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  #1  
Old 04-19-2001, 09:59 PM
Catenary Catenary is offline
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Mickey Mantle, the fastest ballplayer?

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?
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  #2  
Old 04-19-2001, 10:14 PM
BobT BobT is offline
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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.
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  #3  
Old 04-20-2001, 02:27 AM
Opus1 Opus1 is offline
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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.
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Old 04-20-2001, 07:28 AM
DAVEW0071 DAVEW0071 is offline
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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.
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Old 04-20-2001, 08:45 AM
RickJay RickJay is offline
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Quote:
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.
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Old 04-20-2001, 09:03 AM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is online now
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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).
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Old 04-20-2001, 09:12 PM
Tom Eaton Tom Eaton is offline
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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.
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  #8  
Old 04-21-2001, 02:45 AM
Saint Zero Saint Zero is offline
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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.
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  #9  
Old 04-21-2001, 10:03 AM
Cerowyn Cerowyn is offline
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Quote:
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.
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  #10  
Old 04-21-2001, 12:23 PM
dp dp is offline
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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.
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  #11  
Old 04-21-2001, 02:25 PM
iampunha iampunha is offline
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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?
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  #12  
Old 04-22-2001, 05:58 AM
DRY DRY is offline
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Tom Eaton, do you remember which Abstract had the speed scores?

IIRC, Richie Ashburn finished reasonably high in the rankings.
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  #13  
Old 04-22-2001, 10:00 AM
jcgmoi jcgmoi is offline
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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.
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Old 04-22-2001, 07:06 PM
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Thanks, jcgmoi!

*off to look up the article*
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Old 04-22-2001, 07:38 PM
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Quote:
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.
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.
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  #16  
Old 04-22-2001, 09:23 PM
Lance Turbo Lance Turbo is offline
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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.
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  #17  
Old 10-30-2016, 10:31 PM
Billy G Billy G is offline
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mantle power and speed

Mantle was able to outrun a drag bunt to first from the left side and was timed at 3.1 sec home to first.he was almost never thrown out stealing and led numerous double steals by swiping third base when the circumstance called for it. I saw him hit a ball over the thirty flot high 461 ft sign in the bleachers. It landed 25 rows back, at least fifty ft over the fence. The opposing center fielder looked up and said, "Holy Shit !" I was at the game sitting there. Many other homers of his left the ballparks and landed in parking lots or adjoining roads and houses. His power and speed has not been equaled by modern players. It's no myth, I was there "

Last edited by Billy G; 10-30-2016 at 10:35 PM..
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  #18  
Old 10-30-2016, 10:36 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Moved to the Game Room from General Questions, which didn't exist when this thread was started in 2001.

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  #19  
Old 10-30-2016, 10:47 PM
running coach running coach is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Billy G View Post
Mantle was able to outrun a drag bunt to first from the left side and was timed at 3.1 sec home to first.he was almost never thrown out stealing and led numerous double steals by swiping third base when the circumstance called for it. I saw him hit a ball over the thirty flot high 461 ft sign in the bleachers. It landed 25 rows back, at least fifty ft over the fence. The opposing center fielder looked up and said, "Holy Shit !" I was at the game sitting there. Many other homers of his left the ballparks and landed in parking lots or adjoining roads and houses. His power and speed has not been equaled by modern players. It's no myth, I was there "
Mantle averaged 80.1% career. 55th on the list. He didn't really steal enough to make a difference. 153-38 career.

Last edited by running coach; 10-30-2016 at 10:48 PM..
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  #20  
Old 10-30-2016, 11:31 PM
Mangosteen Mangosteen is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dp View Post
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.
Mantle had 6 inside the park home runs during his career. If there are videos of any one of them, you could time his running and compare to other players running during an ITPHR.
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  #21  
Old 10-31-2016, 12:14 AM
jtur88 jtur88 is offline
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I remember when it was reported that Mantle could go home to first in 3.1 seconds. Mechanical stop watches were pretty accurate in those days, and fans at home could time his speed to first base while watching games on TV. Nobody at the time disputed the claim. Although people were much less jaded then, and would give such things a pass.

