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Mantle is Baseball's Top Switch Hitter Print E-mail

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:



Season Leader and Club



At Bats

Maury Wills, Los Angeles NL




Max Carey, Pittsburgh, NL




Pete Rose, Cincinnati NL




Pete Rose, Cincinnati NL




George Davis, New York NL



Home Runs

Mickey Mantle, New York AL



Total Bases

Mickey Mantle, New York AL




Mickey Mantle, New York AL




George Davis, New York NL




Tommy Tucker, Baltimore AA




Mickey Mantle, New York AL


    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.

At Bats









Pete Rose


Mickey Mantle


Pete Rose


Max Carey


Pete Rose


Frank Frisch


Frank Frisch


George Davis


George Davis


George Davis


Max Carey


Max Carey


Red Schoendienst


Frank Frisch


Red Schoenclienst


Mickey Mantle


Donie Bush


Mickey Mantle


Maury Wills


Red Schoendienst


Maury Wills


Don Kessinger


Jim Gilliam


Dave Bancroft


Kid Gleason


Lu Blue


Kid Gleason


Donie Bush


Tommy Tucker


Don Kessinger


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?


(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

                                                Galan                 33½

Third Base                               Singleton           26

Rose                228                  White                20½

Weaver           39                    Philley                 6

Gilliam            25                    Tresh                   5

Austin            4                      Bescher               4

Frisch              4                      Buford                4

                                                Anderson           3

                                                Cullenbine           3

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

Weaver                                                                3                             

Davis                                                     1                                   2