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Offline EasyAce

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Adam Ottavino's Ruthian gaffe
« on: January 27, 2019, 06:47:41 PM »
The Yankees' new bullpen bull thinks the Babe would look quite different if he played today's game. Stop snarling and ponder . . .
By Yours Truly
https://throneberryfields.com/2019/01/27/adam-ottavinos-ruthian-gaffe/


Adam Ottavino (left), who thinks the Bambino (right) in today’s game would be very
different than in his own game.


Adam Ottavino is an excellent relief pitcher who’s just turned two out of three splendid seasons including a marvelous 2018 (2.43 earned run average; 2.74 fielding-independent pitching rate) into a three-year, $27 million contract, joining a Yankee bullpen already thought to be the bulls in the American League’s china shop. And he charmed further by asking for and receiving uniform number 0, the absolute final single digit the Yankees could offer with 1 through 9 retired.

But Ottavino has also raised temperatures thanks to the exhuming of, shall we say, a less than worshipful observation involving a Yankee icon.

By his own admission on a December podcast Ottavino committed heresy when, pitching some years earlier in Triple-A and talking to a coach, he observed almost offhand that Babe Ruth in today’s game might not post quite the jaw-dropping batting performances he posted in his actual time. Ottavino went far enough to suggest he just might strike Ruth out as often as not, and he does have the kind of slider and sinker to suggest that’s not a fanciful flub.

In some places you might have thought Ottavino committed the rough equivalent of John Lennon’s ancient observation, in an offhand remark made months before its American revelation, that the Beatles in 1966 were more popular than Jesus Christ.

Lennon’s republished-out-of-context remark finally compelled him to clarify, at a sober Chicago press conference, that he’d forgotten in that earlier moment that he was himself one of the Beatles and, memorably, “If I’d have said television was more popular than Jesus, I might have gotten away with it.” When the Yankees introduced Ottavino formally last week the righthander felt just as obliged to clarify.

“I probably used a bad example of the point I was trying to make: the evolution of the pitching in baseball over baseball history,” Ottavino said. “And Babe Ruth’s probably a name that I shouldn’t have used in this example. But I’ve got a lot of flak for it, mostly funny stuff, like my uncle telling me that he can’t go anywhere without hearing about it, things like that. But I meant no disrespect. I’m a huge baseball historian and love the game, and it’s not even something that can be proven anyway, so I find it a little funny.”

The genuine problem with Lennon’s ancient controversy is that there were moments indeed during the Beatles’ extraterrestrial international fame and achievement where you might well have believed them to be more popular than Christ; indeed, at least one clergyman responded to the uproar, “To many people the golf course is more popular than Jesus.” A deeper look indicated that Lennon himself didn’t exactly believe that that possibility was a good thing.

But Ottavino in a couple of ways was quite right. Even amidst the evolution of baseball analysis in my lifetime, you can still find a considerable community that refuses to allow anything other than the image of Ruth as the single greatest baseball player who ever lived without the deviant consigned to the rack.

During the mid-to-late 1990s a Village Voice writer named Allen St. John isolated the point: “Ask someone who the greatest basketball player of all time is. They’ll say Michael Jordan. Ask him who the greatest quarterback is. They’ll say Joe Montana. Ask them to name the greatest heavyweight champion. It’ll be Muhammad Ali. The greatest hockey payer? Of course, Wayne Gretzky. Now ask them the greatest baseball player of all time? And the answer will be Babe Ruth. Now, look over that list of names and ask yourself what’s different about the last one?”

I’m not conversant enough with their sports to suggest possible successors to Ali or Gretzky and have no wish to be, but one suspects LeBron James may have succeeded Jordan and Tom Brady, Montana. May. And they won’t erode the places in their sports’ histories of, say, Bill Russell or Bart Starr.

Writing in Clearing the Bases: The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Last Century in 2002, Allen Barra answered St. John: “Every other sport gets to choose a current or modern player as its greatest, but a baseball fan always has to look at the past . . . A couple of years ago I proposed that Wilt Chamberlain and not Michael Jordan was the most dominant player in basketball history . . . I was scoffed at; how could I say that when the conditions of the game have changed so greatly from the early 60s to now? And yet, when it came time to pick the greatest player in baseball history, four of five picked Babe Ruth without batting an eyelash (the other picked Willie Mays, the player people usually pick who don’t pick Ruth). Apparently, the conditions of basketball had changed radically over the last thirty-five years but in baseball, over seventy years, not at all.”