There is no reason to believe that Mantle did not have world class sprinter speed, but he could play baseball too, and for that reason, didn't spent much time on the track.

Mantle's speed dissipated quickly for a couple of reasons. He was one of those athletes that was so strong and played so hard, he literally tore his body apart, and was taped up from one injury or another during most of his career. Players played through injuries in those days. And, he was one of the Yankees well known to be a late night carouser, smoking and drinking and staying up all night.

I never saw Mantle play until his final year in the majors, 1966, and it was amazing. Even then, he stood out among the other players like Vanessa Redgrave at a flea market. You could sit down in your seat and look around the field and point and say "That must be Mickey Mantle". (My wife actually did that, when I took her to a game and she picked out Ken Griffey. There are a few players who just have that statuesque magnificence, like they're on a field with high school players.)
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  #22  
Old 10-31-2016, 01:46 AM
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According to Mickey Mantle - Memories and Memorabilia Casey Stengel was amazed in spring training in 1951 that Mantle, then a shortstop, beat the fastest players in the team by a wide margin. Stengel timed him to run the bases in 13 seconds which is "a good speed for a world-class sprinter." Within a week he had Tommy Henrich converting Mantle into an outfielder.
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Old 10-31-2016, 10:34 AM
Hari Seldon Hari Seldon is offline
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Richie Ashburn playing in the same era as Mantle and Mays was regularly making 40-50 putouts in center than they were (about 10% more). He also led in steals (usually around 25-30 a season). Of course, he caught a lot of flies hit off Robin Roberts, so you can't make too much of his fielding records. He was notoriously weak of arm and hardly ever hit a HR. But he did have a number of inside the park HRs in his career.
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Old 10-31-2016, 11:35 AM
Loach Loach is online now
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Mantle's first major knee injury was in the World Series his rookie year. Most of the talk about his speed is about what could have been if he didn't step in that drain and blow out his knee. Quoting stats on how many stolen bases he had doesn't answer the question since his injuries started right from the beginning of his career.
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Old 10-31-2016, 11:44 AM
RickJay RickJay is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtur88 View Post
I remember when it was reported that Mantle could go home to first in 3.1 seconds. Mechanical stop watches were pretty accurate in those days, and fans at home could time his speed to first base while watching games on TV.
I'm sorry to be an asshole in a 15-year-old-thread, but... c'mon. In Mantle's prime, how often did the average person have the opportunity to clearly see and time Mantle's run to first base on a TV? Holding a stopwatch? Do we have a lot of verified times on that? Are mechanical stopwatches really trustworthy in the hands of some guy sitting at home to click the watch right at the right time?

3.1 seconds is not "fast." 3.1 second is astonishing. It is effectively claiming that Mantle was indeed the fastest man to ever play professional baseball. Billy Hamilton (the modern one) has never been timed to first base that fast, and being fast is pretty much the only reason Billy is in the major leagues; Hamilton is, even by MLB standards, ludicrously fast. Anything under 4 is lightning - Rickey Henderson or Ty Cobb would have been very proud of 3.9. Hamilton has allegedly been timed under 3.5, which is considered "maybe the fastest person ever."

Sources that Mantle hit first base in 3.1 seconds are rather few in number, and by "few" I mean there's exactly one claim of it. Given that 3.1 is a near-superhuman speed, and given that such things in those days were often very fanciful, I think more evidence would be needed to make me think it's likely.
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  #26  
Old 10-31-2016, 11:48 AM
running coach running coach is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RickJay View Post
I'm sorry to be an asshole in a 15-year-old-thread, but... c'mon. In Mantle's prime, how often did the average person have the opportunity to clearly see and time Mantle's run to first base on a TV? Holding a stopwatch? Do we have a lot of verified times on that? Are mechanical stopwatches really trustworthy in the hands of some guy sitting at home to click the watch right at the right time?

3.1 seconds is not "fast." 3.1 second is astonishing. It is effectively claiming that Mantle was indeed the fastest man to ever play professional baseball. Billy Hamilton (the modern one) has never been timed to first base that fast, and being fast is pretty much the only reason Billy is in the major leagues; Hamilton is, even by MLB standards, ludicrously fast. Anything under 4 is lightning - Rickey Henderson or Ty Cobb would have been very proud of 3.9. Hamilton has allegedly been timed under 3.5, which is considered "maybe the fastest person ever."

