Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
The Lumber Company
2008-06-26 05:20
by Emma Span

(... title courtesy of Alex Belth, thus sparing you all from the truly repugnant Joba-related puns I'd been planning. You owe him more thanks than you'll ever know).

I missed Tuesday night’s game, which was apparently for the best. On Wednesday, by contrast, the Yankees were able to meet the goal Joe Girardi set for them during his pre-game interview: “to not stink." Indeed, the team smelled like lilacs and Driven during their 10-0 cruise past the Pirates.

Joba! I’m sure eventually we’ll all settle down and get used to Chamberlain pitching every fifth game, but the bloom’s not off the rose yet. Plus “Joba!” is still super fun to say. He was excellent last night, throwing 6.2 controlled innings of 7 K, 1 BB, 0 R ball and earning his first official win (though the Yankees won the last three games he started, too).

For the most part, Chamberlain dominated. He got in a bit of a jam in the second inning, with two runners on and no out, but both had reached base on relatively soft base hits, and Chamberlain followed with a strikeout and a fly out. Jack Wilson then stroked a hit to short right field, but Pirates third base coach Tony Beasley made the puzzling decision to send Ryan Doumit – who, remember, is a catcher – home from second, even though Abreu was already picking up the ball as Doumit rounded third. (Third base coach: one of those thankless jobs where, if people actually know your name, it means you’ve screwed something up). Abreu’s throw home was good, and Jorge Posada stood there waiting for Doumit for so long that he would’ve had time to plant a small spice garden next to the batter’s box if he’d felt like it. Inning over, and that's about as sticky as things ever got.

As for the offense, the Yankees picked away at Zach Duke until he was removed for a pinch-hitter after five innings, at which point they unloaded on the Pirates relievers. Whether this was a “the bats are waking up!” moment or a “the Pirates’ bullpen is terrible!” moment, I’m not entirely sure.

The scoring began in the first, when Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu scored on a Jason Giambi groundout – helped out by an error on Pirates’ shortstop Jack Wilson, the victim of an aggressive (though clean) Alex Rodriguez slide into second. The (newly darkened!) Porn ‘Stache of Doom struck again in the third, scoring Jeter, who had his best game in many moons: three hits, two of them doubles. On top of that, he eked out a hard-earned walk in the sixth that set the stage for the game’s biggest blast, a three-run Bobby Abreu homer that broke the game open. Robinson Cano homered, too, and had three hits total; every starter had at least one, except Chamberlain, and even he did his part offensively.

At the plate, Joba takes just the kind of swings you’d expect him to: full speed ahead, aiming for the fences, to the near-hysterical amusement of the Yankees bench. I was briefly concerned that Jeter and Posada were going to pull something, they were laughing so hard. Chamberlain did work a walk his first time up, however, then laid down a nice bunt his next time up, and finally got some good wood on the ball in the sixth, though he hit it straight to the right fielder. When his flare was caught Joba strode off the field all serious and poker faced, until he got a few feet from the dugout, at which point he could no longer suppress a massive, infectious grin.

He finished his night in with two outs in the seventh inning, not quite able to close it out before his pitch count climbed to 114 (76 of them strikes); but Ross Ohlendorf finished the frame for him, and Jose Veras preserved both the win and the shutout in the ninth.

Finally, much has been written about the 1960 World Series, but I recently happened across a nice piece of writing about the 1927 Series between the Yanks and the Pirates. This was one hell of an overmatch; that ’27 New York team, as I’m sure most of you know, won 110 games and is widely considered one of the most dominant ever. It's by Frank Graham, who covered the team for the old New York Sun, and I found it in an old book called Press Box: Red Smith’s Favorite Sports Stories. (Which has a few gems, in case you’re wondering, but an awful lot of pieces on boxing and horse racing, neither of which I’m very invested in unless I have money on the line). Here's Graham on the day the Yanks arrived in Pittsburgh, and took batting practice before the first game:

In the stand the Waner brothers, great ballplayers in their own right but little men, stood talking with Ken Smith, New York Mirror reporter, as the Yankees slugged the ball. Ruth hit one over the fence in center field, Gehrig hit one high in the seats in right field. Meusel hit one over the fence in left field. Lloyd turned to Paul.

"Jesus," he said fervently. "They're big guys!"

Paul shook his head. The Waners walked out. Most of their teammates followed them. They had seen enough. It is undoubtedly true that right there the Yankees won the Series. Before a ball had been pitched in competition, they had convinced the Pirates that theirs was a losing cause.