Barra cited St. John in his book’s leadoff chapter, provocatively titled “Getting Tough with Babe Ruth.” Essentially, he set out to prove a sacred cow’s genuine worth—steak—and he did a splendid job, particularly when he lanced one of the key boils of the Ruthian myths, that being he was the great all-around player who could Do It All better than anyone else could Do It All, and did.

As a full-time pitcher Ruth was good and occasionally great (especially in the 1916 World Series), but a full-time ERA only a few points below his league average in a low-scoring era isn’t exactly Randy Johnson being almost two full runs below his league average in a high-scoring era. And throwing short range as a pitcher throws is an entity unto itself; a right fielder throws considerably different, and with a considerably different eye and aim.

Ruth was a league-average defensive right fielder whose throwing arm was passable but not exactly the model for Roberto Clemente. He was a mediocre baserunner with no speed as a full-time position player, the evidence for which exists above and beyond his colossal blunder in ending the 1926 World Series in the Cardinals’ favour. (With Bob Meusel at the plate and Lou Gehrig on deck, a pair of hitters not exactly renowned for being pushovers, Ruth took off for second base entirely on his own thought and was out by a enough space for a car to pass through.)

Despite the image of Ruth having thunderous power all over the place, period descriptions (Barra’s phrase) show him the classic pull hitter who probably picked up a lot of non-home run extra base hits going the other way into cavernous left center fields like his own home parks, distance enough that even a leadfoot like himself could leg out a triple.

If today’s fan frets over the obsession with “launch angles,” over hitters obsessed enough with them to neglect other facets of run-creating hitting while pitchers learn to tie them up in their launch obsessions, how on earth does the parabolic Ruthian blast named for a batter whose power swing was itself a body-twisting uppercut not become the very great-great-grandfather of the very launch angle obsession today’s baseball fan and analyst abhors?

Ruth still has as well a concurrent reputation as the most dominant team player of the 20th Century until you look a lot closer. As a full-time pitcher, he was on Red Sox teams good enough to win without him, one of which won a World Series the year before he joined the fun. As a Yankee full-time position player, he went to three World Series as the team’s best player and they won one out of the three; he went to four more with a player of equal ability as his teammate, Lou Gehrig, and won three out of four; he had a thirteen-year stretch of seven Yankee pennants and four World Series rings.

That’s not Gehrig’s thirteen-year stretch of seven Yankee pennants and six World Series rings. That’s not Joe DiMaggio’s ten pennants and nine World Series rings. That’s not Yogi Berra’s fourteen pennants and ten Series rings; it’s not Mickey Mantle’s twelve pennants and seven Series rings. On Yankee terms that evidence suggests Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, and Mantle being better and more dominant team players.

What’s absolutely fair to Babe Ruth is to call him the greatest player of the pre-World War II/pre-integration era, playing in a time when major league baseball limited its talent pool by design and, for all manner of perverse reasons, refused to let Ruth play against the best black, Latino, and further international talent. (Ruth himself would have welcomed that chance; he thought nothing of off-season barnstorming baseball tours that included games against Negro Leagues players he admired.)

But then we add to pre-World War II/pre-integration a third condition—the pre-night ball era. Between the limited talent pool he was allowed to face, and the strictly day game he was allowed to play, it’s to wonder whether Ruth’s batting statistics would have become as platinum looking as they are to the naked, un-inquiring eye if he’d played half or more of the time at night. (It’s also to wonder how much gaudier Henry Aaron’s, Willie Mays’s, and Ken Griffey, Jr.’s batting statistics would look if they never had to play at night.)

I’ve yet to read Jane Leavy’s The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created, and you may rest assured it’s prime on my to-read list, but the reviews I’ve seen indicate she plumbed as deep as a human could plumb into everything that made Ruth Ruth, from his grotesque childhood and its legacy of insecurities to the baseball fame manufactured six parts Ruth himself and half a dozen parts his era’s pliant sporting press and the randy adolescence of the public relations industry.

“With the help of his shameless business manager, Christy Walsh, Ruth cultivated and grew his celebrity and cashed in on it big-league,” writes one of the best reviewers, Nicholas Frankovich in National Review. “It was extraordinary, of a magnitude unprecedented for an Ameri­can athlete. Ruth was shameless too, so blush not for him, and more amoral than immoral, so temper your head-shaking at his Rabelaisian over­indulgence in food and sex.” Temper it, we presume, without a concurrent thought about all the athletes of the past two decades whose Rabelaisian appetites and thuggish behaviours receive condemnation instead of, pardon the expression, Ruthian indulgence. (If you don't think the Babe could be thuggish, you don't know about the time he hung manager Miller Huggins over the end of a moving train to try convincing Huggins to rescind a disciplinary fine.)

