by Harold Friend
Mickey Mantle was not as good as Joe DiMaggio. Both are among the greatest of all players, but Joe DiMaggio was a better hitter and a clearly superior fielder. Joe didn't have Mantle's speed, but he was one of the best base runners who ever played the game. Mickey had more raw power, but he struck out 1,710 times compared to DiMaggio's 369.
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When He Returned From the Army, DiMaggio Wasn't the Same Player Joe DiMaggio joined the Yankee in 1936 and remained with them until he enlisted in the United Stat Army Air Forces following the 1942 season. DiMaggio missed three seasons when he was at the peak of his and when he returned, he wasn't the same. The following are data from his first seven seasons followed by data from his final six seasons.
First Seven Seasons
Batting Average: .337
Home Runs: 219
Final Six Seasons After Army
Batting Average : .304
Home Runs: 142
457 Feet From Home Plate
Before the army, DiMaggio averaged .337, with a .406 on base average and a .610 slugging average. When he returned, he averaged .304, with a .395 on base average and a .539 slugging average. DiMaggio hit 131 career triples, which can be attributed to the fact that left center field at Yankee Stadium was 457 feet from home plate. No one can be certain about how many home runs he lost, but many of his deep drives, which would have been home runs in other parks, were caught, while others were not and resulted in either a triple or a double.
Mickey Played Injured and Missed Many Games Due to Injuries
Mickey Mantle joined the Yankees in 1951, which was DiMaggio's last and least effective season. Mickey was sent back to the minors that year, returned, and completed a fair rookie season. For most of his career, injuries forced Mickey Mantle to miss many games and to play others, possibly the majority of his games, at less than peak efficiency. Mickey's best seasons were 1956, 1957, 1958, and 1961. Here are some of the numbers for those four seasons:
Batting Average: .334
Home Runs: 182
DiMaggio hit more doubles and triples, had more RBIs, a higher batting average, and a higher slugging average. Mantle had more home runs and a higher on base average. Now for a little statistical manipulation.
If DiMaggio Had As Many Plate Appearances As Mickey
Mickey Mantle had 8102 official at bats, 1733 walks, 47 sacrifice flies, and was hit by a pitch 13 times, which results in 9895 plate appearances. He hit 536 home runs, which means that Mickey hit a home run every 18.46 plate appearances.
Joe DiMaggio had 6821 official at bats, 790 walks, 0 sacrifice flies (different rule), and was hit 46 times, which results in 7657 plate appearances. He hit 361 home runs or one home run every 21.21 plate appearances. If DiMaggio had the same number of plate appearances as Mickey, his projected career home run total would be 467, which points out the significance of Joe's three years in the army. '
Long Outs and Short Bunts
Mickey was a switch hitter, which meant that he could and did take advantage of the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, but it must be acknowledged that Mickey was NOT a pull hitter, and just as DiMaggio had many 400+ drives to left center field become outs, Mickey had many 400+ drives to right center become outs. Mickey could bunt, which gave him a tremendous advantage. The defense always had to remain aware of that fact, and when he was in a slump, he often would bunt to try to break the slump.
DiMaggio was a great base runner with Derek Jeter-like instincts on the bases. Yankees' manager Joe McCarthy once stated "DiMaggio is the best base runner I ever saw." DiMaggio didn't steal bases but no one was better at going from first to third on a single. Mickey was not as good a base runner, but he was as fast as anyone who ever played. His bad knees put a leash on his steal attempts, but if the Yankees needed a run in a critical game and Mantle were on first, he would be sent and would almost always make it.
Fans Today Consider Mickey Better Than Joe
With the passage of time, there is a tendency to rate players from the recent past higher than those from the distant pass, possibly because fewer and fewer individuals who saw them play are around to corroborate their greatness. When he played, DiMaggio was ranked, along with Ted Williams and Stan Musial, as one of the three greatest players in the game. When Mickey played, he was ranked, along with Willie Mays and Henry Aaron, as one of the three greatest players in the game. Today, Mantle is considered by a majority of fans as better than not only Willie, but better than Joe. The facts do not support that opinion.