And, later in the article, with the Yanks up two games to none and back in New York:

...a newspaperman in a cab with Lazzeri and three other players said:

"If you fellows don't wind this Series up in these next two games, I'll shoot you."

And Lazzeri said: "If we don't beat these bums four in a row, you can shoot me first."

The other players nodded. That's the way everybody on the ball club felt.

Here’s my question: who would win a Series between the 1927 and 1998 Yankees? I'm inclined to think that modern athletes -- bigger, fitter, stronger, possibly injecting cattle hormones -- will generally win out, but how do you bet against Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at their absolute peaks, plus a staff of Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, and the fabulously named Urban Shocker? Discuss.

Comments (66)
Show/Hide Comments 1-50
2008-06-26 05:44:06
1.   Shaun P
Give us Joba-related puns! (Maybe not today, but how about the next off day?)

I don't have a source I can give you Emma, but I'm pretty sure that story about the Pirates watching the Yanks take batting practice and then walking out is fiction. A great baseball yarn nonetheless.

I think a '27 vs '98 Yanks series would be close, but my guess is that the '98 Yanks would win. The '27 Yanks never saw anything like Duque or Cone's funky breaking ball/multi-arm-angle assortment. I also imagine that Mo's cutter would be its usual devastating self.

2008-06-26 05:48:33
2.   Alex Belth
I don't have my copy with me, but did Rob Neyer write about this in his latest book about baseball myths?
2008-06-26 06:21:27
3.   RIYank
I agree with Shaun about the '27 vs. '98 match-up. I believe the second biggest difference between the eras is pitching. The biggest is, of course, that the '27 Yankees never played against black players or anybody from Latin America. It's no coincidence that two of the pitchers Shaun mentions spoke Spanish before the knew English. Watching Ruth swing at Mo's cutter would be, well, it defies description.
2008-06-26 06:22:35
4.   RIYank
Also, pun connoisseurs must check out the last entry in the previous thread. Hats off to the Dodger Thoughts crew for that one.
2008-06-26 06:49:00
5.   monkeypants
3 I'm not sure I understand your logic. Would they be confused by playing against black or Latino players? Or possibly intimidated by the sound of Spanish?

Or are you trying to argue that the talent pool in modern baseball is deeper? That is true, but I'm not sure that is relevant here, since we are talking about a hypothetical match-up of two historically great teams in a seven game series.

Or is it that you are implying black and Latino players are simply better athletes than their white counterparts, so that poor old Ruth and Gerhig would stand slack-jawed in the face of such superior athleticism. If so, I fear the argument itself is rather troubling.

2008-06-26 06:55:02
6.   Mattpat11
Great game last night, but the Yankees really, really need to keep it going and win this game tonight. The weekend series with the Mets has very high disaster potential, so we need this game tonight.
2008-06-26 07:12:01
7.   williamnyy23
The 1927 v. 1998 argument really isn't one you can make. Sure, you can argue that the talent pool is deeper today (although having more teams dilutes that), but there are other arguments to be made. For example, how would the 1998 Yankees do if they had to swing heavier, less refined bats and field with smaller, less customized gloves? Also, would they have been able to hold up over a long season when instead of winter workout programs, they were working in the offseason?

Instead, the better way to debate the topic is to look at how each did relative to their peers:

Winning Pct.: 1927 has the edge .714 to .704
ERA+: 1927 has the edge 120 to 116
OPS+: 1927 has the edge 137 to 117

While the 1998 team is one of the best ever, the 1927 squad still looks to be the King. Coming up short to a team with Ruth, Gehrig, Lazzeri, Combs and Meusel aint bad.

2008-06-26 07:16:25
8.   RIYank
5 Oh, sorry, the talent pool, of course.

That is true, but I'm not sure that is relevant here, since we are talking about a hypothetical match-up of two historically great teams in a seven game series.

But the talent that they faced is obviously relevant in assessing the evidence of how good the teams were. Suppose you picked a AA team that won 70% of their games one year. Nobody would suggest that that team was as good as a great MLB team. Why? Obviously, because they compiled that great record against very weak talent.

2008-06-26 07:17:43
9.   RIYank
7 I don't see your point about heavier bats and less fancy gloves. The Yankees' opposition used those, too, so why do you think that suggests that the record they compiled is more impressive?
2008-06-26 07:28:38
10.   williamnyy23
5 Of course you wouldn't compare a AA team to a MLB team because we know one level is inferior than the other. When you are comparing 1927 to 1998, you know you have the two highest levels of baseball known at each respective time. It makes much more sense to compare how each did against their peers than how they would have done against each other for all the reasons previously stated.