Placing Ruth in context and beyond mythology is entirely do-able without writing him out of his own legend or that of the Yankees and the game itself. “The Babe gets a free ride from the modern historians and documentary makers,” Barra wrote, “and his name is often evoked by people who in practise seem to abhor the very kind of big power-big strikeout, low emphasis on speed and defense game that Ruth was most associated with in his own time. Nobody ever gets tough with Babe Ruth . . . The Babe is tough enough to take a few knocks from me. Or anyone. Maybe even tough enough to put up with a modern reassessment and still stay a hero.”

Maybe even tough enough to withstand Adam Ottavino’s gaffe, for which Ottavino beyond a momentary lapse of rhetorical temperance should have owed not one degree of penance.
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Offline Sanguine

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Re: Adam Ottavino's Ruthian gaffe
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2019, 09:52:27 PM »
It's not everyday you see Ruthian gaffes.    888high58888
Cui bono?

Walk in Wisdom
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

But the noble make noble plans, and by noble deeds they stand.

Offline EasyAce

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Re: Adam Ottavino's Ruthian gaffe
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2019, 10:01:50 PM »
It's not everyday you see Ruthian gaffes.    888high58888
@Sanguine
Oh no? Take another look at what the political (lack of) class emits every second hour.  wink777

Offline roamer_1

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Re: Adam Ottavino's Ruthian gaffe
« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2019, 10:07:52 PM »
It's not everyday you see Ruthian gaffes.    888high58888

Yes... I came in here to find out if someone was writing 'Russian' with a lisp...  :shrug:

Offline bigheadfred

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Re: Adam Ottavino's Ruthian gaffe
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2019, 10:10:40 PM »
It's not everyday you see Ruthian gaffes.    888high58888

Well, not every day...

Fox & Friends Accidentally Declared Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dead (last week)

Offline EasyAce

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Re: Adam Ottavino's Ruthian gaffe
« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2019, 10:43:11 PM »
Yes... I came in here to find out if someone was writing 'Russian' with a lisp...  :shrug:

Online goatprairie

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Re: Adam Ottavino's Ruthian gaffe
« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2019, 10:29:19 AM »
I've already gone over this with EasyAce who makes some nice points. Nevertheless, I disagree.  One of teammates was quoted as saying that Ruth dropped out of a tree. His way of saying that nobody could fathom a talent like Ruth at that time.

"In September 1921, Ruth underwent three hours of tests at Columbia University to determine his athletic and psychological capabilities. Sportswriter Hugh Fullerton wrote up the findings for Popular Science Monthly:

“The tests revealed the fact that Ruth is 90 per cent efficient compared with a human average of 60 per cent. That his eyes are about 12 per cent faster than those of the average human being. That his ears function at least 10 per cent faster than those of the ordinary man. That his nerves are steadier than those of 499 out of 500 persons. That in attention and quickness of perception he rated one and a half times above the human average. That in intelligence, as demonstrated by the quickness and accuracy of understanding, he is approximately 10 per cent above normal.”

500 young, healthy males took the test.  Ruth finished number one.
In short, Ruth was way ahead of the curve as far as physical abilities of the times. 
In a book called "The Year Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs" author/researched Bill Jenkinson detailed how in 1921 Ruth hit 104 balls that would have been home runs in the parks of today. His actual home run total for the year was 59.
That year the Yankees were still playing in the Polo Grounds which had  a 490 foot center field fence and distances to right and left center which weren't much shorter.  Pitchers regularly pitched outside to Ruth forcing him to walk or swing at bad pitches. He chose to swing at a number of them many which became extremely long 450 ft plus outs.
Now, would Ruth have a combination batting average and home run total today  like in the times he played?
No, I'm guessing he'd strike out more, have about a 40 50 points lower BA, but he might hit more home runs.
Ruth had great reflexes and tremendous and as yet unequaled power.
Jenkinson analyzed  many of Ruth's blasts and compared them to other players (like Mickey Mantle). He found as yet nobody has hit balls as far as Ruth hit them.
To hit them that far means a player has to be hitting the ball in the exact sweet spot. You have to have tremendous timing, power, and swing speed to hit the ball that far.
So until some modern slugger starts popping homers  as far or farther while hitting around .300, I'll still give the title of greatest player ever to Ruth.
As far as arguing because Ruth   won  "only" four WS and Gehrig and DiMaggio won more is not a valid argument.   Many players who played with Bill Russell won five, six, seven title rings.  Elgin Baylor, who was better than any Celtic except Russell, never won any in eight trips to the finals. Ditto for Jerry West who only won one title in eight trips to the finals.
Incidentally, one baseball expert rated Ruth to have the 14th best arm for outfielders in baseball history. Not too shabby.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2019, 10:32:03 AM by goatprairie »

