Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer, and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance writer.
Mike Trout recently turned 27, which is hard to believe because he’s been playing at a Hall of Fame level for so long already. I’ve often read stories comparing him to Mickey Mantle, which seems like a good comparison, so I thought I’d see just how well they match up through their 27th birthdays.
Before seeing how they’re similar, though, let’s look at a few differences, starting with their physical size.
A Difference in Size
- Mantle: 5'11", 195 pounds
- Trout: 6'2", 235 pounds
Mantle, in the 1950s, was considered a behemoth, a muscular specimen, and a giant among men. He was 5'11" and 195 pounds. This is the same size as Brett Gardner, Andrew McCutchen, and Jason Kipnis, who are by no means considered giants today. In 2018 so far, there have been 116 players who are 5'11" or less and 195 pounds or less.
However, in 1958, when Mantle was 26 years old, he was the same size or bigger than 167 players. There were 160 players bigger than him (remember, there were only 16 teams at the time, so there were fewer players).
In contrast, Trout is 6'2", 235 pounds, and—just eyeballing it—he seems much more muscular than Mantle. Yet Trout isn’t considered to be a giant these days. There are 120 players his size or bigger playing in 2018. But in 1958, only man-mountain Frank Howard would have outdone Trout in size.
The ballparks Mantle played in were also considerably larger than any that Trout plays in. Yankee Stadium, at the time, was 457 feet to center and stretched out to 461 feet in the leftfield power alley. Other stadiums, like Comiskey Park in Chicago and Tiger Stadium, were 440 feet to dead center. Currently, the field with the deepest centerfield is Minute Maid Park in Houston at 436 feet. Most check in at 400 feet or slightly over.
Differences in Play
There were a few other differences as well.
- In the 1950s, especially in the American League, teams didn’t steal a lot of bases.
- Starting pitchers were also expected to pitch complete games, so Mantle didn’t have to face as many fireballing relievers. Conversely, if a starter was particularly good against him, he had to face him more often.
And, of course, Mantle played in the limelight of New York City on some of the best teams in history, while Trout is in Anaheim, playing for a team that often seems like the little brother of the Dodgers and has made the postseason only once in his career.
Plenty of Similarities
But there are also plenty of similarities between the two, even in their nicknames. Mantle, from Commerce, Okla., was known as the Commerce Comet while Trout, from Millville, N.J., is known as the Millville Meteor (although I confess that, until I saw that on Baseball Reference, I had never heard Trout called that).
Seasons Played by Age 27
- Both saw action as 19-year-olds. Mantle played 96 games in 1951 while Trout played 40 games in 2011, so both had played in eight seasons by the time they turned 27.
- Mantle’s birthday on Oct. 20 came after the 1958 season, so he had completed his eighth season. Trout turned 27 on Aug. 7, so his eighth season isn’t finished yet (he’s currently on the disabled list).
Awards and Recognition
By this time in their careers, both had won two MVP awards and both were considered one of a handful of the best players in the game.
Mantle Holds Slight Edge in Total Stats
Because Mantle played more games as a 19-year-old and finished his eighth season, he had played in 1,102 games by age 27, while Trout had 1,034. Still, their total numbers compare well. Mantle has a slight edge, as you might expect by playing 68 more games.
Mantle-Trout Through Age 26
But let’s take a look at how their numbers compare when broken in 162-game averages (although in Mantle’s first 10 years, seasons were only 154 games).
Mantle-Trout 162-Game Averages
Mantle Holds the Edge in Hitting
Mantle still held a slight lead in most of the categories when averaged out over 162 games. Trout hit a few more doubles and obviously stole more bases.
Mantle also hit better for average. In 1956, he won the Triple Crown with a .353 average, then topped it by hitting .365 the following year. Trout’s best season was .326 in his first full season.
Another surprising difference is in strikeouts. Although Mantle was considered a big-time swing-and-miss guy, with infamous meltdowns following K’s, he didn’t strike out nearly as often as Trout does. Trout’s 162-game average is 152 strikeouts compared to 114 for Mantle.
Trout’s season high was 184 in 2014 and has fanned 136 or more times five times. Mantle’s career high was 126 in 1959 and that was one of only three times when he had as many as 120. The difference, though, was that Mantle led the league in strikeouts five times in his career, while Trout has done that only once.
So, as great as Trout is at mashing the ball, you have to give Mantle a slight edge in hitting.
Mantle Holds Slight Edge in Speed
Trout is known for his speed, as his stolen base totals attest. But so was Mantle—contemporaries of the day thought he was the fastest player in the Majors, even faster than Willie Mays. He was once timed from the left side of the plate to first base in 3.1 seconds, a time that as far as I know was matched only by Ken Griffey Sr.
As noted earlier, stolen bases were viewed differently in the 1950s than today, but as Mantle’s success rate shows, he was an elite base stealer. People who saw him in the 1950s believed that had it fit into the Yankees’ strategy, Mantle could have stolen 40 or 50 bases a year. (Mantle’s career high for a season was 21 steals, but he was only thrown out three times that year, during the time he was 24-26 years old. Mantle stole 44 bases and was caught stealing seven times, an 86 percent success rate compared to Trout’s 84 percent success rate in his 24-26 seasons.)
So, on the speed side, Mantle probably held a tiny edge as well.
Fielding Goes to Mantle as Well
Since both players have been primarily centerfielders, it’s easy to compare them in that category. Over the years many people have tried to quantify fielding statistics, but that takes in so many variables—wind, playing surface, size of the stadium, the pitcher’s ability and, often, the stat cruncher's subjectivity—that I don’t put much stock in those numbers.
