How Bryce Harper Compares to Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench

Apr 21, 2017; New York City, NY, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) hits a two run home run against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 21, 2017; New York City, NY, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) hits a two run home run against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

In the late 50s, as a young man I can remember walking into Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. and seeing Mickey Mantle in person for the first time. In 1970 as a college student, I can remember being amazed at seeing Johnny Bench in Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Now in 2017, I have the chance to see Bryce Harper bat third and play right field for the Washington Nationals.

Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench and Bryce Harper all came up to the major leagues for good at 19 years of age. Mantle and Bench went on to have Hall of Fame careers, each winning multiple championships and individual awards. Those of us who are old enough to have watched Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench play in their primes find it hard to imagine that any of today’s stars could be their equal. Bryce Harper may just turn out to be that good.

The 1950 New York Yankees won the world championship by defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 4 -0 in the World Series. Their roster included Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Johnny Mize, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford and Phil Rizzuto.

Then in 1951, the Yankees invited their prize prospect Mickey Mantle to spring training. Mantle did not disappoint and he was penciled in as their starting right fielder on opening day. When the season began, Mickey lost his stroke and was sent down to New York’s top minor league affiliate for 40 games. It was during this time in the minors that Mantle called home and told his dad he didn’t want to play baseball anymore.

Dad to the Rescue

Mutt Mantle, Mickey’s dad, drove to Kansas City and challenged his son to be a man. Baseball fans everywhere are glad he did. Mantle’s stroke came back immediately. After 40 games in Kansas City he got the call back to the Yankees. He played the rest of the 1951 season in right field next to Joe DiMaggio in center. In the World Series, on a ball hit to right center by Willie Mays, Mickey tripped over an exposed pipe trying to avoid DiMaggio. This accident led to the first of his numerous knee surgeries that ultimately shortened his career.

In August of 1967, the Cincinnati Reds called up their prize catching prospect, Johnny Bench. In 26 games he hit only .163 but his defensive prowess was obvious to all. It would be three years before Cincinnati became known as the “Big Red Machine,” but the foundation was established in 1967.

More from Washington Nationals

The Bright Young Star

The Washington Nationals drafted Bryce Harper with the first pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. After a visit to the optometrist in 2011 Harper went on a tear in the minor leagues. He was called up to the majors on April 27, 2012. Harper went on the win the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012. He chose to wear number 34 because of his admiration for Mickey Mantle who wore number 7.  3+4=7.

Mantle, Bench and Harper all started their major league careers at age 19. Through 2016, Bryce Harper has completed five seasons in the big show. Let’s see how these three sluggers compared in their first 5 seasons:

Mickey Mantle (1951-1955) – AB – 658, Hits – 719, 2B – 114, 3B – 38, HR – 121, RBI – 445, SB – 33, K – 479, BB – 412. Ranked #1 in WAR – 1955.

Johnny Bench (1967-1971) – AB – 635, Hits – 636, 2B – 120, 3B – 10, HR – 114, RBI – 387, SB – 14, K – 386, BB – 188. NL MVP – 1970.

Bryce Harper (2012 – 2016) – AB – 657, Hits – 651, 2B – 122, 3B – 17, HR – 121, RBI – 334, SB – 26, K – 566, BB -387. NL Rookie of the Year – 2012, NL MVP – 2015.

How Well He Compares

Its amazing just how well Bryce Harper compares to two of the game’s greatest players of all time. In their first five years, Harper (657) has one fewer at-bat than Mantle (658). They have hit exactly the same number of home runs (121). The greatest discrepancy is in RBI. That is no doubt due to the lineups both Mantle and Bench hit in as compared to Bryce Harper, especially early in his career.

Next: Trout Joins Select Club with Cobb, Mantle

It struck me the other night as I was watching Harper hit a grand slam against the Atlanta Braves that I was watching another of Major League Baseball’s great hitters. I don’t get to see Mike Trout play very often. But I feel as though we are watching the modern version of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Sit back, enjoy and be amazed by the incredible talent we get to see on display.  Someday people will look back on these young men and say to their kids, “You should have seen Bryce Harper play.”