Ty Cobb or Honus Wagner. Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig. Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. Ken Griffey or Barry Bonds. Derek Jeter or Alex Rodríguez. Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera. They are some of the individual rivalries that are remembered in the history of the big leagues. Genuine or fictitious.
Encouraged by fans or the media. For the publicity, and even for the players themselves. In any case, they are part of the centennial culture of the elderly, which greatly contribute to its diffusion and permanence over time.
However, there is another rivalry that we have not mentioned, that of Willie Mays with Mickey Mantle. It is not that it has been more intense or more even than those named. It involves a list of coincidences, which, as we always point out every time it comes to the fore, seem to have been taken from a cinematographic libretto. Starting with its beginning.
Perhaps it is the only one, whose genesis is found before Mays and Mantle reached the levels that made them two legendary figures with all the meaning that the term surrounds. It all started in 1951, and these seven decades are the excuse to dedicate a few lines to it for the umpteenth time.
Although we must have started the story with a more vital coincidence. They were both born in 1931. Mays on May 6 and Mantle on October 30, which means they made it to the big leagues at the same age, 20 years.
An age that brought with it a conjecture that would prove itself over time: the talent they possessed to play baseball on all fronts. Except for one or another difference, they were equipped with the famous five tools above the average. That is, hitting, power hitting, running, pitching, and fielding. With an added ingredient, charisma. That grace that usually accompanies the super stars.
The timing of the matches has a "but". Not in vain one of the convictions that are evidenced when establishing comparisons between athletes with gifts to excel above their contemporaries, is that more than differences, what is found between them are similarities. Still they had an unevenness, Mays was a right-handed hitter and Mantle was ambidextrous. Peculiarity that became the main argument used by his faithful to establish who was above the other.
So let's start listing coincidences.
As we noted, the two made their major league debuts at the same age and in the same season. They also played in center field and did so in the same city, New York. Mays with the Giants and Mantle with the Yankees.
Their first World Series appearance found them head-to-head in 1951 as well, and in the second game, Mantle was injured in one knee when he fell while looking for a connected hit to his grounds. Who dispatched it? Mays.
Both were pupils of immortal managers
Their last names begin with “M” and their first managers are in the Hall of Fame for their leadership skills, and they spared no praise for promoting their pupils in their first spring training.
"If God ever offers a chance to see someone hit .450 and steal 100 bases, it will be Mays," said Leo Durocher of his rookie. "To see Mantle is to see Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio in one body," Casey Stengel replied of his.
Four times each led in home runs, and each losing power, was confined to defending first base.
Twice each side, they broke the 50 home run mark in one season, entering the Cooperstown temple in their first appearance before the jury.
None topped Babe Ruth's mark
In the mid-60s, it was thought that Mantle or Mays would be the ones destined to dethrone Babe Ruth as the greatest home runner of all time. One and the other stayed in the way, while it was Henry Aaron who surpassed Ruth's 714 homers. Mays gave 660 and Mantle 536.
Expelled from Organized Baseball
Mays in 1979 and Mantle in 1984, were hired as gambling casino promoters at a hotel in the city of Atlantic City. The two were excluded from any relationship with Organized Baseball. Who made the same decision? Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. There can be no more coincidences.