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Should Mickey Mantle Continue to Switch-Hit?

May 25, 1964 - Can a player be having a sensational hot streak and a terrible slump at the same time? Yes, if his name is Mickey Mantle and he’s hitting .545 right-handed and .190 left-handed.

Such a disparity — extreme in this instance but, to a lesser degree, common enough during Mantle’s career — raises a question: Should Mickey hit right-handed all the time?

Yankee manager Yogi Berra, at a news conference of high school editors Saturday, said it was too late for Mickey to change, but “I’d have liked to see him try it when he first came up because I always thought he was a better hitter right-handed.”

Even when Mantle first reached the Yankees — in 1951, at 19, with two years of minor-league experience — it was late. Taught from early childhood to be a switch hitter, Mantle never acquired any experience in swinging at a pitch thrown from the “same” side.

Mickey discussed the subject two years ago when an injured shoulder made it hard for him to swing left-handed. “One thing would prevent me from changing,” he said, “and that one thing would be enough — the curveball.”

A curveball, thrown right-handed, breaks away from a right-handed batter. That’s why it’s easier for a left-handed batter to hit a right-handed pitcher: the ball is breaking toward him instead of away. For left-handers, of course, the situation is reversed.

Mantle, however, has never batted against curveballs that break away, from either side of the plate. He is, in this respect, less experienced than any ordinary high school player. It would be impossible to try, at the age of 32, to develop the whole new set of necessary responses. (Two or three times, Mantle has gone to bat right-handed against a righty — Hoyt Wilhelm, whose knuckleball is totally unpredictable from any side.)

Back in 1951, a change would have been possible, though difficult. What if Mantle had made it?

“I think there’s no doubt he’d have a higher average,” said Yogi. “Yankee Stadium is tough on right-handed hitters because of that big left center, but Mickey hits a lot of long ones to right field hitting righty anyhow. So, he might not have lost too many home runs in the long run.”

Still, the Stadium is built for left-handed power, and the chances are that Mantle would not have hit as many homers batting right-handed exclusively.

In five of the last seven seasons, his righty average has been higher than his lefty average, but it must also be remembered that he bats left-handed more often, and more times at bat tend to depress every batting average. Starting with the 1957 season, his average to date right-handed is .357 for 943 times at bat. Left-handed it is .290 for 2,277 times at bat.

During the same period, however, he has hit 191 home runs left-handed, or one for every 11.2 times up. HIs right-handed total of 63 homers represents only one every 14.9 times up, a significant difference.

Either way, there isn’t a man in baseball who wouldn’t say about Mantle’s total record: “I’ll take it.”

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