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by Harold Friend
Mickey Mantle's last solid season was 1964, although he did fairly well in 1966. In 1964, Mickey hit .303 with 35 home runs, 111 RBIs, and a .423 on base average. Nineteen sixty six was not as good, when Mickey hit .288 with 23 home runs, but 1966 was followed by two sub par seasons, after which Mickey retired. Today, forty-one years later, there is a tendency to excuse or even disregard Mickey's last few seasons, which has resulted in Mickey being ranked higher among baseball's greats today than when he played.
Mickey Mantle's Last Two Seasons Were Better Than We Thought
The perspectives the passage of time provides produced the realization that Mickey Mantle's final two seasons were not as terrible as once believed. In 1967, Mickey batted only .245, but the league batting average was .236, which put Mickey's average in the league's top half. Only four American League players (Yastrzemski, F. Robinson, Kaline, and Scott) batted at least .300. Mickey managed to hit 22 home runs, had a .391 on base average, which is considered outstanding today, and slugged .434.
Only ONE .300 HItter
In 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, Mickey hit an anemic .237, but the league hit only .230. The 1906 World Champion Chicago White Sox are called the "Hitless Wonders" because they became World Champions with a .230 team batting average, but In 1968, the entire American League averaged only .230. Mickey's .237 average was terrible, but in context, it was no worse, and even slightly better, than average. The 1968 Yankees hit an incredible .214, which today seems unbelievable. Only Carl Yastrzemski hit .300, winning the batting title with a 301 mark, which is the lowest batting avenge for any batting champion.
Mickey Still Walked
Pitchers always feared Mickey. In 1967 he drew 107 walks, and in 1968, he walked 106 times. Of course, there were no other real offensive threats on those Yankees' teams, but Mickey had the discipline to wait for his pitch. His 22 home runs in 1967 were eighth best in the league, which was a poor showing for MICKEY MANTLE, but it was more than respectable.
Just "Another Out"
The fact that in 2009, a strikeout is considered "just another out" has helped Mickey's legacy. Of course, a strikeout is not just another out, as all the runners on third base with one out can confirm, but when he played, Mickey was excoriated for his strikeouts. In 1952, Mickey hit .311 with 23 home runs, which a vast improvement over his rookie season, but the newspapers and baseball magazines, such as Sport, ignored Mickey's offensive output and complained that he had to cut down on his strikeouts. In 2009, when Airzona's Mark Reynolds strikes out 204 times, no one denigrates Mickey for having struck out 1710 times in his career.
Revised MIckey Mantle Statistics
It is unfair and similar to a college professor eliminating her students worst test scores for the year, but it is almost irresistible. What would Mickey's record have been if his last four seasons were eliminated? He would have batted .309 with a .429 on base average and a .582 slugging average. His home run total would drop from 536 to 454, and his RBIs would be 1298 compared to 1509. Juggling statistics is interesting, but in Mickey Mantle's case, it merely confirms what those who saw him play already knew. He was greater than we thought.