At any given time there are hundreds of players with active major league careers. While they all undoubtedly possess elite athleticism and skill in order to have gotten so far in the game, only a select few are dominant enough to earn membership into the elite club frequently referred to as the “all-time greats.” If we’re lucky, there might be a handful or so of these players in the majors at any one time. But what has happened when their paths have crossed and some of these legendary batters have stepped up to the plate against their pitching counterparts? The results may surprise you.
Let’s take a look at a sampling of some of the better hitter/pitcher matchups from the past. The only criteria is that both players have to be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and have at least 100 plate appearances facing each other in order to provide results that are hopefully a bit more compelling than your typical baseball small sample size. Some results may be surprising, and others may not. Either way, nothing would have been better than actually being at some of those games and seeing it all go down in person.
Mickey Mantle versus Early Wynn: Mantle (.298 career batting average and 536 home runs) and Wynn (300 victories) were among the biggest stars of their generation. However, when facing each other, one clearly came out ahead. That would be the right-hander, who held the switch-hitting Commerce Comet to a .242 average, 13 home runs and 24 RBIs in 161 at-bats.
Wynn may come out with the better numbers, but the 50 walks and 48 strikeouts accumulated by Mantle in these matchups are proof that each at-bat was a grinder.
Willie Mays versus Robin Roberts: With careers that had 15 years of overlap, there was plenty of opportunity for these two to face off. The right-handed Roberts permitted 505 home runs in his career, which is still second all-time, so it would be a good bet that Mays and his 660 career round trippers teed off on him with extreme prejudice. Strangely, that was not the case. Although the outfielder touched him for a .313 batting average in 170 career at-bats, he managed just four home runs and 12 RBIs, shockingly low numbers for the historic slugger.
Ted Williams versus Bob Feller: Rapid Robert and his 100 MPH fastball against Williams, perhaps the purest hitter to ever grip a bat, must have been a magnificent sight to behold. Fortunately, for fans of the time, they faced each other quite frequently—as they both played for only one team each during their lengthy careers (Williams for the Boston Red Sox and Feller for the Cleveland Indians). The lefty-swinging outfielder torched Feller to the tune of a .371 batting average with nine home runs and 31 RBIs in 124 at-bats (data is missing for three games). He also drew 34 walks while whiffing just 10 times, helping build a .506 OBP. These numbers are even more impressive when considering Feller led the American League in strikeouts seven times and won 20 or more games six times.
Hank Aaron versus Sandy Koufax: With 165 victories and a 2.76 ERA before retiring at the age of 30 because of an arthritic elbow, the southpaw Koufax may have gone on to post even more mind-blowing numbers if granted the gift of health. On the other hand, Aaron enjoyed 23 relatively uninterrupted seasons on the way to a .305 batting average, 755 home runs, 2,297 RBIs and 3,771 base hits.
Pitting these two titans of talent against each other could well be expected to cause the skies to rumble with preternatural thunder but the results of this matchup are surprisingly one-sided. In 116 at-bats, Aaron bashed his way to a .362 batting average and seven home runs. He also whiffed just 12 times and drew five intentional walks.
Mike Schmidt versus Tom Seaver: The right-handed hitting Schmidt was one of the greatest third basemen of all time, hitting 548 home runs during his 18-year career with the Philadelphia Phillies. He had plenty of chances to face the right-handed Seaver, who spent all but the final few years of his 20 major league seasons in the National League, racking up 311 wins and 2.86 ERA.
When it comes to determining who got the better of this matchup, there was really little contest, as Seaver dominated. He struck out Schmidt 35 times, allowing just 16 hits and two home runs in 85 bats, a .188 batting average and a .294 slugging percentage, which is nearly half his career mark of .527. Schmidt may not have fared well facing Tom Terrific but certainly took out any potential lingering frustration on other pitchers.
Willie Stargell versus Juan Marichal: Although they played on opposite sides of the country, the 13 years of their respective careers they were in the majors at the same time meant they became quite familiar with each other. Stargell’s talent, which resulted in a .282 batting average and 475 home runs, seemingly meant little to the right-handed pitcher, who was no slouch with 243 victories and a 2.89 ERA. In 109 at-bats, the first baseman managed just 19 hits (.174 batting average), three home runs and 10 RBIs. He also struck out 28 times and managed just four walks.
Statistics via BaseballReference.com.
You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew