The original intended title for this post was “would you use up a roster spot on Babe Ruth today? I was interested in exploring how the players of the Ty Cobb through Ruth era, or even the players of my childhood in the sixties would physically compare to the players of today. I started thinking about it after my son, after watching part of a Twins game with me confessed that he had lost interest in baseball (I know – I’m a terrible father) because it didn’t look to him that baseball was evolving and improving in the way that his favorite sport basketball is. I tried to explain to him how wrong he was. How the hitters today are so strong that the pitchers need to go all out on every pitch because usually when they make the slightest mistake we see ball go far. How there are now in the bigs around a couple of dozen guys who throw about as hard as Nolan Ryan used to – and even for them if their control is too far from perfect they might be regarded as overall no better than average.
As I looked into it I discovered that the only fair question one can ask about the Bambino is what if around 1990 we had been able to bring into the world a cloned baby Bambino who was then brought up on protein shakes instead of hot dogs and was taught the importance of working out 18 times a week and whatever else the upper level employees of today’s sports entertainment industry are taught to do. He certainly wouldn’t have been as entertaining as the original Bambino but would he be breaking through in the bigs now? The question is too un answerable to bother with.
The answerable question is is baseball today being played at an athletically superior level than it was in the days of Ruth and Cobb, even Mays and Mantle. You betcha – vastly superior.
Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown won 239 games with a 2.06 ERA in 14 seasons between 1903 and 1916. Even Gator’s beloved Godzilla couldn’t get major league hitters out today with only three functional fingers on his pitching paw.
The average height and weight of Cleveland Indian Players was 5’9” – 174.4 lbs in 1923, 6’ – 187.1 in 1953, 6’2” – 194.9 in 1993, 6’1” – 207 in 2013. You might notice that the weight is going up faster than the height. This is attributable to increased muscle mass.
Comparisons with the 60’s are interesting because they are the first full decade of a fully ethnically integrated MLB
Willy Mays – 5’11” – 185 / Mike Trout 6’2” – 229.94
Harmon Killebrew 6’ – 195 / Miguel Sano 6’4” – 260 (word around here is that 260 was a few thousand cheeseburgers ago)
Most players didn’t start making enough money so that they could train during the off season instead of working a job until the advent of free agency in the 1970’s. Stan Musial sold Christmas trees during the off season.
The size, strength and speed of players in baseball, and I presume most other sports is marching upward and it’s fair to ask if a scrawny Mike Trout would be able rate a roster spot in 2060. 2040 yes – 2060 no?
That takes a lot of the fun out of things. There’s no way to compare Walter Johnsons career stats with Clayton Kershaw, Ty Cobb with Ricky Henderson. We can’t talk about who was the best all time at this or that without dismissing the fact that we’re putting physical reality aside.
Adding to that baseball analysis and much fan talk has become an ever growing swamp of statistical acronyms.
Does baseball, sports in general, our entire damn culture (see Trump, Donald) need to take a chill pill?
Am I just an old man who thinks the world is spinning too fast.