|Mantle is Baseball's Top Switch Hitter|
By Robert C. McConnell
In spite of Pete Rose's 44-game hitting streak in 1978 and his achievement of more than 3,000 hits in his career, Mickey Mantle has been selected as the greatest switch hitter in baseball history. In a survey conducted by the Society for American Baseball Research earlier this year, Mantle was ranked first by 215 of the 302 researchers who cast ballots. In total points, the Yankee outfielder was well out in front with 780½, followed by Rose with 519½, Frank Frisch with 398, and Max Carey with 26 points.
The survey, conducted because of the increased emphasis on switch hitters in recent years, also included selection of an all-time all-star team of switch hitters. Mantle was a near unanimous choice (missing on one ballot) for one of the outfield positions. The others were filled by Max Carey and Reggie Smith. Going around the infield, the winners were James "Ripper" Collins, first base; his former manager and teammate on the Cardinals, Frank Frisch, second base; Rose (who also received 63 votes for the outfield), third base; and Maury Wills, shortstop. The catcher was Ted Simmons, and the pitcher, Early Wynn. A detailed summary of this survey will follow later in the article.
Rose and Frisch, both aggressive, talented players who hit for a higher average than Mantle, lost out to the Yankee star because of the latter's great slugging ability. Mantle revolutionized the art of switch hitting by belting 536 home runs in his career. This was a quantum jump over the 135 hit by Collins in his career. Mantle shattered all assumptions that no player could hit that hard from both sides of the plate.
Since Mantle retired, Reggie Smith has moved in as the leading long ball hitter among those who bat both ways. At the start of the 1979 campaign, he had 270 roundtrippers, the great majority of which were hit from the left side. Other switch hitters now active who are hitting with considerable power include Ted Simmons, Ken Singleton, and Eddie Murray.
Prior to Mantle's time, switch hitters made little contribution in the home run, slugging, and RBI departments. In 1942, for example, the leading home run hitter among switch hitters was Roy Cullenbine with 6. In 1920, at the start of the lively ball era when Ruth hit 54 home runs, Frisch and Wally Schang led the switch hitters with 4 each. Schang, incidentally, was one of the first batters known to have hit two homers in one game, one right and one left. Playing with the Athletics in a game against the Yankees at Shibe Park on September 8, 1916, Schang hit a grand slam homer into the rightfield stands off right-hander Allan Russell in the first inning, and then hit a solo shot to the scoreboard in center in the second off southpaw Slim Love. The incident was not publicized at the time because of an unusual circumstance So much rain fell that day that reporters, assuming that the game could not possibly be played, did not go to the park. For schedule reasons, Connie Mack insisted that the game be played, and it was, late in the afternoon, in a sea of water and in front of fewer than 100 people.
Switch hitters made their primary contribution as players getting on base and then scoring runs. Rose, Frisch, and Carey were among those who did it by getting hits; Tommy Tucker, who was a pretty fair hitter, had an extra talent in getting hit by pitches (more than 200 times in his career). A large number had an unusual talent for receiving bases on balls. This included, not only Mantle, who was a great threat with the bat, but little Miller Huggins, who led the NL four times in walks, and Donie Bush, who led the AL five times. Others who led or who had outstanding walk totals included Lu Blue, Roy Culienbine, Augie Galan, Jim Gilliam, Ken Singleton, and Roy White, the only former teammate of Mantle still with the Yankees. In 1947, when Cullenbine was with the Tigers and accumulated a team record of 137 walks, he had a stretch of 22 consecutive games, from July 2 through July 22, where he received one or more bases on balls. This is a major league record.
It is also a switch hitter who holds the career record for fewest times grounding into double plays. Don Buford hit into only 33 double plays in 4553 at bats or once every 138 times at the plate. His frequency rate is lower than that of all left-hand batters, such as Lou Brock, Joe Morgan, and Richie Ashburn, who have that extra step advantage. Augie Galan, another ambidextrous batter, played the full schedule for the Cubs in 1935 and never grounded into a double play.
While acknowledging that switch swinging has no bearing on stolen bases, we feel compelled to point out that those who bat both ways seem to excel on the basepaths far beyond their limited numbers. Take, for example, such aggressive base runners as Max Carey, Frank Frisch, George Davis, Bob Bescher, Donie Bush, Walter Wilmot, Miller Huggins, Augie Galan, Jim Gilliam, Don Buford, Sandy Alomar, and Maury and Bump Wills.
Switch hitters also seem to strike out less; that is, with the exception of Mantle. Of the more than 60 major leaguers who have fanned more than 900 times in their careers, only one (Mantle) is a switch hitter. Only two switch batters led their leagues in season strikeout totals: Mantle in the AL, and Bob Bescher in the NL.