Offline EasyAce

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Re: Adam Ottavino's Ruthian gaffe
« Reply #7 on: January 28, 2019, 04:52:32 PM »
I've already gone over this with EasyAce who makes some nice points. Nevertheless, I disagree.  One of teammates was quoted as saying that Ruth dropped out of a tree. His way of saying that nobody could fathom a talent like Ruth at that time.

"In September 1921, Ruth underwent three hours of tests at Columbia University to determine his athletic and psychological capabilities. Sportswriter Hugh Fullerton wrote up the findings for Popular Science Monthly:

“The tests revealed the fact that Ruth is 90 per cent efficient compared with a human average of 60 per cent. That his eyes are about 12 per cent faster than those of the average human being. That his ears function at least 10 per cent faster than those of the ordinary man. That his nerves are steadier than those of 499 out of 500 persons. That in attention and quickness of perception he rated one and a half times above the human average. That in intelligence, as demonstrated by the quickness and accuracy of understanding, he is approximately 10 per cent above normal.”

500 young, healthy males took the test.  Ruth finished number one.
In short, Ruth was way ahead of the curve as far as physical abilities of the times. 
In a book called "The Year Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs" author/researched Bill Jenkinson detailed how in 1921 Ruth hit 104 balls that would have been home runs in the parks of today. His actual home run total for the year was 59.
That year the Yankees were still playing in the Polo Grounds which had  a 490 foot center field fence and distances to right and left center which weren't much shorter.  Pitchers regularly pitched outside to Ruth forcing him to walk or swing at bad pitches. He chose to swing at a number of them many which became extremely long 450 ft plus outs.
I took a close look at Ruth's 1921 season. Aside from his then-home park Polo Grounds, here is how the road ballparks were rated that season according to Baseball Reference:

Dunn Field (Cleveland)---hitter's park.
Sportsman's Park (St. Louis)---hitter's park.
Griffith Stadium (Washington)---pitcher's park.
Fenway Park (Boston)---hitter's park.
Navin Field (Detroit)---pitcher's park.
Comiskey Park (Chicago)---pitcher's park.
Shibe Park (Philadelphia)---hitter's park.

That's four hitter's parks and three pitcher's parks. And, since the World Series was played between the Yankees and the Giants, the Polo Grounds technically became a road park for Ruth as well as a home park---and we know that for pull hitters like him (and, for pull-hitting righthanded hitters) the Polo Grounds could be considered something of a borderline hitter's park for him. So that gives him five hitter's parks.

And remember that Yankee Stadium was originally built to accommodate Ruth's power. Why wouldn't they? If you're going to build a new ballpark for your team why would you build it against your number one hitter's strength?

I remember a specious argument Branch Rickey once made, when he was running the Pirates, involving Ralph Kiner: Babe Ruth never requested a diminutive field to fit him. Our man does. Rickey was referring to the left field fences moved in somewhat. And they were---to accommodate the veteran Hank Greenberg, whom the Pirates acquired well before Ralph Kiner made the team. Ruth may not have asked the Yankees to build their new playpen to accommodate him, but Rickey---desperate to cut Kiner down in a contract negotiation---lied speciously about Kiner asking for a shorter left field fence in Forbes Field when Rickey knew good and g@ddam well the fence was cut to accommodate Greenberg. (Fans nicknamed the new shorter porch Greenberg Gardens; only after Greenberg was through and Kiner came into his own did they change the nickname to Kiner's Korner.)