9 The point was that if the two teams played head to head you'd have to give each team the advantages and disadvantages of their respective eras.

2008-06-26 07:37:53
11.   RIYank
When you are comparing 1927 to 1998, you know you have the two highest levels of baseball known at each respective time.
Yes, at each respective time.

It makes much more sense to compare how each did against their peers than how they would have done against each other for all the reasons previously stated.

What? Did you not understand Alex's question? The question is precisely "how well they would have done against each other."

The point was that if the two teams played head to head you'd have to give each team the advantages and disadvantages of their respective eras.

I don't get it. The 1927 era did not have the disadvantage of playing with inferior equipment. That wasn't a disadvantage, because every team used similar equipment.
If the idea is that the '27 Yankees would play with their bats and the '98 Yanks would use theirs, then sure, that would give the modern team an advantage. If that was the point then I just misunderstood it. It's obviously not a reason to think that the 1927 team is better!

2008-06-26 07:42:36
12.   mehmattski
Of course, the team forced to play by the other team's rules would be at a severe disadvantage. If they played without a DH, the 98 Yankees would lose Strawberry and his 132 OPS+. If the 27 Yankees needed a DH, they would have to turn to role players like Johnny Grabowski (79 OPS+) or Ray Morehart (80 OPS+).

Still, if both teams were brought to 2008 in a time machine, and given a year to prepare for the matchup, I think that the four best hitters on the 27 Yankees (Ruth, Gehrig, Combs, Meusel) could probably still outhit Jeter, Bernie, O'Neill and Martinez.

As for pitching, the 27 Yankees had a much stronger starting rotation (relative to peers) than did the 98 Yankees. One of the most interesting things, to me, would be getting radar gun readings on Hoyt Wilhelm and other pitchers from that era. No one knows if they threw in the 90s back then or not.

But I think that williamnyy23 is right, the best way to compare them is through their statistics, rather than make any wild guesses about the practicality of a hypothetical matchup. On paper, the 27 Yankees were a better team.

2008-06-26 07:46:57
13.   tommyl
I'd like to see the '27 Yanks against the '07 Red Sox. Just to see Paps gas face grimace when Ruth and Gehrig go back to back on him would be poetry in itself.
2008-06-26 07:47:01
14.   RIYank
If we just aren't going to consider the question of whether the league as a whole was better in 1998 than in 1927 and just assume they were equally good, then sure, the old guys were better.
But the fact that black men were not allowed to play MLB in 1927 isn't wild speculation. And the fact that the league was worse because of that racism isn't wild speculation. And similarly for the Latino players.
2008-06-26 07:48:12
15.   williamnyy23
11 I assume you meant Emma's question? If so, yes, I did understand it, which is why I suggested that a head-to-head match-up is poor way to compare the two squads.

Yes...that is the point. If you popped Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig into a mythical game against the 1998 squad what equipment would they use? Are we to assume they would have had a chance to get acclimated to the better equipment of the modern age? Also, can we also retroactively erase all the off seasons spent working in a clothing store or broker's office and substitute a cutting edge workout program?

Or, maybe we could see how Derek Jeter would do swinging a 40oz bat after spending the 1997 offseason working in a general store?

2008-06-26 07:50:39
16.   RIYank
15 Yes, Emma's, oops.
Okay, if you think she asked a bad question, that's your prerogative, of course.
2008-06-26 07:50:59
17.   mehmattski
11 The inferior equipment is a disadvantage in precisely this situation: playing against a team from 70 years in the future. The 27 Yanks would be at a disadvantage, having never seen a cut fastball or an outfielder's glove or greenies....

The other point that williamnyy23 is trying to make is that even though the equipment in 1927 was inferior (for all teams), the 1927 Yankees were more superior to their peers than the 1998 Yankees. Sure, the talent pool in 1998 was deeper, but that doesn't mean it was better . Neifi Perez was playing in 1998, for example, and he was just as bad as the worst players in 1927.

2008-06-26 07:55:55
18.   RIYank
17 Sure, the talent pool in 1998 was deeper, but that doesn't mean it was better . Neifi Perez was playing in 1998, for example, and he was just as bad as the worst players in 1927.
Just to be clear:
if all of the Latino and black players in MLB today suddenly left, do you think the league would be worse, better, or the same?
I think it would be obviously much worse. Yes, some lousy players would leave, but I think there's no question about the effect on balance.
2008-06-26 07:55:58
19.   mehmattski
I happen to believe that if 1927 Lou Gerhig suddenly appeared on a street in the Bronx today, he could immediately compete at AAA, and I think he would adjust fairly quickly and be a competitive major leaguer with a productive career. He may not be one of the best ever, because his upbringing would not be to the standards of the best baseball farms of today. But it's just a gut feeling that Gehrig would be a solid player in any era.

