Babe Ruth, "Called Shot" by Robert Thom from the National Baseball Hall of Fame Collection

How Good Was Babe Ruth?

Comparing baseball players from different eras is pretty difficult to do for a lot of reasons. Now, I know that any sportswriter who focuses on history will undoubtedly want to imagine what a player from the ’60s would do today or whatever and it’s completely understandable. It’s fun to imagine Greg Maddux going up again Ty Cobb. It’s fun to see if Babe Ruth could take Aroldis Chapman deep. There are so many fantasy moments when one thinks about this and the imagination can take you to all kinds of moments and matchups when you imagine different players on different teams in different eras.

(Just another thought, Jimmy Foxx hitting in Coors….Or how about Barry Bonds taking aim at the short right-field porch of the Baker Bowl.) It’s these fantasy-type matchups that make baseball video games, for example, so interesting. Even though we’ll never see the match-up in real life you can still run simulations on Out of the Park Baseball or even see some of the digital players of the past do battle in MLB: The Show to help form an idea of what these matchups could be.

Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame

I probably will do some type of top player thing at some point as most websites that deal with the history of sports in any capacity take a shot at this at some point. I think for baseball it’s both very, very easy and very, very difficult to do as stats like WAR really quantify how great a player is and gives a very, straight forward numerical way of telling who’s better than who but there’s an element of difficulty in doing this because it’s really difficult to tell who is the best in a singular baseball game.

It’s a sport that requires a large sample size and a sport where even one season doesn’t always tell you who is the best and the fact is watching every game from every era is impossible due to the amount of time it would take and because half of the time the sport has existed can’t ever be viewed.

But with all this being said I think it’s very, very clear that the greatest baseball player ever is Babe Ruth. This isn’t too controversial amongst any expert I believe. I feel that he is listed at the top constantly so I’m not sure there’s even much point in me writing it but I’m gonna do it anyway because I do see people try to be contrarian on social media to discredit how good he was.

One way you see this is by trying to discredit the competition he faced compared to today, essentially if you dropped Ruth into 2021 baseball he’d not be the same player. I have two counters to this for one if you drop Ruth into today’s game he gets to have the same access to the same technology, the same hitting coaches, and the same training (and if PEDs or whatever are still being used in some capacity he gets access to those, too.) I’m sure velocity and focus on spin rate weren’t there as much in the ’20s and while it’s hard to say how hard some of the harder throwing pitchers threw just based on the descriptions of some great hitters it seems that at least the best pitchers threw some nasty stuff.

Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame

Satchel Paige (maybe not the best example as they never faced officially and supposedly it was just one time) has a body that seems similar to Aroldis Chapman. They’re about the same height and weight and based on descriptions of Paige’s pitching, his hand was so big that he was able to put enough spin on the ball to give the rising illusion (spin rate!) and that’s caused also by high velocity. Well, Satchel Paige says that in their one matchup Ruth crushed a bomb off him and if what I’m saying is true (and yeah I’m using a lot of what-ifs here) Ruth could handle the heat on some level just fine. I mean the guy was a modern ballplayer. He drew a bunch of walks and I’m sure he had some launch angle on his swing.

There’s also mention of modern stars going back in time and if it was them they’d dominate and maybe that’s true but you would have to then take away the modern training of hitters today. You’d have to incorporate the less than great fields, a crowd that’s allowed to get away with more. The lack of airplanes and fancy clubhouses and headhunting not being as frowned upon even with hitters not wearing helmets, and I don’t mean this as a “when men were men” rant but the conditions of the ball over 100 years ago were flat out different from today.

I think ultimately you still have to look at what Ruth did compared to his peers and what he did compared to anyone who had played the game up to that point. He literally changed the game of baseball. Then to top it off, the man was an elite pitcher. He led the league in ERA at 21. He never lost a World Series game as a pitcher. He won 20 games in back-to-back seasons and in just 4 seasons with the Red Sox he won 78 games. Now I know the flaws of the wins statistic but regardless the man was a great pitcher. He obviously was a great hitter and the fact is over 100 years after he played there still hasn’t been a player like Babe Ruth.

Now I promise I’ll write about more interesting things than the obvious “heh, Babe Ruth was good at baseball,” but I do think it still gets taken for granted how good he was. I do think it can be forgotten just what he meant to the game of baseball and what type of figure he truly was, or maybe the fact that he still is this well known represents the opposite, not many players fame survives 100 years later yet still I’d imagine every baseball fan has heard of Babe Ruth and he’s certainly a figure known to many who probably can’t name any other athlete.

Featured image credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame, painting by Robert Thom.

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share on Social Media