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Baseball Analysis  John Holway




By John B Holway

One just can't compare Babe and Barry. It’s fun to do, but useless.

It’s true that Babe out-homered entire teams in the early 1920s. But that's because everyone else was still playing Ty Cobb’s game of bunt, steal, and single. It took them a few years to wake up. Then Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Hack Wilson, Mel Ott, Chuck Klein, and Ken Williams discovered homers too. And new kids arrived, like Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams, who had been hitting the long ball since high school. (Foxx, not Gehrig, was second to Ruth until Willie Mays passed him in 1966.)

And don’t forget the black hitters. Mule Suttles, who goes into Cooperstown this summer, hit homers at a faster pace than Ruth in 1927. He might very well have hit 61, while Babe hit 58, because a couple of the best black pitchers had replaced the weakest white hurlers.

Population has boomed, much faster than the number of teams has. Now a male baby has about half as much chance of growing up to be a big leaguer. And we have to add the millions of Latin kids – and now Asian kids – competing for jobs.

Kids are bigger and taller, even without steroids. Pitches get to the plate a yard sooner.

Picture Cobb and Ruth standing next to Bonds, Albert Pujols, and Frank Thomas (270 pounds) – not to mention pitchers Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. People would snicker, “Who are those two runts?”

I don't think Ruth could make the Yankee outfield today, and Cobb couldn't break in with Detroit.


John B Holway is author of “TED, the Kid,” published by Scorpio Books

Before moving to New York in 1920 with a short 258-foot porch in the Polo Grounds, Ruth was a part-time pitcher/outfielder in Boston, which had a much longer rightfield fence than today. He hit the longest home run of his life – 619 feet – in April 1919, which was still the “deadball” era. (Bonds’ longest is 491, Mark McGwire’s was 545.)

All Ruth needed was more at bats, a shorter fence, and a livelier ball. He got all three in 1920 to soar to 54 homers, double the old record. It would be like Albert Pujols hitting 140 this year.

What if Babe had also found Balco? He weighed about 190 in 1919. If he’d weighed a Bondsian 250, his record blast would have sailed 814 feet.

Records are not set by the men on the field. They are set by men in three-piece suits high in their offices overlooking Park Avenue, who set the rules and conditions of the game. More homers? Juice the ball, juice the hitters, bring in the fences, add more teams to water down the competition. Less homers? Play more night games, raise the fences, raise the mound, cut out some teams, ban steroids. The governors of the game manipulate it all; the players are just puppets being jerked around on the ends of their strings.

In a man-vs-nature sport, such as track and field or swimming, a 100-yard dash is always 100 yards. Comparisons are possible. And athletes are getting bigger and better and faster.

Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmueller couldn't make the U.S. Olympic swim team today – I mean the women’s’ team. In a 400-yard race, Janet Evans would beat him by 20 yards. By the time he touched the finish, she would be swinging away on a vine, triumphantly ululating.

But there are no stopwatches or tape measures in man-vs-man sports – boxing, football, etc. As one man gets better, the competition is also getting better as fast as he does. It’s a lot tougher to score a knockout or touchdown or serve an ace against today’s opponents.

If Albert Einstein were alive, he’d call it the theory of baseball relativity: Nothing is absolute. Everything changes. There is no speed of light in sports.

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