The debate has been raging since these two Hall of Fame players were young men playing in opposite leagues in New York City. Mantle played for the formidable Yankees, and Mays for the talented Giants. With Mantle, the Yankees won seven championships, while with Mays, the Giants won only one. You can’t judge a player by the team he played for, though. Many greats never won a single championship.
Interestingly, the two teams — and the two players — played against each other in only 13 games: the 1951 and 1962 World Series. While the Yankees prevailed in both series, Mays (11-for-49) actually outperformed Mantle (4-for-30). Still, you can’t read much into such a small sample.
Mays had a longer career, partially due to Mantle’s injuries. What Mantle would have done on two healthy legs is, again, subject to debate. Because of those extra years:
- Mays hit more homeruns (660 to 536)
- Mays stole more bases (338 to 153)
- Mays even hit for a higher batting average (.302 to .298)
That may make you think Mays was the superior player, but it’s not that simple. If you break it down by average performance, instead of totals, the results are pretty darn close:
- Mantle averaged 36 homers, 102 RBIs and 10 stolen bases
- Mays averaged 36 homers, 103 RBIs and 18 stolen bases
Face it: these are two great players, no matter what era they played in. If you buy vintage baseball cards, you probably want to collect them both. They were superstars before the word was even coined.
Mantle definitely benefited by playing on those great Yankees teams. Mays, meanwhile, moved with the Giants to San Francisco in 1958, well out of the center of attention. He would not win a championship out there, although he came close in 1962. The two locations and the two teams, so vastly different, helped create a mystique around Mantle that Mays never really enjoyed.
So, when you buy vintage baseball cards, you have to weigh the career statistics, the World Championships and the mystique to determine who you think was the better player. In the end, that’s all it will be: your opinion, especially if you never saw either of them play the game.
There is one way to discover who is the better baseball player. It’s not exactly an objective source, but as this discussion is on a baseball card collecting website, it is valid. The answer is to look at the two players’ respective baseball cards. Buy vintage baseball cards like their rookie cards, and you’ve got two valuable pieces of property.
The Willie Mays rookie card is the 1951 Bowman #305. It’s listed at $2,500, depending on the card quality. By the same token, the rookie card for Mickey Mantle, the 1951 Bowman #253, is listed at $8,000. That’s a significant difference for two players whose statistics seemed so close. But people buy vintage baseball cards for many reasons, not just the stats.
Whether you like Mickey or prefer Willie, neither is a bad choice for your baseball card collection. Meanwhile, the debate about who was better may never be resolved.