each Players Has His Advantages
Both of these legends were great in respective areas. First I must take into account that Mantle played five more seasons than DiMaggio did because DiMaggio served in the military during wartime.
Mantle’s clear advantage was hitting for power as a switch-hitter. He crushed 536 home runs in an era where ballparks were not hitter friendly, and he also hit some of the longest bombs in the history of baseball. He was also a very stellar outfielder, winning a Gold Glove Award. However, I am quite certain DiMaggio would have won a few of them in his prime, but it was not an award until 1957, after his retirement.
It’s only fair to say that Mantle would have won a few more from 1952-1956 as well. Gold Gloves in my mind are equal, simply because they were both great center fielders but the award wasn’t available during DiMaggio’s career nor in the beginning of Mantle’s.
A stat that jumps out at me is DiMaggio having a far superior batting average, 27 percentage points above Mantle’s, and he also had more RBI’s in five fewer seasons. Give DiMaggio five more seasons and his home run total (361) would be much closer to Mantle’s. Let’s assume he would have hit 20 in each of those five seasons, his total would be at 461, just below Mantle’s 536.
Being a life-long Yankees fan, my father had countless Yankees history books around the house when I was kid, I know the history of both of these players. Overall, I have to give the nod here to DiMaggio. He had overall better hitting stats outside of home runs in five fewer seasons. Mantle possessed incredible power, but struck out very often as well. DiMag’ was a more consistent hitter and that is proven in his average and RBI totals. There’s no telling what his final stat-lines would look like had he not missed time due to military service. The only clear advantage for Mantle was power. If Gold Gloves were an award during DiMaggio’s tenure I guarantee he would have garnered 5+ of them. It is for those reasons I believe DiMaggio was a more complete player than Mantle, of course that doesn’t take away of how great Mantle was. But comparison pieces are done to declare a winner, not go on and on about how amazing these players were, because everybody already knows that.
“The Yankee Clipper”, Joe DiMaggio.