FanDuel - WFBC

July 23, 2007

Recounting Ruth's Career: Jenkinson, 60, says Ruth would have hit about 1,150 homers had he not played in an era when ballparks were so cavernous, rules were different and the season was shorter. Time To Retire No. 3?

posted by justgary to baseball at 01:10 PM - 50 comments

Ruth also rarely faced Latino pitchers, and of course, never faced a black pitcher. He rarely if ever had to hit a slider, sinker, split-finger fastball, cut fastball, or forkball. He got to hit tired starting pitchers in the later innings rather than fresh late-inning specialists. There are so many ways that Ruth's game was different. It's a big old cherry pick to say he would have hit a thousand if X and Y, while failing to recognize that he might have only hit 500 if A and B. Edit: I missed it the first time reading, but Jenkinson does address that:

"Listen, I can't prove that Babe did not play in conditions that were not more benign as the current player does. I can only invite the thought. But if we're talking about who hit the ball harder and farther [in history] more often, there is no question who that was. It's obvious."

posted by cl at 01:49 PM on July 23

In reference to point one: Conjecture. Obviously things were different in Ruth's era as compared to the modern game. I myself have wondered what it would be like to see the Babe hit some of the legendary blasts that he purportedly did. I cannot imagine anything other than a golf ball going that far and to think that some of the shots he hit were outs. But 1,000 HR's? In reference to point two: I have always thought that Babe Ruth's number should be retired. I'm certain that the old ucla man would echo my sentiments what with his first hand knowledge of the subject matter. But I mean, it's Babe frickin' Ruth we're talking about here. Say the word "baseball" and the first name that comes to most people's minds is Babe's. The points brought up in the article seem to build as strong a case as any.

posted by THX-1138 at 02:18 PM on July 23

Just to the right of center field, the distance was 475 feet at the Polo Grounds. And it was 257 feet down the right field line. The dimensions of early 20th century ballparks were wacky. The more I read research on the power of the players of earlier eras, the less convinced I become that today's training techniques are creating more powerful hitters. Intuitively, from swinging a bat, it seems so much of the bat speed comes from the wrists and hips -- I find it hard to believe that too much power in the swing comes from bulging biceps and the like. Ted Williams was downright scrawny by my eye, but he could pepper the ball with the best of them. I think it is entirely possible that Ruth continues to be the most powerful hitter of all time. CL, it's important to bear in mind that if Ruth had played in an era of integration, it's quite possible that league expansion would have come earlier and faster as well. Opening up the player pool to that degree would have made it silly to attempt to retain eight teams per league for very long, and eventually the talent level would likely have found a similar plateau. Ruth likely would have faced as many additional mediocre and bad pitchers as great pitchers with integration -- the biggest disadvantage at that point would have been that he wouldn't have been as familiar with all of the pitchers in a league of 12-14 teams as he was in a league of 8, but that would have effected someone of Ruth's quality a lot less than more middle-of-the-road hitters. Like you say, with every X and Y there is an A and B to look at as well. Johnny Damon is one smart idiot. His view pretty much captures how I feel about retiring Ruth's number. Nobody feels more strongly about Ruth's contributions to the game than I do, but it serves nothing to retire his number. I feel the same about Clemente. Great ballplayers, great men, but their contributions cannot be paralleled with Jackie's. League-wide retiring of numbers should begin and end with 42, period. What baseball should do is name an award after Ruth. There currently is no Babe Ruth Award that I'm aware of. Cy Young, Ted Williams, Clemente, Lou Gehrig all have awards named after them, to name a few. I think what they should do is institute a new award that recognizes greatest individual achievement in a season, batter or pitcher, either for each league or one award overall. This would not only honor Ruth's legacy, but it might remove some of the ambiguity from the MVP balloting and put the votes where they belong (based on the title of the award) -- with the player who most helped his team win.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 02:40 PM on July 23

In reference to point two: I have always thought that Babe Ruth's number should be retired. Ugh. I've heard recent talk that Ruth's (and/or Roberto Clemente's) number should be retired. I would be vehemently opposed to it. Baseball has retired only one number (across the board), and that's Jackie Robinson's "42". By doing so, they recognized the unique nature of the man, the unique nature of the times and the powerful statement it made in baseball (and America). By retiring a second number (and/or a third), you dilute the power imbued on that first (and only) retired number. Celebrate Ruth (and/or Clemente) in some other way. Pick a day on the calendar and call it "Babe Ruth Day" and make all the teams wear throw back uniforms and let kids in for free. Pick another day on the calendar and call it "Roberto Clemente Day" and request all the teams/players donate a portion of their salaries/gate to worldwide relief charities. But leave the retired number status for Robinson alone. I cannot imagine anything other than a golf ball going that far and to think that some of the shots he hit were outs. I believe it was in Robert K. Adair's fantastic book (The Physics of Baseball) where I read that some of those legendary home runs could not have gone as far as some have claimed (or the measurements are way off), simply because the physics of air resistance and rotation won't allow a ball to travel as fast/far as they would like to believe.

posted by grum@work at 02:43 PM on July 23

Man, thank you for posting cl! You pretty much nailed every point I would have made after reading that article: it's not legit to cherry pick reasons Ruth would have hit more, while not also considering the many, many, many reasons he should have hit less.

