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View Full Version : Mickey Mantle, the fastest ballplayer?


Catenary
04-19-2001, 08:59 PM
I'm in a serious debate. I say Mickey Mantle was one of the fastest, if not the fastest, ballplayer of all time. Of course, there's dissent and I need facts to prove my case. I read that he was once clocked at 3.1 seconds to first base. That would put him at around 4.1 seconds for 40 yds. That's world class speed, even by today's standards. The only thing I can find is heresay and no references. Anybody have any idea how Mick would have fared with today's athletes?

BobT
04-19-2001, 09:14 PM
You're trying to prove something that isn't proveable. I sincerely doubt that there is any verifiable electronically timed speed for a baseball player in the 1950s.

Was Mickey Mantle considered a fast player? Without a doubt, he was. Just how fast he was will be something you can argue about forever.

I can say that Mantle is subject to quite a bit of hagiography. His alleged 565 foot home run is discounted as a fanciful exaggeration by a Yankee PR man by all except the most gullible.

If Mickey Mantle could run the 40 yard dash in 4.1 seconds, he would have been an Olympic class sprinter.

I doubt that Mantle was faster than Herb Washington, a world class sprinter used as a "designated runner" by Oakland in 1974-75.

Opus1
04-20-2001, 01:27 AM
I have no known estimates of Mantle's speed, but he stole only 153 bases in his career. Obviously, there's more to stealing a base than just speed. The aforementioned Herb Washington was only 29/46 lifetime (or something like that), most likely because he lacked baseball instincts, and because pitchers knew he was going to run on them. And on the NY Yankees squad of the 50's and 60's, it probably wasn't all that necessary. But, that said, I find it inconceivable that the fastest player in baseball history, who stood on first base over three thousand times in his illustrious career, did not take it upon himself to swipe a few more bases now and then.

And, like BobT said, estimates of Mantle's speed should be taken with the same grain of salt as stories of Josh Gibson's power.

DAVEW0071
04-20-2001, 06:28 AM
This raises an interesting question as a sidelight. If Mantle was fastest, it probably didn't last long, as he was constantly battling knee and back pain from just about Day 1. His 1951 speed certainly wouldn't have lasted his whole career. Then take a look at players like Ricky Henderson, who even in his 40s is a fast runner. I don't say the fastest, but he has good speed.

Factor in the player's speed consistency throughout his career, and Mantle probably is not the fastest, even if he came in as a rookie with blazing speed.

It's the long haul that counts, not one season or one instance.

RickJay
04-20-2001, 07:45 AM
Originally posted by Opus1
I have no known estimates of Mantle's speed, but he stole only 153 bases in his career. Obviously, there's more to stealing a base than just speed. The aforementioned Herb Washington was only 29/46 lifetime (or something like that), most likely because he lacked baseball instincts, and because pitchers knew he was going to run on them. And on the NY Yankees squad of the 50's and 60's, it probably wasn't all that necessary. But, that said, I find it inconceivable that the fastest player in baseball history, who stood on first base over three thousand times in his illustrious career, did not take it upon himself to swipe a few more bases now and then.

In Mantle's defense, players in his era just didn't steal bases. In the 1950s, when Mantle had incredible speed, the stolen base had fallen completely out of favor; all offense was based on the draw-walks-and-hit-homers philosophy. By the time it came back into vogue in the 60's, Mantle's speed had been shot by injuries.

I don't think he was the fastest player of all time, but he was certainly the fastest player of his time, before his knees went kablooie.

RealityChuck
04-20-2001, 08:03 AM
It's probably an unanswerable question. Mantle was fast (before his legs gave out), but there's no way to compare him to others. As people have pointed out, no one in the 50s stole bases. Also, with a line up like the 50s Yankees, there was no reason to steal second, since the next guy up could easily hit for extra bases. And it's likely that Mantle just didn't like to steal (Dave Kingman was always supposed to be an extremely fast runner, but he rarely bothered to use that skill).

Tom Eaton
04-20-2001, 08:12 PM
In one of his excellent Baseball Abstracts, Bill James devised a somewhat objective method of determining who the fastest players were, although the method was only designed for use in a specific season, not to compare players from different eras.

If I recall correctly a player's speed score was based upon a combination of the following statistics: stolen bases, stolen base percentage, triples, and another composite stat called "defensive range factor" which measured how much defensive ground a player covered by comparing his defensive chances (assists, putouts, and errors) to the league average at his position. I wish I had the article in front of me so I could explain the precise calculation. Obviously it isn't a perfect system, since the number of steal attempts, triples and even defensive statistics are subject to the effects of a player's home ballpark. Still, it's better than saying one player is faster than another because he looks faster (obvious when comparing Tim Raines to Wade Boggs but not when comparing Raines to Rickey Henderson).