Ruth, on the other hand, might have some problems adjusting. I mean, look at his diet before McDonald's was invented...

2008-06-26 07:56:23
20.   williamnyy23
14 If you want to make an argument about the talent pool, you also have to consider that there is much greater competition from not only other sports, but also other fields. Young athletic men no longer simply decide to play baseball. Football, basketball and many other sports not compete much more with baseball. Also, with economic wealth more dispersed, many would-be athletes probably never bother to pick up a ball.

Also, with twice as many teams, MLB may be drawing from a talent pool, but there are more jobs to fill. What's more, the dispersal of talent seems to be much greater now than it was then.

There are so many variables that come into play. Heck, with all the uproar about how few black players there are in the modern game, the lack of integration in 1927 is less relevant than it would be if comparing to the 1960s/1970s.

2008-06-26 07:57:06
21.   Shaun P
10 True, but something tells me that the '98 Yanks would adjust to the heavier bats and poorer gloves faster than the '27 Yanks would adjust to Mo's cutter and Duque's stuff.

And speed. Guys throw a lot harder now than they did back then. I'm not saying Ruth and Gerhig and Co couldn't adjust, just that it would take them longer.

7 RIYank's point is fair. The overall talent level was much poorer in 1927 than in 1998, so any comparison based on that talent level (such as ERA+ and OPS+, which compare to that year's average) is of course going to favor the '27 Yanks.

But if we could neutralize both teams across time . . . which of course WARP3 does:

'27 Yanks: 80.3
'98 Yanks: 95.1

The components of WARP3 are BRAR, FRAR, and PRAR (batting, fielding, and pitching runs above replacement). Here's that comparison:

'27 Yanks: 366, 255, 294
'98 Yanks: 367, 347, 430

Which makes sense. The improvements in fielding technology (and having faster, more athletic guys in field) means teams do far better in the field than they do now (the '27 Yanks made 196 errors!), and that is going to help the pitching staff. And the pitching staff strikes out far more guys (1080 in '98 vs 431 in '27), which gives the fielders fewer chances to screw up.

It would be a fun thing to watch.

2008-06-26 08:01:59
22.   mehmattski
18 You're right, I'm not considering the ethnicities of the players in both eras. That's because I don't think it matters. I see the statistics, and I see that the 1927 Yankees had three starting pitchers with an ERA+ above 130, and I see that the 1998 Yankees had none. That is the basis for me saying that the 1927 Yankees had a better pitching staff- they were much better than their competition. Would the competition be different in 1927 if minority players were given a chance? Probably, but so too would the 1998 talent pool be affected by the inclusion of baseball playing Androids.

I'm not trying to make light of the prejudice of early sports, I'm just saying that all we have to go by is statistics, since none of us were there in 1927. We can think of all the hypotheticals we want, but the only facts are in the box scores.

2008-06-26 08:02:06
23.   RIYank
20 There are twice as many teams, yes. But the US population has tripled since 1927, and that doesn't even include Latin America or the reduction in available talent in '27 due to racism.
I agree that basketball and football and economics counteract that difference, but I don't think those factors even come close to canceling it.
2008-06-26 08:03:12
24.   monkeypants
14 FAir questions to ask, but it is often stated with dogmatic certainty that MLB in the old days was not as good because Latin/black players didn't/couldn't play. That dogma only holds true if one believes that people of color are inherently better athletes. But if you invoke this as part of a talent pool argument, then you have to look much deeper.

There were fewer teams then, so talent was more ":concentrated." On the other hand, there twice as many teams now, but the population in the US is more than double, so in theory the talent pool drawn from is larger. Plus, there is more scouting now, and MLB draws outside of the US. On the other hand again, though, baseball faces unprecedented competition for athletic talent from other major--and minor--sports. How many kids playing soccer during the summer now would be playing stickball back then?

Finally, there is a diminishing returns argument. Imagine you need to field a team of 25 players. You scour the land for the best talent. If your land has 1 million citizens, you field a pretty good team. If it has 100 million, you will probably find more better players to fill the roster. If you look at 1 billion people, maybe your team is a little, but maybe not. Sure, maybe if you look long enough you will find the second and third Babe Ruth hidden away in China or Puerto Rico. But more likely you will simply find more high level yet equally good talent.