"Turning Ruth loose in our small modern ballparks would be an invitation to offensive mayhem," he wrote. "Factor in the shrunken strike zone, improved equipment, the current fair-foul rule, an exercise-induced stronger player and his production would boggle the mind."
Well... sure, Ruth would be in absolute terms a better player... but so would everyone else! Era-specific factors (scientific and medical improvements, increased conditioning, park size, scouting/video/computer analyis, international players, etc) notwithstanding, the mere fact that modern sports is almost global and very effective at finding and rewarding talent suggests that Ruth simply played against largely much, much weaker players. If you imagine a gigantic bin of billions of plastic balls (like the kind you'd find in McDonald's playpens), of varying colors of the spectrum, and the 700 reddest, most vivid balls represent the very best in talent and work ethic necessary to be the 700 best players in the world if they are found and developed... well, Ruth was playing in an era where the ranks of the majors were found by taking a very small scoop from that bin, and then finding the few hundred reddest balls in that small scoop. Ruth was one of the reddest in the gigantic bin, but the rest of the balls in his scoop tended towards the yellow-orange at best, with a few exceptions. Modern scouting and training practices ensure that the "sample size" of our scoop is much much closer to approaching the entire bin, which means our cream of the crop are more uniformly the most red out of *all* of the bin. In short, the modern game is very very vivid in its color. It's not just that the modern players are likely better in absolute terms: it's that Barry competes statistically with talent (and pitching) that is on par with his abilities. Ruth was like the smartest kid in his high school class. Bonds, and A-Rod and others, are like the smartest kid in the last 10 years at M.I.T., Caltech, and Stanford combined. In related news: Barry Bonds would have had 1,151 homeruns had he spent the last 20 years in community Men's Softball beer-leagues. Retire number 25!

posted by hincandenza at 02:44 PM on July 23

The Crafty Sousepaw: Ruth likely would have faced as many additional mediocre and bad pitchers as great pitchers with integration -- the biggest disadvantage at that point would have been that he wouldn't have been as familiar with all of the pitchers in a league of 12-14 teams as he was in a league of 8, but that would have effected someone of Ruth's quality a lot less than more middle-of-the-road hitters. Like you say, with every X and Y there is an A and B to look at as well.
False equivalency. Just because there might be an effect "A" for every countereffect "X" does not mean that effects A and X are actually equal in their balance. For example, would your boat sink or float using this method: Effect A: a 10 foot hole in the hull Effect B: You have a small teaspon that you're using to shovel water out Clearly, effect A and effect B cancel each other out... no? They are both "effects", so they must add up to nothing! Smooth sailing- huzzah for mathematics! My point in the "red ball" analogy is that a slight growth in expansion is heavily outweighed by the fact that improved scouting and training has ensured that talent and skill across the ~700 major league regulars has improved to the point that there are no gimmes, and not the wide variation in talent that we likely had back in the 1920's. Would Ruth be an All-Star in today's game? Almost certainly. But just like All-Stars don't look so good when they play each other, today's game is made up mostly of the best of the best in the world- and the All-Stars are the cream of that crop. Ruth had the almost immeasurable advantage of playing against some really suck players and pitchers. I'll leave it to the number crunching prowess of guys like Grum, but I believe it's been shown that while the major league averages for a lot of numbers have been fairly steady, the outliers are less.... outlier-y. People aren't hitting .380 like they used to, even though the league averages when guys put up .380 and .400 averages routinely is about the same as it is now, give or take a few percentage points.
grum@work: I believe it was in Robert K. Adair's fantastic book (The Physics of Baseball) where I read that some of those legendary home runs could not have gone as far as some have claimed (or the measurements are way off), simply because the physics of air resistance and rotation won't allow a ball to travel as fast/far as they would like to believe.
It was, and you did- even using the 48oz bats of Ruth, at optimal speeds, there is a maximum distance the ball can go, and reports of these 550 foot blasts, etc, show that people and eyewitnesses have a tendency to over/under estimate as their biases lead them.

posted by hincandenza at 02:56 PM on July 23

The more I read research on the power of the players of earlier eras, the less convinced I become that today's training techniques are creating more powerful hitters. Intuitively, from swinging a bat, it seems so much of the bat speed comes from the wrists and hips -- I find it hard to believe that too much power in the swing comes from bulging biceps and the like. Brady smash Crafty Sousepaw!!!!

posted by holden at 03:01 PM on July 23

Hal, I can't argue with you because I know absolutely nothing about boating and I don't eat at McDonalds. Holden, was that (highly unnecessary) picture taken in 1995 or 1996?

