Would Mickey Mantle Be the Greatest MLB Player Ever Without Injuries and Alcohol?

One of the greatest New York Yankees of all time was Mickey Mantle. But Mantle’s story is less about what he was and what he could have been. Despite being one of the most legendary names to ever play centerfield for the Yankees, many believe he could have done more if not for the demons in his life that haunted him.

The question remains: would Mickey Mantle be the greatest MLB player ever without injuries and alcohol? 

Mickey Mantle batting for the New York Yankees
Mickey Mantle at the plate | Louis Requena /MLB via Getty Images

Career overview

Mantle, a switch hitter, played from the New York Yankees from 1951-1968. With his matinee idol, golden boy good looks and his five-tool skill set, he was destined to become one of the most famous players of all time.

Make no mistake, Mantle finished with a truly fantastic career no matter how you evaluate it. Here were his career accomplishments

  • Wins Above Replacement of 110.3
  • 2,415 hits
  • 536 home runs
  • 1,676 runs scored
  • 1,509 RBI
  • .421 on-base percentage
  • .557 slugging percentage
  • Seven-time World Series champion
  • Three-time American League MVP
  • Gold Glove winner
  • Batting title winner

Mantle took his place as the next great player in a long line of Yankee greats including Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Reggie Jackson. When he retired, he also retired as one of the most beloved Yankees of all time.

But despite his great career, Mantle always seemed like he could have achieved more as a player. Why exactly do many baseball fans believe that? 

The demons that kept Mickey Mantle from being great

There were two issues that kept Mantle from becoming the greatest player of all time. One was injuries, Mantle underwent multiple surgeries during his career, frequently being performed on his legs and feet.

According to the New York Post, Mantle had 49 triples in the first seven years of his career. He had only 23 in his last 11 seasons. It was clear that the surgeries took a toll on his speed.

One particularly gruesome injury that started off Mantle’s career was when he got his foot stuck in an outfield drainpipe in the 1951 World Series. The injury did significant damage to his right knee and Mantle was never the same. The Post compiled the injuries he faced, and the list is staggering. It ranges from everything to tonsillectomy to broken bones in the hands and feet.

The other issue was alcohol. Stories of Mantle’s partying ways were legendary during his playing career, particularly where he drank with then-second baseman and future Yankees manager, Billy Martin.

Unfortunately, Mantle’s drinking was not just a case of “boys being boys” but was the sign of a serious alcohol abuse issue. It’s impossible to tell how much his drinking impacted his playing career, but it did cause him significant health problems later in life.

Mantle suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, needing a transplant to live. Unfortunately, he died of cancer at the age of 63 in 1995. 

Would Mickey Mantle be the greatest MLB player ever without injuries and alcohol?

It’s difficult to say if Mantle would have been the best player of all time without his drinking problems or his numerous injuries. But one thing is for sure: he would have put up much better numbers.

Mantle’s 536 home runs, while impressive, was modest for a player of his talent level. Some believe he would have challenged Babe Ruth’s all-time home run title (both Henry Aaron and Barry Bonds later surpassed Ruth). 

For a great example of how great Mantle could have been, look at his Similarity Scores from Baseball-Reference. Baseball-Reference compiles these scores to put a player’s career into context.

For Mantle’s age 23 through 27 seasons, the player he compares most favorably to is Mike Trout. Trout is currently the best player in the game. It’s fair to say that if Mantle hadn’t had his demons to contend with, he would have had a shot to go down as the game’s best.