Great piece over at The Platoon Advantage by our friend Bill today, looking back at the days when Mantle and Mays dominated national coverage of the game.
Bill notes that it’s so rare to have a couple of guys dominate the baseball conversation for so long because fame — and extreme peak value — is fleeting. but he wonders if Bryce Harper and Mike Trout might get the same treatment, if for no other reason than because of the superficial similarities between those two and Mantle-Mays:
Mantle and Mays were both rookies in 1951; Mantle was in his age-19 season, Mays his age-20. Harper is 19 and Trout 20, as you probably know, both technically in their rookie seasons — though they’re over a year apart, while Mantle and Mays were closer to six months. All four players have been centerfielders, and in both pairs, the older of the two appears to be the more defensively gifted and more likely to stay and excel there long-term … In both cases, the younger appears to be the slightly better hitter, while the older has stolen base titles in his future. In both cases, the younger had been hyped as a golden boy from well before day one, while the older took the sport somewhat by surprise … They’re superficial comparisons, but there’s an eerily large number of them to be made.
One difference, I guess is that Mantle and Mays both made it big in big New York, and were both in the World Series from the get-go. Indeed, they faced each other in 1951. Mays wowed the world in 1954 with that famous catch and Mantle made the World Series his home for most of the next 13 years. Baseball also had way more of a share of the national sporting consciousness in the 1950s and 60s than it does today.
But those quibbles aside, I do agree that we’re seeing something special here. Two stars, so young and so exciting. If the Angels face the Nats in the World Series this year — and hey, that’s as good a pick as any right now — watch out.