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 03:17 PM on July 23

The good old days mentality of this type of discussion always amazes me. There were great athletes in the past, and I believe that those same athletes may even be better today if they had the training methods, nutrition, and the competition of today. That said, I honestly believe todays athletes are stronger, faster, better trained and generally superior. The money is so much bigger, even relatively speaking, that it attracts talent from a much larger worldwide base. Babe Ruth mainly played in a white male american league. Todays baseball draws the best talent from all over the world. The science of pitching, the specialized relievers, the average speed at which pitchers throw would make him struggle. Forget that he was basically a fat slob on the bases. Yes the ball parks had some whacky dimensions but those changes have been equalized in many ways. Sure a 475 foor spot in right center may have existed but so did a freaky short side line fences. A 500 foot fair ball is a homer anywhere, but once they clear the fence distance doesn't make one count more than once. If you could take a time machine and transport great athletes from the past with their skill levels and athleticism, into todays sports world I think you would find a lot of them struggling. Just look at what has happened to football. The guys who were considered big and fast 40 years ago, wouldn't get past the combine today. A slow 245 pound offensive lineman of 1960 wouldn't find a job in the NFL today. Anybody that thinks it doesn't matter in baseball may not be giving baseball any credit as an athletic event. A point worth arguing if you feel that a fat drunk like Babe Ruth was that great. Actually the proof in is the fact that the old records are falling and will continue to fall, including Ruth's.

posted by Atheist at 03:25 PM on July 23

Hey, Atheist,show me another fat slob on the bases who could hit for power and average like Ruth and pitch like he could.The only player I can even imagine doing all these feats would have been Bo Jackson.

posted by sickleguy at 03:37 PM on July 23

Not that I feel the need to defend myself, but since it's my comments that grum has taken issue with, let's see if I can clarify my own personal feelings on the subject. I feel that Babe Ruth's contributions to the game of baseball merit more than just naming the MVP award or having a Babe Ruth day at the ball park. I think he did a great service to the game by helping to bring back people at a time when perhaps their view of baseball had been tarnished by the BlackSox scandal. His place in the record books should stand by themselves as achievements meriting retirement of his number. I also don't feel that retiring Ruth's number dilutes the importance of Jackie Robinson's number. Both were compelling figures of their times whose contributions, while different of course, still transended the game. I'm not arguing the social importance of Robinson's effect, just that the two were different and equal. In reference to how far the ball travelled, all either of us can go on is your scientific evidence and the accounts of eye witnesses. Perhaps in all this I am clinging to a romantic notion of the game, but what the hell, to me that's what the game is all about. Opinions are like assholes. They stink. Sorry if I am talking out of my lack of knowledge. Obviously, when it comes to pure baseball smarts, I am way out classed on this site. I just like to hear myself type.

posted by THX-1138 at 03:52 PM on July 23

I don't know about retiring Ruth's "3" across baseball, but I think Robinson's "42" should be retired across not only baseball, but all American sports. That's how important he was.

posted by cl at 04:10 PM on July 23

It does make you wonder just how good the "Babe" would have been on steroids..seems to have worked wonders on Barry..lmfao..

posted by Oasis at 04:13 PM on July 23

Least we forget the famous pre-1930s 120 mph wind gusts of the Polo Grounds blowing out to West 157th. Without the aid of Manhattan skyscrapers in the distance, the legendary winds were left unimpeded on their way to the Bronx. Ruth was obviously aided by these hurricane strength anomalies as his HR numbers dipped as the Chrysler building was erected. The Empire State building's arrival shortly thereafter ushered Ruth out of the league in 1935, his homerun power robbed by the behemoth windblockers and signaling an end to the famous Polo Ground Jet Stream.