The '27 Yankees had a freakishly good collection of core talent. I'm not sure how much of deeper team one could field by scouting all the nations and peoples of the world. Similarly, I am less and less convinced that the talent pool in MLB is deeper today because a more colorful rainbow of people is scouted.

Rather, I believe that modern sports science and medicine, and more advanced baseball philosophies (like those pioneered by Ruth = HR are good, Ks are not so bad)is more decisive. The athletes on the field are simply better: bigger, stringer especially, more fit in general, eat better, and they can recover from injury better. But that's my speculation.

2008-06-26 08:03:50
25.   RIYank
22 Well, I just don't agree with that. I think we know, as a fact, that racism made MLB worse in the 1920's. We know that with much greater certainty than we know about the effect of steroids -- and in any case steroids were/are available to all teams, so they couldn't make the league as a whole better or worse.
2008-06-26 08:05:25
26.   williamnyy23
23 Not to get mired too much in the specifics, but a key contributor to the explosion in population growth is the increase in life expectancy. In other words, a great percentage of the larger population would not really be part of the talent pool anyway because they'd be too old (not to mention taking into account the female ratio).
2008-06-26 08:07:32
27.   RIYank
24 I think those are all good points, except I don't agree with your middle paragraph. In fact, just off hand I think exactly the opposite is true. (I'd have to think about this to be confident.)
Look, take the Little League All Stars from Rhode Island and pit them against the Little League All Stars from California, or better yet from the rest of the US combined. (I don't mean the best team in RI, I mean a team selected from the best players in the state.) Do you really think the team drawn from a population of 300,000,000 is likely to be just a little better than the team drawn from a population of one million? Because my bet is that not a single player from RI would even make the US team.
2008-06-26 08:08:39
28.   RIYank
26 Also a good point. (Though I don't see your point about the female ratio. I think males make a larger percentage of the population now than 75 years ago, but only by a small bit.)
2008-06-26 08:09:34
29.   mehmattski
24 I'm not sure how much of deeper team one could field by scouting all the nations and peoples of the world.

Well (and RIYank will like this point), I think Josh Gibson might have improved the 1927 Yankees...

2008-06-26 08:18:48
30.   lpdigit
One aspect of integration that hasn't been discussed is how it has produced greater specialization. We can see this in looking at the career of Ruth. In the current era there is NO WAY that a player could be both one of the greatest sluggers of all time and one of the best pitchers of this era. In fact, I would challenge everyone on this thread to come up with one player since integration that showed All Star level competency on the mound and at the plate.
2008-06-26 08:19:39
31.   Bama Yankee
While I think the 1998 team would probably win a series against the 1927 team, I don't think the disparity would be that great. Unlike the other major sports, I think baseball players from older eras could still compete in today's game. The others sports have been changed more by the increasing size, strength and speed of the players over time (football linemen back in the 60's were half the size of their modern day counterparts).

Since hitting a baseball is based more on hand-eye coordination than size and strength, little guys who could hit a baseball then should be able to hit it now. Maybe today's pitchers can throw more wicked breaking stuff, but the guys back then got away with doctoring the ball (not to mention that they probably used the same scuffed ball for several batters instead of tossing it out after it hit the dirt).

Even the fastball probably hasn't gotten that much faster over time. Even though it's hard to say how fast they were throwing back then due to the lack of accurate measuring techniques, how much faster are they throwing now compared to when they first started using radar guns (didn't Nolan Ryan hit 100mph back in the 70's)? If the speed of a fastball increased at a constant rate as the pitchers got bigger and stronger (and started taking PED's) shouldn't someone be hitting 105 or 110 by now? Also, sheer speed is not the issue (ask Farnsworth), it's the movement and those older era guys could have gotten movement as I mentioned earlier.

Like I said, the 98 team would probably win, but I think the 27 team would give them a run for their money.

2008-06-26 08:25:50
32.   mehmattski
30 Rick Ankiel?
2008-06-26 08:26:10
33.   RIYank
31 I think you might be right about that.
But think about this:

The 'counterparts' of those players didn't play MLB in the 1920's.

Johann Santana

The 1927 Yankees didn't have to play against the 'counterparts' of any of those guys, either.

2008-06-26 08:27:29
34.   williamnyy23
30 Probably the best example would be Mike Hampton in 1999, the year he had an ERA+ of 154 and OPS+ of 104. While not up to All Star standards on offense, that might be the most impressive two-way season in some time.
2008-06-26 08:31:37
35.   mehmattski
32 Seriously, if Ankiel could pitch like he did in 2000 (134 ERA+) and hit like he has in 2008 (119 OPS+) at the same time... I think that's pretty comparable.
2008-06-26 08:36:06
36.   williamnyy23
33 True, but Andy Roddick, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and [insert white NBA star] might be playing baseball.

