Mickey Mantle (October 31, 1931, Spavinaw, Oklahoma – August 13, 1995, Dallas, Texas) was an American baseball player of the mid-20th century who played for the New York Yankees. Renowned, like his exact contemporary Willie Mays, for an almost unique combination of speed and power, he played mostly in center field for the first 16 years of his career and at first base for the final two. Only 19 years old when he made his debut, he was expected to step into the boots of his famous predecessor in center field, the graceful Joe DiMaggio, and for a number of years thereafter was frequently criticised for not, apparently, living up to these expectations. Like Mays and very few others in baseball history, he could hit for both high average (.365 in 1957) and great power (54 home runs in 1961) and also run like the wind (21 stolen bases in 24 attempts in 1959). A shy country boy during the first part of his career, by the time he retired Mantle was close to being a national icon.
It was not until around 1960 that Mantle was finally recognised as a great player in his own right. Today he is almost universally considered to be one of the 25 greatest players of all time. Excluding pitchers, he is, for instance, ranked as the 10th greatest batter in baseball history by the Bill James Win Share system, far ahead of the fabled DiMaggio at number 45, and at number 13 by the Total Baseball encyclopedia's Total Player Wins system, which ranks DiMaggio at number 33. But even before Mantle's talents were fully recognised by his contemporaries, the Win Share system now rates him as having become the best player in the American League in only his fourth year, at the age of 22—a rating he would hold for a remarkable ten out of 11 years, from 1954 through 1964, interrupted only in 1963 when, because of injuries, he played less than half the schedule. No one else, including the legendary Babe Ruth or the record-breaking Barry Bonds, has ever showed such sustained excellence over so long a period. And, along with Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, he was the heart of an unparalleled baseball dynasty that won 12 pennants and seven World Series in 14 years.