posted by gradys_kitchen at 04:16 PM on July 23

Hey, Atheist,show me another fat slob on the bases who could hit for power and average like Ruth and pitch like he could.The only player I can even imagine doing all these feats would have been Bo Jackson. Unfortunately the Bo Jacksons of Ruth's day weren't allowed to play. Also speaking of Bo, remember with all his talent for multiple sports, in the end it made his pro career incredibly short. Michael Jordan tried two sports and so did Dion Sanders ( who by the way was the most successful at it). Lumping Ruth's athletic ability in with that of Bo Jackson's is an incredible stretch. FWIW in the old days of Pro Football many guys played offense and defense. That doesn't mean in todays specialized world of sports Ruth would have been able to do both. I think it says more about his competition that it says how great he was. If Ruth were growing up today he would not do both, pitching and hitting as he would have had to concentrate on one or the other in order to succeed. He would have also been forced to stay in better shape. I have seen the films and he could barely get out of his own way. What position in todays Baseball would he play. Designated fat guy hitter, or pitcher? He wouldn't be chasiing down fly balls with his lack of speed. I do agree with THX about his name as it is associated with the game. Believe it or not sometimes legends are greatly exaggerated. Why would Babe Ruth rank any better than Hank Aaron?

posted by Atheist at 04:19 PM on July 23

Believe it or not sometimes legends are greatly exaggerated. Why would Babe Ruth rank any better than Hank Aaron? I know where you're coming from, but it's not even close. Getting a Baseball Encyclopedia years ago really opened my eyes to Ruth and Honus Wagner. Even ignoring Ruth's pitching ability, the gulf between him and just about any other hitter is enormous. He was more than twice as good as the league average over the course of his career. Some of that's due to the gaps in scouting and the color line, but still, for 22 years he was twice as good as the average player in the major leagues. He's the best hitter according to OPS of all time (Hank Aaron is #39). You get the general idea.

posted by yerfatma at 04:31 PM on July 23

It's somewhat mystifying that the author would point out all the disadvantages that Ruth faced, yet he chose to ignore the one advantage that, in my mind, sets the curve: Prior to 1931, Major League Baseball rules stated that any ball that bounced untouched THROUGH or over a wall was considered a home run. http://www.baseballlibrary.com/baseballlibrary/excerpts/rules_chronology2.stm Looking at Babe's career statistics, I see that he played only four seasons past that magical 1931 year. How many of the Babe's bombs would have been considered ground rule doubles in today's game? I don't want to make it seem as if I am downplaying Babe's career. He is still the gold standard by which ALL home run hitters are measured. And that includes Bonds, Aaron, McGwire or ARod. But let's not go ahead and exaggerate the truth. This guy's column is laughable at best.

posted by Cameron Frye at 04:46 PM on July 23

I remember him in right field one day when a little dying-quail hit began to fall into no man's land, that point of inaccessibility at the extreme range of center fielder, right fielder and second baseman, and I can still see Ruth waddling in from right field and in and in as he tried to get to the ball. (I think now that maybe the second baseman and the center fielder held up a little, giving way to the king.) He had his right arm extended, the glove held low, and after his long, inept run the ball glanced off the heel of his glove and fell safely. That was in 1933 too, when he was thirty-nine and his fat was old; I learned later that those who had played with him in his prime hated it when people like me, who saw him only in those last years, recalled him like that. They remembered when he could run (he stole fifty bases his first four seasons with the Yankees) and field and throw and do everything on a ballfield. Babe: The Legend Comes To Life, Robert Creamer There are a thousand other accounts that the "fat Ruth" image is a not-entirely-fair one. Waite Hoyt wrote with real anger about this in his booklet "Babe Ruth As I Knew Him." Ruth played until he was 40 -- it would be like using the Bonds of the last three years as his definitive image over his career. It's not fair or accurate. Ruth struggled with his weight, to be sure, but he had tremendous range and could run the bases. He was not simply a big, fat man who liked to hit home runs -- he was a complete ballplayer. Anyone who saw him through his prime years would say that. Hal, I've read your analogies over a dozen times, and I have developed a theory that one of us doesn't know what you are talking about. I admit that intellectually I am in a sinking ship with a teaspoon, but I still think it's you.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 05:23 PM on July 23

In his book Jenkinson claims that Babe Ruth played in more than 800 exhibition games. Now what if that number were cut in half, or he'd played in no exhibitions at all? A longer career for Ruth? The what ifs can roll on forever. I would be against retiring uniform #3 but I expect it will happen anyway. I'm sure there are more than enough baseball fans who'd want to acknowledge a time when the sport was so different from what it is now.

posted by Newbie Walker at 06:00 PM on July 23

I was trying to find some info on how Ruth performed in his barnstorming tours (I was particularly interested in his trip to Havana, Cuba in 1920) and I came across this really awesome Baseball Fever thread. Starting at post #16, there's an attempt to assemble Ruth's statistics from as many barnstorming appearances as possible. Good stuff.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 06:26 PM on July 23