Also, baseball didn't really take hold in some latin countries and all of Asia until after World War II, so while still relevant, that should be noted.

Basically, the Yankees were an All Star team of the countries best white athletes. Could an All Star team of white players from the 1998 season compete with the Yankees? Maybe that's another way to look at it.

2008-06-26 08:38:10
37.   Bama Yankee
33 Good point.

I guess what I was trying to say was that a 200 pound offensive lineman that played football in the 60's could never play in the NFL today. However, a 5'-6" David Eckstein can win be World Series MVP in today's game. The increase in size, strength and speed of today's athletes hasn't had as much of an effect on baseball as it has had in the other sports, IMO.

2008-06-26 08:39:44
38.   lpdigit
Yes, Hampton and, to a lesser degree, Ankiel approach Ruth's duality. But it's still impossible for me to imagine that a contemporary player could be a team's number one starter and then, on his off days, bat cleanup and lead the league in HRs. I think that extreme was made possible by the reduced talent pool.

And yes Ruth was an exceptional, once in a lifetime, athlete in the same way Michael Jordan was. But 'once in a lifetime' implies that there would be at least one other athlete that could duplicate those feats post 1949 - if integration had no effect on the overall depth of talent.

2008-06-26 08:46:08
39.   lpdigit
35 Sorry I didn't see your reply in time for my last post. I agree with your point only as far as sample size. We can certainly hypothesize that Ankiel had/has the potential to do what Ruth did. But Ankeil, as you noted, has not put those two skills together in the same season, and then duplicated that performance over multiple seasons. (I still recognize that Ruth's most exceptional years at the plate were when he wasn't on the mound.)
2008-06-26 08:52:43
40.   RIYank
36 Agreed, and Roddick, Manning, Brady might be really good baseball players. But here I'll take a page from Bama and note that great athletes are not in general very good baseball players (we don't have to mention the non-eligible NBA great, do we?). I'm sure some of the top white NFL and NBA stars could be notable MLB players, and I know that those sports draw more (and a larger percentage) of players away from baseball now than then.
But really, would Tom Brady and Andy Roddick compensate for the loss of Jeter, A-Rod, Cano, Posada, Rivera, Wang?

37 Yes, I'm with you on that, for sure. There's no doubt at all that Babe Ruth would still play at the very top of today's game. (Well, very little doubt.) Whereas I don't think a single 1930's NFL player could make one of today's teams (assuming he couldn't benefit by today's training, diet, etc.).

2008-06-26 08:54:26
41.   mehmattski
39 Oh, clearly Babe Ruth was a much better baseball player than Rick Ankiel can even dream of being. I guess my point was that even in today's game, there are athletes capable of producing runs at the plate and preventing them on the mound at a major league level. Dontrelle Willis is a pretty good hitter, as is Micah Owings. None of them have the success that Ruth did on either side of the ball, I just mean that the talent pool hasn't improved so much that one man cannot compete on the major league level in both of the main facets of the game.

Even Wade Boggs struck out two men, after all. ;-)

2008-06-26 09:00:15
42.   monkeypants
18 That's a bit of a bogus argument. If any subset of players "suddenly left" MLB, presumably the league would be worse for it as teams scrambled to find AAA replacements.

The real question would be: if teams had to face additional artificial limits on the talent pool (it became illegal to scout in central America, etc), could they compensate and given a reasonable period of adjustment field equivalent teams?

I think that the answer to this is more complicated than it appears at first blush. Maybe faced with new restrictions, like not being able to circumvent the draft and relatively cheaply sign young Latin players, MLB would liberalize the draft rules. Maybe MLB teams would work harder and aggressively draw more young talent from soccer and football, etc.

29 Yes he probably would indeed! Of course, we could play the same game: how good was Gibson really? After all, he never played (much) against whites. His teams never had to face the '27 Yankees in regular competition, etc.

2008-06-26 09:03:25
43.   monkeypants
41 And in fact, much of the reason that todays athletes do not shine on both sides of the ball is because the game has become more specialized and they are not really allowed to. I suspect that pitchers in the old days spent more time on their hitting than they do today, and if I'm correct, then white Dontrelle Willis in 1927 probably put up even better offensive numbers.
2008-06-26 09:06:06
44.   lpdigit
41 Yes, I agree. There are those that can compete. Where I draw the line is at the difference between being average or pretty good and simultaneously being the best.