Ten years ago, to call attention to the increased use of switch hitters, we would recall the 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers' infield of Wes Parker, first base; Jim Lefebvre, second base, Jim Gilliam, third base; and Maury Wills, shortstop. The most recent example to illustrate the emphasis on switch hitting is the 1977 batting race in the National League. Dave Parker won the crown, but of the top 11 batters in the league, five were switch hitters: Garry Templeton .322, Simmons .318, Rose .311, Reggie Smith .307, and Lenny Randle .304. Competing against these five were three left-hand swingers and three right-hand hitters. Ironically, these five switch swingers were outhit by another, Ken Singleton in the American League, who hit .328. Also emerging from this group is one of the great triple hitters in modern times. This is Garry Templeton, who led with 18 in 1977, the highest total in many years, and 13 in 1978, and has a good chance to repeat in 1979. No NL batter has ever led three years in a row in this category.
The top season records for switch hitters are carried below:
On the career leaders in the various batting departments, the totals are as of the end of the 1978 season. Note that since the start of the 1979 season, Rose has passed Mantle for leadership in runs scored and total bases. Asterisks indicate active player totals.
Doubles Triples Home Runs
Pete Rose 572* George Davis 167 Mickey Mantle 536
Frank Frisch 466 Max Carey 159 Reggie Smith 270*
George Davis 442 Frank Frisch 138 Roy White 157*
Red Schoendienst 427 John Anderson 126 Tom Tresh 153
Max Carey 419 Duke Farrell 123 Pete Rose 150*
Mickey Mantle 344 Pete Rose 111* Ken Singleton 136*
Augie Galan 336 Lu Blue 109 Ripper Collins 135
John Anderson 326 Tom Daly 103 Ted Simmons 125*
Reggie Smith 325* Dan McGann 102 Ken Henderson 118*
Dave Bancroft 320 Walter Wilmot 91 Roy Cullenbine 110
Total Bases Runs Batted In Bases on Balls
Mickey Mantle 4511 Mickey Mantle 1509 Mickey Mantle 1734
Pete Rose 4408* George Davis 1432 Donie Bush 1158
Frank Frisch 3937 Frank Frisch 1244 Lu Blue 1092
George Davis 3678 John Anderson 976 Pete Rose 1085*
Max Carey 3609 Pete Rose 954* Max Carey 1040
Red Schoendienst 3284 Reggie Smith 941* Jim Gilliam 1036
Reggie Smith 2997* Tommy Tucker 932 Miller Huggins 1002
Roy White 2626* Duke Farrell 912 Augie Galan 979
John Anderson 2574 AugieGalan 830 Roy White 910*
Dave Bancroft 2574 Kid Gleason 823 George Davis 870
Strikeouts Batting Average Slugging Average
Mickey Mantle 1710 Frank Frisch .316 Mickey Mantle .557
Pete Rose 899* Pete Rose .310* Ripper Collins .492
Reggie Smith 863* Ted Simmons .298* Reggie Smith .491*
Don Kessinger 747* Mickey Mantle .298 Ted Simmons 449*
Ken Singleton 739* George Davis .297 Ken Singleton .436*
Ken Henderson 726* Ripper Collins .296 Pete Rose .432*
Tom Tresh 698 Tommy Tucker .292 Frank Frisch .432
Max Carey 695 John Anderson .292 Roy Cullenbine .432
Roy White 687* Red Schoendienst .289 Augie Galan .419
Maury Wills 684 Ken Singleton .289* Tom Tresh .411
Who was the first switch hitter in the majors? Based on available information, it was Will White, who began his pitching career with Boston in 1877 and moved on to Cincinnati the next season.
Ironically, he also was the first player to wear glasses. Was there a connection?
RESULTS OF SABR SURVEY ON SWITCH HITTERS
(Those Receiving Two or More Votes)
First Base Shortstop Catcher
Collins 206 Wills 141 Simmons 253
Parker 31½ Bowa 54½ Schang 40
Blue 27½ Bancroft 50½ Farrell 5
Anderson 12 Davis 43 Hargrave 3
Tucker 12 Bush 5
LaChance 3 Kessinger 4 Pitcher
McGann 3 Rogell 2 Wynn 87½
Holke 2 Roberts 68½
Outfield Nichols 59
Second Base Mantle 301 Lyons 54
Frisch 277 Carey 228 Mullane 16
Schoendienst 20 Smith 204 Tannehill 11
Gilliam 5 Rose 63
Third Base Singleton 26
Rose 228 White 20½
Weaver 39 Philley 6
Gilliam 25 Tresh 5
Austin 4 Bescher 4
Frisch 4 Buford 4
Outstanding Switch Hitter 1st 2nd 3rd Points
Mantle 215 52½ 30½ 780½
Rose 53 144 72½ 519½
Frisch 31 88½ 128 398
Carey 1 3 17 26
Smith 2 14 18
Wills 13½ 13½
Simmons 1 6 8
Collins 1 5 7
Schoendienst 1 3 5
Roberts 2 4
Bancroft 1 1 3
Gilliam 1 1 3
Nichols 1 1 3
Parker 1 3
Davis 1 2