Are we talking about Babe as he was then or if he would have been brought up with the conditioning and the expierence of having been brought up with the system we have now? I recently read an article about a scientific study that was done about his eye/hand coordination and it was phenominal according to the study. "I feel that Babe Ruth's contributions to the game of baseball merit more than just naming the MVP award or having a Babe Ruth day at the ball park. I think he did a great service to the game by helping to bring back people at a time when perhaps their view of baseball had been tarnished by the BlackSox scandal. His place in the record books should stand by themselves as achievements meriting retirement of his number. I also don't feel that retiring Ruth's number dilutes the importance of Jackie Robinson's number. Both were compelling figures of their times whose contributions, while different of course, still transended the game. I'm not arguing the social importance of Robinson's effect, just that the two were different and equal" I also agree with THX-1138 in the above paragraph. I would not be against retiring #3. Each man stands on his own merits, strengths and degree of greatness. Neither would be taking away from the other and that any normal, intelligent individual would or should be able to differentiate between the reasons. Plus I'd hate to see Babe playing against the players of today if he were alive. A 112 yr. old man in uniform would not be a pleasant sight.

posted by skeet0311 at 06:53 PM on July 23

My point in the "red ball" analogy is that a slight growth in expansion is heavily outweighed by the fact that improved scouting and training has ensured that talent and skill across the ~700 major league regulars has improved to the point that there are no gimmes, and not the wide variation in talent that we likely had back in the 1920's. Yes, but Ruth would be a part of that improved scouting and training. He would be privy to all the great new insights into baseball. He would benefit as the other talented players now benefit. You can argue it both ways, but as I see it - at some point the cream will rise to the top. Ruth would likely be the (or one of the) best players of his era. That's the likelihood, not the inverse. I'm not into retiring the number, though.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 08:17 PM on July 23

remember they didn't put a new ball into play everytime one touched the dirt. Babe hit soft, old wornout balls out thrown by pitchers who used the scruffs to their advantage. Babe outhomered whole teams, who wouldn't think him the greatest homer hitter ever? Plus he was fueled by beer, cigars and late night livin' not steriods and years of work outs. Don't diss the Babe. Just sayin'

posted by water1 at 09:20 PM on July 23

Babe outhomered whole teams, who wouldn't think him the greatest homer hitter ever? Obviously, Babe Ruth is not stronger than every single player in the league. What made Babe Ruth a home run hitter was his style of hitting. The upper-cut swing was something that wasn't done back in his early years. You swung the bat in a flat plane to try and hit singles and doubles (and, if you were speedy enough or playing in a cavernous ballpark, triples). Why? Because that's how it's done, damn it! If it worked for the "greats" before you (Cobb, Wagner and Hamilton), what makes you think you know any better? The Babe did.

posted by grum@work at 10:18 PM on July 23

remember they didn't put a new ball into play everytime one touched the dirt. Babe hit soft, old wornout balls out thrown by pitchers who used the scruffs to their advantage. I believe that after Ray Chapman was killed with a pitched ball towards the end of the 1920 season, balls were switched out much more regularly. Perhaps not at the rate of switching out balls today, but much more than in the past, ensuring a fairly regular rotation of "fresh" balls. That said, Babe Ruth hit 54 home runs in 1920 before that change was instituted. Holden, was that (highly unnecessary) picture taken in 1995 or 1996? Does it really matter? Respect the rippage. Anyone up for a muscle man competition between circa mid-90s Brady Anderson and early 2000s Gabe Kapler?

posted by holden at 10:29 PM on July 23

Holden, was that (highly unnecessary) picture taken in 1995 or 1996? Jim Palmer says 1996.

posted by justgary at 10:37 PM on July 23

I can't even look at you guys right now.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 10:44 PM on July 23