Let's look at today's ballparks and imagine Babe Ruth the American Leaguer hitting last season in them, including the third Yankee Stadium, and again using Baseball Reference's rankings:

Fenway Park (Boston)---hitter's park
Yankee Stadium (New York)---hitter's park
Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay)---pitcher's park
Rogers Centre (Toronto)---pitcher's park
Camden Yards (Baltimore)---pitcher's park
Progressive Field (Cleveland)---hitter's park
Target Field (Minnesota)---hitter's park
Comerica Park (Detroit)---neutral
Kauffmann Stadium (Kansas City)---neutral
Minute Maid Park (Houston)---just about neutral
Oakland Coliseum (three guesses)---pitcher's park
Safeco Field (Seattle)---pitcher's park
Angel Stadium (Anaheim)---pitcher's park
Globe Life Park (a.k.a. the Ballpark in Arlington, Texas)---hitter's park.

That's five hitter's parks, three neutral or just-about-neutral, and six pitcher's parks in the American League. Since 2018's game included regular season interleague play, let's look at the National League ballparks for that season:

Sun Trust Park (Atlanta)---hitter's park
Nationals Park (Washington)---hitter's park
Citizen's Bank Park (Philadelphia)---hitter's park
Citi Field (New York)---pitcher's park
Marlins Park (Miami)---pitcher's park
Miller Park (Milwaukee)---hitter's park
Wrigley Field (Chicago)---hitter's park
The third Busch Stadium (St. Louis)---pitcher's park
PNC Park (Pittsburgh)---pitcher's park
Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati)---hitter's park
Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles)---pitcher's park
Coors Field (Denver)---hitter's park, and how!
Chase Field (Arizona)---hitter's park
AT&T Park (San Francisco)---more or less neutral
Petco Park (San Diego)---pitcher's park.

The National League has eight hitter's parks, six pitchers' parks, and one more or less neutral park. It would depend on his team's interleague schedule whether Babe Ruth the American Leaguer would hit today commensurate to how he hit in his era. If you assume he'd have been a National Leaguer, you might have the case that he'd equal many of his actual batting statistics in today's game. But even there you must allow that today's pitchers, who've learned more than a few tricks about it, would be pitching against his prototypical launch-angling batting style, feeding him a diet of either rising fastballs or under-the-knees sliders and sinkers. Against that kind of pitching Ruth would likely strike out quite a bit more and whack a few more on the ground when not hitting a few more fly outs. And if you're going to get him whacking them on the ground, you won't have very many occasions on which he could beat them out for hits with his lack of speed.

Now, would Ruth have a combination batting average and home run total today  like in the times he played?
No, I'm guessing he'd strike out more, have about a 40 50 points lower BA, but he might hit more home runs.
I based my observation on several analyses that showed Ruth in the night ball era would probably shake out with a batting average closer to the .300-.310 range, a lot more strikeouts, and lifetime home runs more in line with what Willie Mays and Ken Griffey, Jr. actually did hit (and, remember, Mays lost two seasons early to the Army). That plus a couple of other things would still make him a Hall of Famer, no question about it.

Keep in mind, too, that Ruth didn't face the overall quality of pitching in his time that the Mayses and Aarons faced in theirs. I looked up the pitchers the three faced. Based on facing any pitchers 100 times or more, Ruth faced three Hall of Famers during his career: Lefty Grove, Ted Lyons, and Red Faber. (He hit Grove and Lyons reasonably well but against Faber Ruth did pretty poorly: he hit only .233 against him in 102 plate appearances with a .760 OPS.)

Then, I looked up Mays and Aaron. Mays had 100+ plate appearances against five Hall of Famers: Warren Spahn, Don Drysdale, Robin Roberts, Sandy Koufax, and Bob Gibson. He did his poorest against Gibson (.196 BA/.619 OPS) and his best against Drysdale (.330 BA/.978 OPS). Aaron had 100+ plate appearances against six Hall of Famers: Drysdale, Gibson, Juan Marichal, Roberts, Koufax, and Gaylord Perry. Like Mays, Aaron did his worst against Gibson, but what a surprise that Koufax nicknamed him Bad Henry: Aaron owned Koufax---a 1.077 OPS plus a .362 BA against him.

Taking all their plate appearances, Ruth faced eight Hall of Famers at all during his career. Mays and Aaron each faced seventeen. I submit based on that that the quality of pitching was better and broader in their time than in Ruth's time. And Mays and Aaron didn't have to face such wickedness as, say, a Jack Morris or a Bruce Sutter splitter, a Randy Johnson slider, a Mariano Rivera cutter, a Mike Mussina knuckle curve, or a Pedro Martinez changeup. Even if they had to deal with Warren Spahn's scroogie, Sandy Koufax's curve, Hoyt Wilhelm's knuckleball, or Nolan Ryan's heater.