During the season he came up with this (1987, I think), the player who scored highest was Vince Coleman, who stole around 100 bases with a very high stolen base percentage.

Without modifying the system, you couldn't compare players from different eras because of the differing emphasis on the stolen base. For instance, back in Ty Cobb's day everybody tried to steal bases because the league leader in home runs had about ten homers. In these days when players can hit a homer and break their bat on the same pitch, it's a wonder anybody tries to steal.

However, you could get some perspective by comparing a player's speed score in a given year to the league average and comparing that ratio to another player's in a different year. It wouldn't say who was fastest, but you could figure out who was the fastest relative to the players they were playing against, which is really more important anyway.

Saint Zero
04-21-2001, 01:45 AM
As long as we are throwing out stuff we can't prove, there's the story of Josh "Cool Papa" Bell, negro leagues Short stop, played with the great Sachel Page. Paige once was asked how fast he (Bell) was. He replied "He's so fast, he can turn the lights out and be in bed before it's dark."

Makes Mantle seem slow, huh. :D

Cerowyn
04-21-2001, 09:03 AM
Originally posted by Catenary
That would put him at around 4.1 seconds for 40 yds. That's world class speed, even by today's standards.

I'm surprised that nobody else mentioned that for sprinting, it's very dangerous to try to extrapolate like this. The big debate when Green (200m world record holder) claimed he was the world's fastest man over Bailey (100m world record holder) was that Bailey actually achieved a higher speed, even though it was over a shorter distance.

dp
04-21-2001, 11:23 AM
i dont have a lot of knowledge about photography, but it seems to me that if someone wanted to calculate Mantles speed it would not be too hard to do. Get film of several base hits, distance from home to first is known, frames per second of film is known, calculate.

iampunha
04-21-2001, 01:25 PM
But dp, he wouldn't be running as hard as he cound if he had a safe single.

Perhaps a better way would be to see how fast he ran, third to home when tagging up? On a throw from either right or left?

DRY
04-22-2001, 04:58 AM
Tom Eaton, do you remember which Abstract had the speed scores?

IIRC, Richie Ashburn finished reasonably high in the rankings.

jcgmoi
04-22-2001, 09:00 AM
DRY: You can find James' discussion of speed scores in the 1987 Abstract on pages 94-96, with details on page 300. FTR, his fastest players for 1986 were Vince Coleman, Rickey Henderson, Eric Davis, Gary Redus, Juan Samuel, Gary Pettis, Tim Raines, Lenny Dykstra, Barry Bonds, and Mookie WIlson. I guess we can all agree that those guys could run.

DRY
04-22-2001, 06:06 PM
Thanks, jcgmoi! :)

*off to look up the article*

capacitor
04-22-2001, 06:38 PM
Originally posted by Saint Zero
As long as we are throwing out stuff we can't prove, there's the story of Josh "Cool Papa" Bell, negro leagues Short stop, played with the great Sachel Page. Paige once was asked how fast he (Bell) was. He replied "He's so fast, he can turn the lights out and be in bed before it's dark."

Makes Mantle seem slow, huh. :D

Actually, Cool Papa verified that story to a reporter. He noticed that, while he stayed in a hotel, that there was a delay of a few seconds between his turning off the light and the light going off. So he brought Satchel into his room, and proceeded to peform the the trick that Satchel immortalized.

Lance Turbo
04-22-2001, 08:23 PM
Everyone who said that there was no way to prove this one way or the other was right. So for no reason at all, I'm going to try to prove to you that there is no way that Mickey Mantle was the fastest baseball player of all time.

The world record for the 100 meter dash was set in 1956 at 10.1 seconds. That record has been broken 10 times since then. It is now 9.79 seconds. Today's record holder would have beat the world's fastest man from the 50's by about 6 feet. (i.e. it wouldn't be a close race.)

The 43 fastest 100 meter dashes ever run were all run in the last 10 years. (Carl Lewis's 9.92 second dash at the Seoul olympics in 1988 ties him for 44th with 12 other guys who ran in the last ten years which means that only 1 of the 56 fastest 100 meter dashes occured more than ten years ago.) The fastest 900 (at least, I couldn't find any more info than that) of all time are all faster than than the fastest mark of the 50's.

The assumption I'd like to make (I feel that it's a safe assumption) is that baseball players have increased in speed over the years similar to track athletes. Therefore I believe that the fastest baseball player of all time is either playing right now or played fairly reccently.

Additionally, I have a lot of trouble believing that Mickey Mantle in his prime could run faster than Deion Sanders in his prime, and I'm sure Deion was never the fastest man in baseball.