Weedy, I think you miss the analogy completely. It's not about training that Ruth would also have at his disposal, it's about knowing that the ranks of the league are populated exclusively by the cream of the crop. It's about knowing that every player in the NBA was the best player in his high school, probably in his whole town/city, but when they have to compete against all the other "best ofs" their stats and achievements aren't as daunting as when they routinely dumped 40/20/10 games against high school fodder. Apparently that analogy isn't getting through to you, so maybe this is a better one? Okay, you've all probably played pull-tabs, or at least know how they work. Big bucket of pull tab tickets, you pay something like 50c a ticket, and some tickets are worth nothing, others are worth a few bucks, and a few are worth like $200 or $500. Of course, there's only a *few* of those in any bucket. So, imagine you had a REALLY big bucket of pull tabs, literally millions of pull tabs, with a select few worth tens of thousands of dollars, a few times more worth thousands, a few times more again worth hundreds, and so on. And in an added bonus, the pull tab manufacturer has introduced a slight defect, where you can kind of see the value of the pull tabs, although not totally clearly. Now, in 1920, you are allowed to reach into that pull tab bucket, and pull out say 50,000 pull tabs, and are allowed to keep any 400 or so pull tabs you want. You'll want to maximize your value, so you'll keep the 400 highest-dollar pull tabs. There's a chance you might get a pull tab in there that's worth tens of thousands, one of the rarest of the rare, but the odds are that by picking from a fraction of a percent of all pull tabs, you won't likely have many of those: mostly, you'll have slightly above average pull tab values. Now, in 2007, you get another crack at that bin. Only this time, you get to pull out millions of pull tabs- maybe as much as half of all the pull tabs- and pick the very best of THAT group. Of course, you won't get EVERY ten thousand+ dollar pull tab, but you sure will get a lot more of them than you did in 1920. Plus, the "lower valued" ones will be worth a lot more, on average, than when you had a smaller sample size. So in this analogy- which again, Weedy, has NOTHING to do with training blah blah blah- which attempt at playing pull tabs will net you the biggest value? Which will likely see the highest average dollar value? And conversely, which will likely have the greatest disparity between the highest value tab and the lowest value tab, among the ones you keep? Babe Ruth was a tens of thousands of dollars pull tab that luckily wound up in a bin of break-even or $1 pull tabs. Barry Bonds et al are tens of thousands of dollars pull tabs among a bunch of thousands of dollar and hundreds of dollar pull tabs. It makes the achievements of Bonds, A-Rod, et al- while not as extreme in comparison to their peers- all the more impressive in my eyes. So yeah- Ruth had a pretty huge advantage, when his competition just wasn't as uniformly good. I never said Ruth wouldn't be an All-Star in today's game, with access to the benefits of modern players. I just said that he wouldn't have the disparity of achievement that he did when so many more of the players of his era were filler: when he never faced a Pedro Martinez fastball, or competed for the homerun crown against the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., or tried to match batting average with Ichiro Suzuki. Was Ruth a great player? Of course! But the advantage of playing decades ago, before some Americans (say, Josh Gibson) were even allowed to play, before international leagues such as Japan were in full blossom, before the minor league and college systems allowed talent to grow, refine, and be better analyzed before ever putting on a major league uniform, means that Ruth would face pitchers that wouldn't make it out of AA ball in today's game, or relievers that were seen as aging mop-up guys and not fireballing specialists, or watch as his big 48oz uppercut swing made him the Rob Deer of this century, flailing away as cut fastballs and sliders made mincemeat out of his big, ponderous swing.

posted by hincandenza at 02:06 AM on July 24

I loved Sousepaw's idea of naming an award after the Babe, it should be for the person who hits the most homers in one season, the Babe Ruth award (I like the ring of it). Holden, was that (highly unnecessary) picture taken in 1995 or 1996? Totally, highly unnecessary. Damn you Holden, now I'm blind!

posted by BornIcon at 08:11 AM on July 24

Hal, the reason people, including myself, are having trouble understanding your analogies, I think, is that you are providing no evidence that they apply to this situation at all. It sounds like you have settled on this conclusion that Ruth was such a stellar outlier because the pool of players was poor and you keep concocting these rather convoluted formulas to reach that conclusion. I hear you when you say that league averages have remained the same even through eras when guys "routinely" hit .380 and .400. You haven't said what those averages are (and, personally, I don't want to know -- I don't want to turn this into a statfest because I don't think the numbers translate all that well across eras, which is the crux of our whole discussion to begin with). There's no proof that those numbers reflect on the level of talent in the pool. Additionally, in response to my point about league expansion (which was really simply an effort to point out to CL that integration doesn't mean you simply take out the five worst major league players and replace them with Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, and Cool Papa Bell, for example) you claim that integration is a 10 foot hole in a boat and expansion is a teaspoon, but you provide no rationale for why it wouldn't be the other way round. It sounds like you are spending paragraphs to state "I have a gut feeling that Ruth is overrated." Which is totally fine, but hardly a reason to make others who don't share your gut feeling feel like an idiot. Of course, I am an idiot, so it may well be that I am continuing to miss your point altogether.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 08:56 AM on July 24