There is little doubt, though, that Trout is one of the premier centerfielders in the Major Leagues. But so was Mantle. In New York, a constant debate raged about who was the better centerfielder, Mantle, Mays or Duke Snider (although when it came to fielding, it was usually just Mantle and Mays).
Mays, of course, is considered to be one of the best—if not the best—centerfielder of all time. But if so, in his prime, Mantle was the second-best by a slim margin. With a centerfield that stretched out to 457 feet and a left-center of well over 400, Mantle had considerably more ground to cover than Trout, and he did so as possibly one of the top two centerfielders of all-time.
The video below from Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series shows just how much ground Mantle could cover in a short distance to make a catch—with a glove considerably smaller than the one Trout uses.
So, even in fielding, Mantle edges out Trout.
Mantle In a Class by Himself in Post-Season
There is also a category where Mantle is in a class by himself, although it is no fault of Trout’s that he can’t compare. By the time he turned 27, Mantle had already played in seven World Series. He had hit 11 homers and driven in 20 runs, and was a big reason the Yankees had won five of those seven.
Trout has been in the postseason just once, in 2014 when the Angels lost to Kansas City in three games. Trout managed just one hit, although it was a homer.
Both Players Among the Greatest Ever
Trout is well on his way to the Hall of Fame, and is probably the best all-around player in the game today. He certainly deserves to be compared with the all-time greats, and he compares very well to Mickey Mantle. But, at this point in their careers, Mantle held an edge. That doesn’t denigrate Trout’s greatness; it just highlights how great Mantle was.
Common wisdom has been that a player’s prime years are at ages 28-32, which would mean Trout is entering an time when he’ll be even better. But among the truly great superstars, I’ve noticed that their career years more often occur when they’re 24 or 25. That certainly was the case with Mantle, even though he had plenty of great years after that.
Mantle’s fatalistic outlook on life (he expected to die by age 40, as his father and grandfather had) led him to live in a way that didn’t help him as a player. He played just 10 more seasons after his age 26 season, the last several of them racked with various injuries. He retired after the 1968 season when he was just 36.
Hopefully, Trout will maintain a better outlook on life, stay healthy and give us another 15 or so seasons to watch him.
rabbit maranville on September 19, 2020:
Thank you for your entertaining article.
Garry Harris on January 21, 2020:
The greatest defensive CF ever is Philadelphia Phillies' Richie Ashburn. He played in the 1950s.
Mantle played with a destroyed knee after his first season.
Trout is getting fat.
Lone Pine Bishop on July 17, 2019:
Mike Trout is fabulous and I hope plays as long as Tom Brady. But imagine what Micky Mantle and Roger Maris faced. No training rooms or weights. No nutrition program. Poor field conditions...not to mention giant playing fields. Brick outfield walls. Tiny fielding gloves. NO batting gloves. No batting helmet. Metal spikes. Itchy wool uniforms. (buy your own undershirt...if you want one...Ted Kluszewski would be sent home today for sending the wrong message to our young people.)
By and large, these were skinny white farmboys who somehow hit 55 to 60 homeruns with fans pulling --against them -- should they ever threaten the Babe.
And for the Black Player....it was worse. Mike Trout consider yourself lucky.
Brother Larry on June 26, 2019:
Mickey Mantle was the greatest. In his day there were 16 teams. These days there's 30 teams so the talent is a little watered down. And part of that time we're talking about the baby boomer generation. So 16 teams with the baby boomer population vs 30 teams with today's population in that age group. The most I'll give you is a tie but the Mick was a switch hitter so that breaks the tie. If Mantle didn't have the knee problems I feel he would have ended up with more than 714 home runs. Also medical science today probably would have fixed his knee problems a lot better than in the 50s and 60s. Instead of knee surgery we'd be talking about arthroscopic surgery and modern day rehabilitation. In comparing 5 tool players I definitely go with the Mick.
Jim Sementilli on April 22, 2019:
I think all-around Mantle would have been the better of the two, not necessarily by a lot, had they played in the same era. Mantle was a switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate. Trout takes a LOT better care of his body, a by-product of playing in a modern elite league. Mantle drank every night, and played games hung-over! Trout faces pitchers that are just so much more advanced than what the Mick had to face. Don’t get me wrong they threw hard back in the day, they just didn’t have the specialty, I.e. mid-relievers, clean-up aces.
But like the author points out in the beginning of the article, there are just too many variables, besides stats, that have to come into play when comparing players from different eras. Makes for good barroom conversation though!
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on August 19, 2018:
I had read this last night, and meant to comment, but I followed that great catch clip on over to Youtube, and spent about an hour and a half watching old highlights of Mantle, and interviews.
Amazing that Mantle could hit for such a high average being a switch hitter, and generally looking to swing not just for contact, but big contact.
Of course it seems to be clear that nowadays the pitchers have an average fastball velocity that is much much faster than in the days of Mantle, and so it's harder to swing for the fences and make contact.
baseballbrains on August 18, 2018:
Love this article, great job. It's always tough to compare guys from different eras because things are so different (fields, equipment, training/technology, specialized positions/pitchers, etc...), but these two compare very well.
Awesome that we get to watch one of the games all time greats play through his prime today, oh how I would have liked to watch Mantle!
Paul Edmondson from Burlingame, CA on August 18, 2018:
Very nice comparison. As you finished the article, longevity could separate them.
I love watching Trout.