Sources that Mantle hit first base in 3.1 seconds are rather few in number, and by "few" I mean there's exactly one claim of it. Given that 3.1 is a near-superhuman speed, and given that such things in those days were often very fanciful, I think more evidence would be needed to make me think it's likely.
There's also the question of when to start the clock.
Start of swing? Contact with the ball? Footplant of first running step?
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Old 10-31-2016, 12:01 PM
Pixel_Dent Pixel_Dent is offline
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Originally Posted by running coach View Post
There's also the question of when to start the clock.
Start of swing? Contact with the ball? Footplant of first running step?
The standard practice for scouts is from when the ball hits the bat to when the foot hits first base.

4.0 is considered very good. Occasionally you'll hear of a player being clocked at < 3.5.
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  #28  
Old 11-06-2016, 10:46 AM
Fleetwood Fleetwood is offline
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Originally Posted by jtur88 View Post

I never saw Mantle play until his final year in the majors, 1966, and it was amazing. Even then, he stood out among the other players like Vanessa Redgrave at a flea market. You could sit down in your seat and look around the field and point and say "That must be Mickey Mantle". (My wife actually did that, when I took her to a game and she picked out Ken Griffey. There are a few players who just have that statuesque magnificence, like they're on a field with high school players.)
Your wife thought Ken Griffey was Mickey Mantle?

BTW, Mantle played through the 1968 season, playing 144 games each in '67 and '68 according to Baseball Reference.
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  #29  
Old 11-06-2016, 04:02 PM
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Quoting stats on how many stolen bases he had doesn't answer the question since his injuries started right from the beginning of his career.
Sure it does. Even if he was the absolute fastest player ever in the history of the game his first season, and then all that was derailed because of a fluke injury at the end of that season, you can't make any meaningful statement about his speed during his career, if his pre-injury speed is your only point of reference.
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Old 11-07-2016, 10:47 AM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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A thought occurs to me: An amateur timing a run to first is going to stop the clock when they see the player touching the base, but they're likely to start it when they hear the bat hitting the ball. Depending on where the microphones (or ears, if the timer is there in person) are located, that could shave off a good fraction of a second from the measured time.
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Old 11-07-2016, 11:10 AM
Loach Loach is online now
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Originally Posted by Munch View Post
Sure it does. Even if he was the absolute fastest player ever in the history of the game his first season, and then all that was derailed because of a fluke injury at the end of that season, you can't make any meaningful statement about his speed during his career, if his pre-injury speed is your only point of reference.
No it doesn't. The question was if he was the fastest or one of the fastest of all time. His stats when he was 40 don't matter. His number of stolen bases after his injury don't matter. Was he at one time very fast? Probably. We only have the accounts of those who measured his speed at the time. We can't even take into account his first year stats since he was only up for part of the year and his batting average was low. For most of his career he still moved pretty well even with a lot of injuries.
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Old 11-07-2016, 11:59 AM
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I'd bet just about anything that Deion Sanders was faster than Mickey Mantle, but Deion never had outrageous stolen base numbers. In fact in his best year, 1994, he swiped 38 bags but was caught 16 times.

When this thread started there was no Billy Hamilton in MLB, but you can rest assured he's faster than Mantle ever was. You can make a legit case that Hamilton is the fastest baseball player ever.
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  #33  
Old 11-07-2016, 11:08 PM
Ulf the Unwashed Ulf the Unwashed is online now
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Well, I was too young to have seen Mantle even when he was washed up (I became interested in baseball about the time he retired, when I was seven or eight), let alone when he was a young speedburner. But I would have serious doubts about him being among the handful of fastest players ever. It's entirely too reminiscent of lines like "Willie Mays never made a baserunning mistake." More indicative of a frame of mind (in which the world was a better place back when we were kids, whoever we may happen to be) than of any objective reality.

Not to say Mantle wasn't fast. He probably was, maybe even very fast. But that doesn't imply faster than anybody else, ever.
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