One other point I would make, Hal, is that there are a huge number of reasons why a wholly non-segregated league would still not have the same talent level in the 1920s that it does now -- everything from politics, travel, technology, financial resources, international exposure of the game, etc. I'm not entirely sure if this point is totally relevant, but I think it does indicate that the total number of bright red balls in the big bin is not a flat line across eras.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 09:06 AM on July 24

I have trouble seeing pre-integration baseball stats as anything but a sham. I don't have any statistics because there couldn't possibly be any, I just find it difficult to believe that Babe Ruth would have been so head and shoulders above every other athlete for such an extended period of time if baseball was integrated. I would be against retiring Babe's number because I think he was a beneficiary of a shameful policy in baseball history and it just seems wrong to me. I'm not sure if it is logical position, and I am probably not articulating it well, but there it is.

posted by bperk at 09:16 AM on July 24

I think Hal's points are reasonable regardless of the conveluted way he is making them. It is a reasonable assumption to say if the color of a players skin, or the fact that only white Americans where the pool from which players were selected, then todays game which incorporates the best of the best from every country, and race, has a much deeper and therefore more talented pool of players. Also I think the description of Ruth's swing and playing as ponderous is accurate. I think it amazing that anybody with respect for todays game of baseball would argue otherwise. The best analogy I can think of is the old days of boxing. Does anybody think the ponderous haymaker swinging style of a John L.Sullivan would stand a chance against the speed and accuracy of a Mohammad Ali? Sure Jerry Cooney looked awsome during his rise against bums but when he stepped in against the champ Larry Holmes he appeared to be in slow motion and in a whole other league, a minor league. An even more recent example is the UFC, in just a short few years you can see the evolution of the sport and the athletes. Ten years ago Royce Gracie was a dominant fighter, beating guys twice his size, now he is no competition for the level of athleticism that has come to the sport. He got his ass kicked by a welterweight. Why? Because of the same things we are talking about, a much larger pool of athletes competing for more money and taking advantage of the experience learned from their predacessors. The level just goes up. I think the Ruth legacy is just a good ol boys club of white guys hanging on to a past that is overexaggerated and they are in denial. To say baseball players are not better now shows no respect for the baseball as a sport, which by the way is a whole other argument. Regardless of the athleticism required to play the game of baseball, they is no doubt in my mind that in the past baseball was a game played by ball players. Today it is a game played by athletes. I say give Ruth credit for doing what he did when he did it, but stop the delusion that the same level of talent would cut it today.

posted by Atheist at 09:54 AM on July 24

Yes, well, I guess saying that defending Ruth's abilities is to stand on the side in favor of segregation is one way of making sure you win your argument. Bperk, I think your position is completely logical and defensible and well articulated. I don't disagree that it is very likely that there would have been players more comparable to Ruth if the leagues were integrated. Dismissing pre-integration baseball as a sham, though, is tricky. Dismissing the numbers altogether takes away a good part of the relative measure of the talents of those ballplayers. Simply trashing the whole era is too broad for me. Can you toss the white leagues out without dismissing all of the contributions of the Negro Leagues? If you only dismiss the white leagues because they instituted and maintained the policy, are you doing any justice to the players who were stuck in the system? Babe Ruth, for all the power he had, wasn't going to integrate a league under Kenesaw Mountain Landis. I routinely struggle with these issues in my head and in my work as a baseball researcher and storyteller. To me, the most fair way to handle these issues is to try not to oversimplify them to take the easy way out. I think they are deserving of more intellectual finesse. That said, I again agree that Ruth's number should not be retired. Less so because he happened to play in a segregated league, but more because, in my opinion, the achievements of Jackie Robinson, and this honor that has been bestowed upon him, should not be drawn parallel to the accomplishments of Ruth, Clemente or anyone else the game has seen.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 11:00 AM on July 24

Totally, highly unnecessary. Damn you Holden, now I'm blind! Hey, you clicked on it. I probably should have included an NSFW disclaimer, though.

posted by holden at 12:22 PM on July 24

You could have stopped at NS.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 12:27 PM on July 24

Yeah but you're the one that posted it. I guess that's where the phrase, "Curiosity killed the cat" came from because my eyes are begging to be poked out after that debacle.

posted by BornIcon at 12:37 PM on July 24

so can i whine like a five-year-old next time someone links to a cheesecake picture of a female athlete?

posted by goddam at 12:44 PM on July 24

Why so dramatic? It's called busting each other's chops. Relax there, tiger.

posted by BornIcon at 01:12 PM on July 24

Uhm, if that was supposed to diffuse anything, it didn't. And you missed the point.

