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by Harold Friend
Joe Abstein has followed the Braves from Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta. He maintains his position that Hank Aaron was better than Mickey Mantle.
Joe makes some excellent points but reaches a conclusion that surprised him.
Two Young Rookies
Hank Aaron joined the Boston Braves in 1954. He had a solid rookie season that was ended prematurely by a broken ankle in early September.
Hank was only 20 years old when he became a major leaguer. Mickey Mantle was 19 years when he became a Yankee three years earlier.
Baseball's Golden Boy
Mickey Mantle was the golden boy of baseball who had more potential than any player I had ever seen, but Mickey, as great as he was and as great as he could have been, did not produce on the field the way Hank Aaron produced.
I strongly believe a player cannot be evaluated solely by statistics. Fans must watch a player almost daily, over an extended period of time, and use statistics to help confirm or reject what he/she saw.
Hank Aaron was a quiet great. He was not spectacular, hit few home runs that were, with a nod to Yankee publicist Arthur "Red" Patterson, tape-measure jobs, and played solid defense.
Hank was almost as fast as Mickey and could steal a base, but like Mickey, attempted to steal only when necessary.
Mickey was spectacular, but less effective than Aaron.
Will This Be the Time?
When Mickey stepped to the plate, their was an excitement that only the likes of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and maybe Willie Mays could challenge.
Yankees fans always anticipated that "this is the at bat in which Mickey hits one out of Yankee Stadium."
Mickey was the fastest player, probably in baseball history, going from home to first.
He was a switch hitter, had a great arm until it was injured in the 1957 World Series, coincidentally against the Braves, and although he was not as great a natural defensive outfielder as Willie Mays or Jimmy Piersall, Mickey usually out ran his mistakes.
Steady Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron was steady. He was consistent, never attracted a lot of attention, but did his job as efficiently as almost anyone who ever played.
If Aaron had played in New York (he almost signed with Giants. Yes, Willie and Aaron in the same outfield), the New York writers would have made him as legendary as Joe DiMaggio.
The highest Mickey ever batted was .365 in 1957, a season in which he suffered from a severe case of shin splints.
Hank Aaron's best batting average was .355 in 1959. Mickey hit at least .300 in 10 seasons. Aaron accomplished the feat 14 times.
Lifetime, Mickey batted .298, and has stated that not batting .300 for his career really bothered him. Hank batted .305.
On Base Average and Slugging
Mickey has a big edge in on base average because he walked so much, and it is to his credit that even with Yogi Berra following him the batting order, pitchers still pitched to Mickey with extreme care.
Mickey's on base average was a spectacular .421, compared to Aaron's respectable .374.
When it came to slugging, it was even. Mantle slugged .557, and Hank slugged .555.
500 Home Runs and 3,000 Hits
Aaron was the first player to hit 500 home runs and get 3,000 hits. His 755 home runs are the most in legitimate baseball history.
Mantle hit 536 home runs and had 2,415 hits.
Chances of a Home Run
In 23 seasons, Aaron hit 755 home runs in 12,364 times at bat, compared to Mantle's 536 home runs in 8,102 at bats in 18 seasons.
Mickey hit a home run every 15.1 at-bats. Hank hit a home run every 16.4 at-bats.
Ah, you ask, what about Mickey's walks? Well, using plate appearances, Mickey hit 536 home runs in 9,909 plate appearances, or one home run for every 18.5 plate appearances.
Hank hit 755 home runs in 13,940 plate appearances, or one home run every 18.5 plate appearances. Confusing? Not really.
When they swung the bat, Mickey was more likely to hit a home run than the player who hit the most home runs in history.
Hold On a Second
Now, let me summarize. Who was a more effective home run hitter? It was Mickey. Who had a higher on base average? It was Mickey, by a wide margin. Who had a higher slugging average? Just about even, but Mickey's was 0.002 higher. Who was faster? Mickey was faster. Who stole bases more efficiently? Mickey stole successfully 80 percent of the time, while Hank was safe 77 percent of the time.
I am in a lot of trouble. After carefully examining the numbers, I realize that Mantle was pretty good. Maybe the New York fans and writers have a point. Was Hank Aaron really better than Mickey Mantle?