No Felix Mantillas this time?

This one caught my eye:

My first reaction? Félix Mantilla used as a pejorative? I thought Félix Mantilla was a pretty good player!

Well, he was. But not for nearly as long as I would have guessed. Mantilla’s career path looks quite strange. I remember him as a Milwaukee Brave, which is understandable, considering he spent six of his 11 major-league seasons with that club (and saw action in the 1957 and ’58 World Serieses).

But he was pretty terrible with the Braves! In those six seasons, encompassing more than a thousand plate appearances, Mantilla batted 231/285/325. Even for a utlity infielder of the era, that wasn’t at all good.

The Braves didn’t protect Mantilla in the expansion draft, and the Mets got him with the 12th pick. He was the closest they had to a regular third baseman, and for whatever reasons — Casey Stengel’s benign neglect? a fresh start and regular playing time in pressure-free New York? the virtues of being 27 and young at heart? — Mantilla actually had a pretty good season, easily the best of his career.

But the Mets knew they could go 40-120 again without Mantilla, and traded him to the Red Sox … with whom he became a sort of star.

Well, he did literally become an All-Star. 

Not at first, though. In ’63 he was a little-used utility infielder again, just like with the Braves. Except when he did play, he hit. Better than ever.

And then in 1964, Félix Mantilla hit 30 home runs in only 425 plate appearances. He out-homered Yaz, and he out-homered Tony C. Sure, Dr. Strangeglove beat out Mantilla for the team lead with 33 homers, but the Doc also got 603 at-bats. Considering that Mantilla entered ’64 with 35 career home runs, it was a tremendous, tremendously surprising season. All while he continued to play a bunch of positions.

Wait, I know what you’re thinking: Fenway Park. And you’re right. Mantilla hit 19 of his 30 home runs at Fenway. But that’s just the half of it. His splits were massive, something you’d see in Coors Field before the humidor:

Home: 330/406/656

Away: 245/303/441

At one point, Indians manager Birdie Tebbetts, who’d managed Mantilla in Milwaukee, said, "It’s a swing that’s perfect for Fenway and almost every park in our league."

Nah, not really. Pretty much just Fenway.

Anyway, that wasn’t actually Mantilla’s All-Star season. Somehow he missed out in ’64 but did start at second base for the A.L. squad in ’65, when he wasn’t playing nearly as well.

Which was about the last time that Mantilla looked like an All-Star. He got hurt in spring training in ’65, the Red Sox traded him to the Astros, he didn’t play well at all for them, he signed with the Cubs, got hurt again, and that was it.

He’d lasted 11 seasons, and was a real good Fenway Park hitter who could play almost anywhere on the field without killing you.

So I know I took a long time to get here but now I’ll just ask: Is Alcides Escobar as good as Felix Mantilla in 1964?

Hell, I don’t know. They’re wildly different sorts of players: Escobar a banjo-hitting shortstop, Mantilla a power-hitting utility player. But just looking at three seasons — the All-Star season and the preceding two — Mantilla’s credited with 7.3 fWAR, while Escobar (with projection this season) is at 6.7 fWAR.

Hrrrmmm. I’m not saying saying Mantilla’s actually better, or that Escobar won’t easily eclipse Mantilla’s career accomplishments. I do think it’s worth pointing out that Mantilla (as I’m sure Gammons remembers!) was pretty damn good there for a few years.

Of course, it’s possible there was some other meaning here that I missed!