October 10, 2002

Barry Easily Outslugs the Babe: "Babe Ruth played before integration. It has always bothered me that, given the obvious impact of African-American and Latino ballplayers, we somehow manage to place pre-integration major-leaguers on the same accomplishment platforms as the post-Jackie Robinson players. Babe, Ty Cobb, Josh Gibson and all the rest don't deserve it.... Barry rules the world. Babe ruled White America."

It's nice to see someone, at ESPN no less (even if it's on Page 2), finally stepping off the Babe Ruth bandwagon and acknowledging a point I've been trying to make for years...

posted by hincandenza to baseball at 12:28 PM - 5 comments

I agree entirely. Barry Bonds is probably the best hitter in baseball history. The only ones that I think could challenge that fact are Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. Josh Gibson, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig are also within shouting range of them too. But don't get me started about who is the best all-around player of all-time...

posted by grum@work at 01:19 PM on October 10, 2002

I know nothing of Baseball or Barry Bonds, other than he doesn't seem to be a very cool dude at all, as this article indicates.

posted by Fat Buddha at 01:40 PM on October 10, 2002

The white vs. integrated comparison is only one radical difference between the eras of Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. Ruth went up against a much smaller pool of pitchers in a dead ball era; Bonds faces a huge pool of pitchers in a juiced ball era. Ruth played at a time when a training regimen was cigars and hooch and you went up to bat with little protection; Bonds plays at a time when teams have personal fitness trainers, exercise is a science, and they wear armor. How can you really compare the two at all? It's more instructive to look at how they compared to their peers (or more accurately, surpassed their peers).

posted by rcade at 03:29 PM on October 10, 2002

Modern players, be they white or black or purple will always continue to get better and better and better than their predecessors. Not only is Bonds more dominant than the Babe, but I posit that Bobby Bonds could have gone back to the twenties and hit 50 off that pitching.

posted by vito90 at 12:43 PM on October 11, 2002

vito90, you're my hero- that's what I'm saying! :) If you imagine the bell curve of talent in the global population for 1920, then the bell curve in 2002... first, today's world population is much larger. Second, and more importantly- we are far better now than we were in 1920 at getting the outliers, which are by definition those who will excel at playing the sport. Between only drafting white Americans (no Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige, no training camps in the Dominican Republican, no Japanese imports) and the lack of great scouting and analysis tools, the likelihood that the whole of all 16 team rosters were populated only by the very best players available is virtually nil; the truly great players that got through looked all the more dominating. In other words, in 1920 the players were drawn out of (arbitrary numbers here) anywhere from the 95th percentile or up, with some players who wouldn't have made it on an AA- roster playing alongside those who would have shone in any league, any era- a much more scattered level of talent, by necesstiy. Today's game is exclusively the 99.9%ers; while Ruth would still have been an All-Star, he could not have dominated today's game the way he did the Moonshiner Nine back in the day... yet here's Barry, dominating today an international crop of ferociously conditioned athletes who spend their lives from age 10 on honing a skill that is their surest ticket to millionaire lives. Truth is, the league is still not at full capacity; somewhere in the heart of China is a kid with the ability, if developed, to whip a baseball in at a terrifying 105, 106 mph. Yet today, he probably hasn't even touched a Spalding. Think of it this way: imagine instead of baseball talent, you were going to create a sport of "who's the tallest?". So each team drafts the tallest people they can find. In 1920, this would have included some 7' 5" giants, but not too many since they were self-limiting by only picking white americans who were discovered by some scout driving along the road. In 2002, every 13-year-old who's 6' 3" tall has college scouts watching their every move- and every 7-foot+ behemoth from Albania to Zimbabwe is just one plane ride away from being scouted. We can even see it in the NBA, which is sort of a "who's tallest around the world"; in 1960 the 6'9" Bill Russell was a dominant center, and the 7'1" Chamberlain a force to behold. Now, every team in the NBA has at least one or two 7- footers, and quite a few high school teams as well (mine did, our center was 7'2"). The physically gifted are not only developing more, but the sports themselves are far better at finding them. One last analogy: it's like being the smartest kid in your high school and then going to MIT; when in high school, you looked like Babe Ruth in 1920, just blowing everyone away. But when you go to MIT, everyone is the smartest kid in their high school, from all around the world. The smartest person at MIT is, basically, Barry Bonds.

posted by hincandenza at 02:49 PM on October 11, 2002

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