Jenkinson analyzed  many of Ruth's blasts and compared them to other players (like Mickey Mantle). He found as yet nobody has hit balls as far as Ruth hit them.
Aside from how true that actually isn't (anyone who thinks it is didn't see the kind of moonshots often hit by the like of Mickey Mantle, Dick Allen, Frank Howard, Dave Kingman, Mike Schmidt, Darryl Strawberry, or even the clean Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds), saying Babe Ruth hit them farther is like saying Nolan Ryan threw them harder: the question isn't whether they hit them farther or threw them harder, the question is what the results were. Dave Kingman could and often did hit home runs for distances even Ruth only fantasised about (I saw a few of those myself), but he isn't anywhere near top two hundred players who ever played. You need a lot more than just hitting them farther to be any kind of great player. Ruth's distances alone didn't make him great, merely jaw-dropping when he did hit one for that kind of distance. I used to find myself in pitching debates and a running theme came down to, "Nolan Ryan was the greatest because he threw the hardest." Well, now. If all it took to be a great pitcher was throwing the hardest ever, then minor league legend Steve Dalkowski would be the greatest pitcher who ever lived.

Except that he wasn't. And come to think of it neither was Nolan Ryan. When all is said and done, Ryan---a no questions asked Hall of Famer---shakes out as maybe the 25th best starting pitcher in the game's history. He's what Steve Dalkowski might have been as a major league pitcher if Dalkowski had a little more control. (As it turned out, Dalkowski, tragically, had even less control over his own self than he did on the mound.)

Babe Ruth's greatness as a player has nothing to do with how far he could hit the ball. And I think I discussed elsewhere (you might have seen it or been part of it) that one of the most ridiculous arguments I knew of during the 1961 chase to meet or break Ruth's single-season home run record was that Roger Maris was an "illegitimate" contender for it because he didn't hit the mammoth Ruthian punt but, instead, hit booming line drives. When the ball clears the fence, it doesn't matter how it got there other than for the jaw-dropping factor, it's still a home run. Henry Aaron didn't hit big booming punts either, most of the time. (Of any man who could have broken Ruth's career home run record Aaron was probably the least ostentatious a hitter. But he did it. Remember, there were those who said Aaron wasn't a "legitimate" challenger to Ruth because he didn't have The Big Seasons---but if you look at his averages per 162 games lifetime, you figure out fast that just about every Henry Aaron season would have been a Big Season for anyone else.)

I argued then that those despairing of talking today's hitters out of thinking about their launch angles first could point to Maris and Aaron as examples of power hitters who weren't half as concerned about what we'd call their launch angles today but were concerned about getting the bat on the ball, knowing they'd get their home runs anyway. It still holds true. You'll have those hitters who can forget their launch angles, make contact, and still hit parabolic home runs. Aaron Judge isn't going to be any less jaw-dropping a home run hitter if he forgets his launch angles and just hits the damn ball; he's still going to hit a boatload of bombs.

I don't know if Judge will prove to be a great power/speed combination. (He has speed; he doesn't try to steal bases very often (the Yankees would probably fine him if he tried more than a few times a year), but he does have a .652 stolen base percentage so far. But he hasn't been anywhere near his league's top ten power/speed combinations yet in his career.) But then neither was Ruth. If you're going to cut Barry Bonds out of the picture because of his involvement with actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, then the single greatest power/speed combination of all time is Rickey Henderson, who edges out Willie Mays by 43+ points. The top 25 power/speed combinations include eleven Hall of Famers, in descending order: Henderson, Mays, Joe Morgan, Andre Dawson (I bet that surprises you), Henry Aaron, Craig Biggio, Reggie Jackson (I bet that surprises you, too), Paul Molitor, Ryne Sandberg, Frank Robinson, and Dave Winfield.

Ruth ranks number 84 on the career power/speed combination list.

I rank Mays far ahead of Ruth as an all-around player. He could and did win with more tools than Ruth; it wasn't Mays's fault that his teams weren't as good as Ruth's teams. Mays played a far more demanding outfield position and was just about the best in the business at it, with a better throwing arm and better overall range; he hit for power and for average (lifetime, he hit .302, but if he'd played in Ruth's era without night ball he might well have hit over .340); and he had a power/speed combination that leaves everyone else except Henderson behind. (Mickey Mantle might have gotten up there if not for the legs he could have tried for treason with all those injuries.) A lot of Mays's home runs were out-bloody-rageous punts, but he could drop jaws with his center field play equal to how he could drop jaws hitting his home runs, and not just with the famous 1954 World Series catch.