I wonder how this conversation would play out if we were talking about the NFL. Back in the day players played offense and defense. Now I can only think of Deon Sanders - and I don't think he was a Jerry Rice caliber WR - even though he did make defenses take notice and was a HOF level player on defense and special teams.

2008-06-26 09:11:22
45.   ChrisS
21 "And speed. Guys throw a lot harder now than they did back then."

This is kind of a myth, I think, and I don't think that pitchers threw any less hard then compared to now. The old newsreel film of them throwing what looks like batting practice is just that. It didn't take pitchers long after the advent of the game to learn that if they threw the ball faster, they could strike more guys out.

Walter Johnson is suspected touching 100 and Lefty Grove could bring it as well. There probably weren't as many guys throwing mid-90s as there are today (likely due to better mechanics and training. As in turning a guy that can throw 90 without training into a pitcher that can hit 94), but I think Ruth and Gehrig faced a lot better than a bunch of mid-70s slop.

The fact is, pitchers haven't gotten any faster since the use of radar guns and there have been numerous other developments in diet and fitness at the same time. Physical achievement with the human body hits a ceiling pretty quickly and improvements thereafter are incremental. Only a single second separates the winner of the 1912 100 Meters with the current world record.

2008-06-26 09:12:01
46.   monkeypants
30 And in reality, Ruth himself was rarely both at the same time--only for about two years was he a dominant pitcher and a helluva hitter, by which point they started to use him less on the mound and more in the field. Even in those days you couldn't make a career on both sides, or at least that was their perception.
2008-06-26 09:14:54
47.   pistolpete
7 >> Also, would they have been able to hold up over a long season when instead of winter workout programs, they were working in the offseason? >>

So who said they'd be playing a whole season's worth of games against each other...? I was under the impression it would be either one game or a series of 7.

I think the original concept/question was based purely on talent, but far be it from be to interrupt the seemingly endless amount of speculation based on other factors.

For example, wool vs. polyester uniforms. Today's players are probably that much faster and all, you know...


2008-06-26 09:15:50
48.   RIYank
42 Yes, if the talent pool that gave us Jeter, Ortiz, Manny, Mo, and so on, were unavailable, then MLB might scout and pursue the guys who would otherwise play in the (white part of the) NFL and the (white and American) NBA. (MLS? Seriously? ;-))

But I think it's pretty obvious that you couldn't replace those guys with equally good players by such methods. I can't demonstrate that with Sabermetrics, but it's not a wild guess either.

2008-06-26 09:17:21
49.   monkeypants
45 Ruth and Co. did not have to face elite closers at the end of the game, and they probably feasted on tiring pitchers the third and fourth time through the lineup. On the other hand, they didn't get to feast on today's menu of lousy middle relievers from 12 and 13 man staffs, deployed with robotic regularity according to the current orthodoxy.
2008-06-26 09:18:14
50.   williamnyy23
46 That wasn't their was Ruth's. The Babe was the one who lobbied heavily to become a full-time outfielder AND stop being a pitcher. He felt that pitching detracted from his offensive ability and also wore him down.
Show/Hide Comments 51-100
2008-06-26 09:21:42
51.   monkeypants
48 My point about soccer is not that MLS players are potential MLB players. Rather, the millions of kids who focus on soccer in their youth through HS and even college are effectively taken out of the talent pool for MLB. We might even imagine that the greatest loss is the kid who coulda-been-great at baseball but was only pretty good at soccer, and after his college scholarship was over he moved to the suburbs and worked in an office. How many Babe Ruths have never developed because they played soccer or some other sport?
2008-06-26 09:22:15
52.   monkeypants
50 Interesting. I didn't know that.
2008-06-26 09:22:49
53.   RIYank
49 I wonder what the effect is of those middle relievers. They are indeed lousy pitchers. On the other hand, they most often (when it's not just managerial laziness and orthodoxy, as you say) enter the game when the starter is lousy or has thrown a lot of pitches. So maybe they don't make things much easier for hitters? I dunno.
Also, with no DH there were, of course, lots of opportunities to bat against relatively weak relievers.

It's still hard to believe that replacing, say, Bob Gibson with anybody except an elite closer could make things tougher for hitters.

