The Heavyweight Champ of Baseball (part 7)

April 27, 2020
 

Where we were:

 

The champions thus far are

 

Ruth 1929-1932 (4 years)

Foxx 1933-1935 (3 years)

Gehrig 1936-7 (2 years)

Mize 1938-1940 (4 years)

Williams 1941-1942 (2 years)

Keller 1943 (1 year)

Musial 1944 (1 year) 

Ott 1945 (1 year)

Cavarretta 1946 (1 year)

Williams 1947-49 (3 years)

Musial 1950-4 (5 years)

Mathews 1955 (1 year)

Mantle 1956-7 (2 years)

 

 

 

Can Mantle make it three straight years?

 

 

1958

 

OPS+

1.

Mickey Mantle

188

2.

Rocky Colavito

180

3.

Ted Williams

179

4.

Willie Mays

165

5.

Bob Cerv

159

6.

Ernie Banks

155

7.

Hank Aaron

152

8.

Jackie Jensen

148

9.

Roy Sievers

147

10.

Stan Musial

145

 

 

Well, as long as he can add to his years leading all of MLB in OPS+, no one’s dislodging the crown from his blond head, not even Ted Williams putting together at the age of 39 another strong year. No reason to compute a 1956-58 rankings, as Mantle must be on the top, so let’s move on to 1959, when Mantle had an off-season, and see if that gives us a new champion:

 

1959

 

OPS+

1.

Hank Aaron

182

2.

Eddie Mathews

168

3.

Willie Mays

156

4.

Ernie Banks

156

5.

Frank Robinson

153

6.

Mickey Mantle

151

7.

Al Kaline

151

8.

Joe Cunningham

143

9.

Harvey Kuenn

141

10.

Gene Woodling

138

 

 

 

Mantle’s off-season, which cost him a significant salary cut, puts him only 31 OPS+ point behind the new MLB leader (Aaron and Mantle nearly traded OPS+es and places in the ranking for 1958 and 1959.)  His off-season brings him down to 1050, and Aaron’s on-year brings him up to 1016. Willie Mays, with two third-place finishes and one fourth-, ranks third in the three-year rankings with 971. I’ll make a small chart to sum that up, but that’s basically it.

 

1957-9

 

OPS+

1.

Mantle

1050

2.

Aaron

1016

3.

Mays

  971

 

Williams, by the way, had a long falling off in 1959—he got up to plate only 331 times, so doesn’t qualify, but even if he had, he only OPS+ed at a 114 rate) In purely verbal terms, we’d say that by 1959, people were not thinking of the 40 year old Williams as the greatest hitter in the game anymore. "Used to be" sure, but by this time, the folks who thought Mantle was the greatest had it right.

 

Mantle had been at the stratospheric level that only Ruth, Gehrig, and Williams had been able to maintain up until now, OPS+es above 200 for several years running, but now in 1959 and then in 1960, he comes back to the join the rest of the pack:

 

 

1960

 

OPS+

1.

Frank Robinson

169

2.

Eddie Mathews

166

3.

Mickey Mantle

162

4.

Willie Mays

160

5.

Roger Maris

160

6.

Hank Aaron

156

7.

Roy Sievers

150

8.

Ernie Banks

146

9.

Ken Boyer

143

10.

Harmon Killebrew

142

 

It is sort of interesting here that the top five slots all fall within a very narrow range, 160-169, virtually a five-way tie for the lead, which means no one will make a very large advance. Let’s look at the three-year rankings as of the winter of 1960:

 

1958-60

 

OPS+

1

Aaron

984

2.

Mantle

976

3.

Mathews

954

4.

Mays

948

5.

F. Robby

931

6.

Banks

905


Now we’ve also got a tight-knit group, and Aaron has edged ahead of Mantle. Does this 8-point OPS+ lead over three seasons amount to a knockout of the current champ? I wouldn’t say a knockout, but rather a close decision in Aaron’s favor.  Mantle has finished first, sixth and third in the past three years, and that’s not quite good enough to hold onto his title. Hank Aaron is the new champion.

 

Some stray observations: this is the first three-year group in quite a while (since 1946) whose leader is under the 1000 OPS+ mark, though that’s just a round-number sort of thing since several years the leader was not far over 1000 OPS+. This is the first grouping, but far from the last, I suspect, with four of the top six being African-Americans. One of them, Ernie Banks, has come off two straight MVP seasons, but not strongly enough to break into the top five OPS+ers at any point, and as we know, he will fall off from his peak by the mid-sixties. I still expect Mantle to win a few more OPS+ crowns,  and win back his title. 1961 is coming and he tops that chart by a goodly margin:

 

 

 

1961

 

OPS+

1.

Mickey Mantle

206

2.

Norm Cash

201

3.

Jim Gentile

187

4.

Roger Maris

167

5.

Frank Robinson

164

6.

Hank Aaron

163

7.

Harmon Killebrew

162

8.

Willie Mays

160

9.

Rocky Colavito

157

10.

Orlando Cepeda

156

 

 

By 1961, Banks has fallen off the charts, and Mantle is back over 200 again.         

 

 

1959-61

 

OPS+

1

Mantle

1093

2.

F. Robby

  999

3.

Aaron             

  984

4.

Mays

  956

5.

Maris

  944

6.

Killebrew

  907

 

He also tops the three-year chart, breaking 1000 comfortably there, giving him a KO of Aaron in 12 rounds.

 

Impressive newcomers from 1961 like Cash and Gentile don’t qualify with only one or two full prior seasons, while other newcomers like, Colavito and Cepeda don’t quite crack the upper echelon of contenders. Killebrew and Maris make the three-year rankings for the first times.

 
 

COMMENTS (3 Comments, most recent shown first)

Mrgjgj
If I were to make a guess I’d say Frank Robinson ‘66-‘68, although that’s not really what you’re asking considering he came from the NL.
For a pure AL’er, I’d guess Reggie from ‘68-‘70, although he was pretty bad in 1970. Maybe Oliva or Carew, except according to Torri Hunter, they’re pretend black.​
3:47 PM May 2nd
 
Fireball Wenz
This system works very well to achieve what you set out to do. It has its Joe Louises and its Muhammad Alis, and it has its Jimmy Braddocks and Jack Sharkeys and Buster Douglasses. It's a lot of fun to follow. Phil Cavarretta! Who would have guessed?
2:10 PM Apr 29th
 
jfenimore
Wondering when the first African-American appears in the AL charts.
11:05 AM Apr 28th
 
 
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