posted by yerfatma at 01:14 PM on July 24

For the record, my objection is not to the beefcakeyness of the picture. My objection is to the freakishness of Brady Anderson. Forget that it looks like it was taken into Photoshop, the arm cropped, blown up to 300%, and repasted -- the thing I can't get over is that it looks like some alien baby is living in his bicep. Plus, the whole 90210 thing -- it's just a whole package of creep-me-out.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 01:23 PM on July 24

Plus, the whole 90210 thing -- it's just a whole package of creep-me-out. The sideburns, right? It was the whole -- Luke Perry, John from Cincinnati look. Creepy.

posted by BornIcon at 02:02 PM on July 24

I knew I did not just tumble to that Brady Anderson image (which is now seared forever in your brains) by myself. A little digging around shows we can all blame vito (although I had forgotten about that and came across the image separately this time by googling around). I think wfrazerjr put it best when that image was originally linked: Jesus, goddam ... he looks like a praying mantis.

posted by holden at 02:52 PM on July 24

two meaningless points on a thread that I noticed about two days late. 1. I quote Tommy Lee Jones playing Ty Cobb who when prodded to say something nice about Babe Ruth said, "well he runs pretty well for a fat man." 2. Stephen Jay Gould wrote an article titled The Extinction of the .400 Hitter that focuses on batting averages but alludes to the fact that you are less likely to see performances that deviate greatly from the norm as the talent pool becomes deeper yes, but more specifically the game has a hundred years of history and expertise and specialization now. So someone like a Ruth would likely be less succesful if you just dropped him into today's lineup for lack of knowledge as much as anything else (lets not get into what a hard living partier like Ruth would have done with a $25 million contract and the rampant booze, drugs and women available today).

posted by kyrilmitch_76 at 08:07 PM on July 24

So you're saying he could have tamed Lindsey Lohan.

posted by yerfatma at 08:20 PM on July 24

That would be a sight to see.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 08:29 PM on July 24

Hal, it's interesting, I see it's logic. I just think that a Ruth would excel in the modern game if we're talking about maximizing his particular talents. I picture a 'roided up version with year-round training. And I guess I don't really see how a larger sample pool dliutes excellence. But you're point seems to be that he really wasn't as excellent as the numbers obviously indicate. Hitting is such a skill, I equate the greats to other sports greats like golfers. It's not the bigger, faster, stronger all the time when it comes to hitting. Same with golf. I think Nicklaus would fair pretty well if his prime were now. Just finely honed pure talent. Baseball has pure talents, too.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 11:05 PM on July 24

To add an actual substantive comment (and not just Brady Anderson Hulk talk), I'm against retiring the number for reasons others have largely discussed above. The following line from the article about his granddaughter's petition -- ""I haven't [met] a person yet who didn't say, 'Isn't it already retired?'" Tosetti said -- leads me to believe that the people she is talking to either don't know a lot about baseball or are conflating a team retiring a number and it being done on a league-wide basis.

posted by holden at 07:59 AM on July 25

or are conflating a team retiring a number and it being done on a league-wide basis This was exactly my reaction when I read that as well. Isn't it already retired? Yes, yes it is. Weedy, the notion of pure talents has been bouncing around in my head in this discussion but I just couldn't articulate it. Thanks for doing so.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 08:28 AM on July 25

Babe Ruth was so dominate hitting home runs that the year he hit 60 he accounted for approximately one out of every 7 home runs hit in the American League. For a player to dominate like that today he would have to probably average two home runs per game for the entire year. In 1968 Carl Yaz was the only player to hit .300 in the American League and he barely made it with a .301 average. The following year the pitchers mound was lowered 5" and many of the stadiums moved their fences in to generate more offense. In the 90s steroids became pervasive in baseball and home runs began flying out. The outfield dimensions of 490 feet to center and 429 feet to the power alley that Ruth played in seems ridiculous even for the modern steroid user. It is difficult to image what Ruth would accomplish if he were playing today with the lower mound, shorter fences, improved equipment, training methods, and steroids. It is likely no one would bother to pitch to him since he may be the guy who could average two home runs per game. The recent criticism of Babe Ruth, compliments of political correctness, assumes he cannot hit a baseball thrown by a non-european looking pitcher. This argument is so inane it is not even worth considering. A more plausible criticism of Ruth would be that he never had to face himself. He only pitched full time for 4 years but he twice won over 20 games. From 1915 to 1917 Ruth won 65 games, the most by any left-hander in the major leagues during that time frame. His ERA ranged from 1.75 to 2.44 as a full time pitcher. He also pitched 35 complete games in 1917. Pitchers today can rarely get past 7 innings. Babe Ruth has been the preeminent player in baseball and retiring his number would be a condign gesture.

posted by longgreenline at 02:20 AM on July 30

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