2008-06-26 09:24:06
54.   RIYank
51 Right, point taken.
2008-06-26 09:29:18
55.   williamnyy23
52 If you want to read a great bio of Ruth, I highly recommend The Big Bam by Leight Montville.
2008-06-26 09:30:59
56.   Shaun P
Speaking of the available talent on hand and how its deployed - and the lack of an extra 2-3 crappy pitchers on staffs in the 20s, which let a real bench exist: Moeller has only three plate appearances in the Yankees' last 18 games (hat tip Tyler Kepner).

Why, again, are the Yanks carrying 3 catchers?

2008-06-26 09:33:09
57.   monkeypants
56 How dare you stymy lively discussion with an unanswerable question about an inexplicable decision!
2008-06-26 09:39:47
58.   RIYank
56 57 We can only speculate wildly.

1. One clue from last night: in case we need Posada to play first base, there has to be someone to back up Molina.

2. Need someone to catch batting practice.

3. He's going to be Ponson's "personal catcher".

4. Girardi's credo: The more catchers, the better!

2008-06-26 09:58:07
59.   Shaun P
57 Now there's a tagline for the Banter! Just trying to keep things lively. We haven't had 100+ comments during the day (with no game 'til night) in a while. I think.

58 Re 3: The Yanks have promised Ponson that, if he wins on Friday, he gets to eat Moeller? Poor Moeller.

5. Girardi's revenge for the loss of Ensberg and Shelley: "I'll show them for taking away my only two emergency catchers - I'll just keep an emergency catcher around fulltime. Mwwwwhaaahaa!"

2008-06-26 10:00:09
60.   JL25and3
38 I might argue that Ruth wasn't a "once in a lifetime" talent - more like "once in a millennium."

I'd say the closest comparison might be Bo Jackson.

2008-06-26 10:00:41
61.   mehmattski
Also, Emma, if you're reading this.... bring on the puns. I want to know what you were thinking.

Heckuva Joba Out There

He Gets-a the Joba Done-a (Italian Accent)

Joba's No Hut

Chamberlain Declares War on Rest of League

That's just off the top of my head. Bring on the Joba puns!

2008-06-26 10:02:41
62.   Bama Yankee
60 Good call on Bo Jackson. I think Jim Thorpe fits in that category as well.
2008-06-26 10:26:12
63.   Bama Yankee
45 "The fact is, pitchers haven't gotten any faster since the use of radar guns"

Good point, I wish I'd have said that back in 31 (oh wait, I did)... ;-)
(Just kidding. Actually, I think you made the point better than I did.)

Also, your point about the old newsreel footage gave me an idea: Is it possible to determine (with a somewhat high level of accuracy) the speed of pitches thrown in those old films? I mean, could they use the individual frames of film (knowing the speed of the film and the distance the ball travels) to determine the speed of the pitch? I guess it would not be very accurate, but I wonder if anyone has tried it?

I have seen old footage of someone using a speeding motorcycle zooming past a pitcher to try to determine the speed of the pitch. I'm not sure how accurate that was, but then again I know people who have gotten speeding tickets who try to make a good case that modern day radar guns aren't very accurate either... ;-)

2008-06-26 11:17:54
64.   lpdigit
60 Ahhh Bo Knows!!!

63 I think there would be a way to make a calcualtion from old newsreel footage, although I could not offer a formula.

I only know that today, film shot at 24 frames per second and projected at that same rate mimics normal motion. Shooting at fewer frames per second and projecting at 24 accelerates action. Similarly, shooting at higher than 24 and projecting at 24 gives you some form of slow motion. Adjusting the projection rates either way while keeping the shooting rate constant has the inverse effect.

My point is that frame rates are pretty precise and are relied upon by cinematographers for many other calculations, among them being the proper exposure. There is no reason why one couldn't time a pitch and translate that time to mph.

2008-06-26 11:25:01
65.   ChrisS
63 My apologies I scanned through the comments to see if anyone else had addressed that, and I must have missed yours.

As for newsreel footage, probably, if the camera was set up properly to capture the entire distance (e.g., on 1B facing 3B). Otherwise distance is distorted. But there's been more than enough work down on mathematically eliminating distortion of aerial photographs, I'm sure something could be worked out if one knew the position of the camera. Older films might have been taken with a hand crank, which would impact film speed. Just as a WAG, they might be able to calculate pitch speed +/- 3mph.

I think that was Bob Feller's fastball versus a motorcycle.

And here's Feller throwing a pitch through device used to measure the velocity of artillery shells:

98.6 mph

2008-06-26 11:53:44
66.   Bama Yankee
65 No problem, I am guilty of just scanning the posts (even the main topic post) myself sometimes before I post...

Nice find on the Feller video. Wow, that 98.6 mph would be pretty impressive even in today's game...

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