Babe Ruth would have been Hall of Fame great playing in any era. But in equalised conditions I doubt seriously that he'd still be considered the greatest of his time. I repeat: It's absolutely right to call him the greatest player of the pre-World War II/pre-integration/pre-night ball era. And that's about it.

As far as arguing because Ruth won "only" four WS and Gehrig and DiMaggio won more is not a valid argument.
It is if you're talking about Ruth the team player, not Ruth the individual powerhouse. With Ruth alone as their best player, the Yankees went to three World Series and won only one of them. Of course this isn't Ruth's fault, but it is what it is.

With Ruth and Gehrig together they won three out of four Series. Ruth and Gehrig played together for two more seasons in which the Yankees didn't win; Gehrig was the best player on the 1935 Yankees but they were beaten out by the Tigers for the pennant. Then, Gehrig went to three straight World Series and won them. And he had a new teammate of equivalent ability at his side to do it: Joe DiMaggio.

By themselves neither Babe Ruth nor Lou Gehrig could carry a World Series winner. I don't know of any player who really can. (They used to call Sandy Koufax half a pennant by himself, but even that's only half.) Even Joe DiMaggio, who had a better championship jacket than either Ruth or Gehrig, though you look at DiMaggio's and conclude there was something else there when in thirteen major league seasons (it might have been sixteen if DiMaggio hadn't missed three to military service) DiMaggio's Yankees won ten pennants and nine World Series, a better run than either Ruth and Gehrig had. DiMaggio didn't really have a single near-equal teammate after Gehrig's tragic career end and Dickey's retirement. He got to play with Yogi Berra four seasons and Mickey Mantle, one. Yogi came into his own in 1949; Mantle was an obviously talented but still inexperienced rookie in 1951. DiMaggio really got Berra's better play for only two seasons; he never really got to play aside Mantle's best.

I often think Yogi Berra may be the single most underrated team player in baseball history simply because his character and image became so out-sized (there were even times I thought that he was so popular a character and a man that there were people who forgot he was a Hall of Famer), but think about it a moment: Berra's job included responsibility for what Yankee pitchers threw, the first job you see any catcher perform in a major league game, usually, since he isn't likely to be batting high in the order. And a deep review of how those pitchers did with Berra as their receiver shows something I never thought about myself until about fifteen years ago---with the obvious exception of Whitey Ford, the only Hall of Famer whom Berra caught and who was Berra's teammate for as long as Yogi was the regular catcher, every one of the pitchers who threw to him as Yankees did better as Yankee pitchers than they did throwing to any other Yankee catcher when Yogi needed a break, or pitching to anyone else for anyone else at any other time in their careers.

There isn't one major league catcher otherwise---not even Johnny Bench (Berra's nearest competitor as the game's greatest catcher), not even Ivan Rodriguez, not even Bill Dickey (the man who "learned me all his experience," Berra once chirped), not even Gary Carter or Mickey Cochrane---whose pitchers did that much better with him as their receiver than they did with other catchers and for other teams. (Bench, in fairness, operated under a kind of handicap: I still can't fathom to this day how it was that the Reds of the 1960s and 1970s developed so many pitchers whose talents were great but who were so prone to arm and shoulder issues that compromised their careers.)

Now, marry all that to the fact that when he was the Yankees' regular catcher (1949-1961), Yogi's teams won eleven pennants and nine World Series rings. (When he was moved to more part-time play and shifted between catching and playing left field, Berra's teams still won two more pennants and one more World Series ring. Clearly he was still valued as a team leader; in fact, I'd argue that---considering Mickey Mantle's personal issues---the Yankees relied on Berra as a leader far more.) I'd say it makes Berra the equal to DiMaggio as a team player and slightly superior to Ruth and Gehrig as team players, with "team play" defined on the Yankees' terms---namely, I repeat, that of all the cliches about the Yankees the truest one is that they judge their seasons by whether they win pennants and/or World Series. And by that judgment, the case is very powerful that Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra were the greatest team players in the history of the Yankees, if not the history of the game itself.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2019, 05:26:06 PM by EasyAce »


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