Would Babe Ruth Be as Good Today? - HowTheyPlay - Sports
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Would Babe Ruth Be as Good Today?

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I enjoy writing about society, politics, history, and sports—and whatever else interests me.

Babe Ruth's 1933 Goudey Baseball Card

Babe Ruth's 1933 Goudey Baseball Card

The Roarin’ Twenties were a remarkable time. America had emerged from World War I as a world military power and a force to be reckoned with. Henry Ford was revolutionizing the way we travel, Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, women got the vote, and morals and attitudes began to change. With millions of immigrants working in factories and mills, we were becoming an industrial and economic giant.

America was on the rise. We were big! Our national pastime was no different. Onto this stage stepped a hulking man from the streets of Baltimore who did everything big. Eating, drinking, playing, chasing women—it didn’t matter. He did everything with gusto. Oh yeah, and he could hit a baseball a mile!

Babe Ruth Revolutionizes Baseball

Arguably the greatest hitter to play the game, Ruth revolutionized baseball. When the decade started, baseball was a game of speed and strategy. Teams would use stolen bases, walks, and sacrifices to eke out one or two runs an inning. By the time the decade was over, the home run was king! This was due to Ruth’s immense power and presence. The game has not been the same since.

One can argue that Ruth is not the greatest hitter ever. Guys with names like Williams, Musial, Mays, Mantle, Aaron, Bonds and others may have had more natural talent, and they may have broken many of Babe's hitting records. But they all had one thing in common: They played in the game Ruth invented.

The Greatest Hitter of His Era

But one thing that cannot be argued, statistically he was the greatest hitter of his era. The competition is not even close. Leaving out the partial seasons of 1914–1917 and 1935, Ruth’s numbers are phenomenal. In those 17 seasons, he averaged 41 home runs, 130 RBI, and hit .345. Between 1918 and 1933, he led the American League in home runs 11 times. In six of those seasons, he hit twice as many homers as the player who finished second! (In 1927, he hit 60, and teammate Lou Gehrig hit 47. Another teammate, Tony Lazzari, was third with only 18.)

But What If He Played Today?

I’ve often wondered if The Babe would be as good if he played in the today. Certainly there are things he would have to deal with that he didn’t in the Twenties and vice versa. And it would not make sense to take the Babe Ruth of the 1920s and send him in a time machine to the present day. The “Babe Ruth” of the current day may have grown up on the streets of Baltimore, but he would have been a different, more savvy person.

How He'd Be Different on the Field

Ruth likely would have displayed much of the talent on the field. He would have been in much better shape. His nutrition and health would have been much better. Ballparks tend to be built to cater to the hitters now.

Would He Still Be an Incredible Hitter?

There is really no way to tell whether the pitchers are different now than they were in Babe’s time. However, because there were only seven other teams in the league, the ones he faced were better. But, they often went the entire game, throwing 150–200 pitches. In the Twenties, Babe’s third and fourth at bat were often against tired pitchers.

Today, a starting pitcher rarely throws more than 115 pitches. For most of their later at bats, players are facing fresh, but less talented pitchers. In terms of career stats, I believe the pitching situation would be a wash. Ruth would still be a prodigious hitter.

Free Agency

Ruth came up with the Red Sox in 1914, and he was sold to the Yankees in 1920. He, like every other player in his time, had a “reserve clause” in every contract he signed. The “reserve clause” tied a player to the team he had been signed to even after the contract had expired. A player had the option of signing again with his old team (if they wanted him) or not playing at all.

The “reserve clause” was abolished in baseball in 1975. Now when a player has six seasons or more in MLB, and he is no longer under contract with any team, he can become a “free agent” and negotiate for the best deal he can for himself with his old team or with another team. In essence, Ruth was the property of the Boston Red Sox until he was sold to the New York Yankees and (with the exception of a few games with the Boston Braves in 1935), he was their “property“ for the rest of his career. He never had a chance to file for free agency and negotiate the best contract for himself.

Who Would He Play for Today?

Free agency has changed the way teams deal with players. For argument's sake, let's say our modern day Ruth came up with the Red Sox. With the current heated rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees, there is no way he would be dealt to New York. But it is likely he would file for free agency after his sixth season and may end up with another team.

Ruth is most remembered for being a Yankee. But a modern day player can play for several teams in his career. Given the Yankees’ talent in signing high price free agents, it’s possible Ruth would spend at least a portion of his career with them.

Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees

Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees

How He'd Be Different off the Field

The real challenge for Ruth would be dealing with the situations off the field. For one thing, Ruth would be an enormously wealthy man. The most he ever made in a season was $80,000 (about $850,000 in modern terms). Nowadays a player of Ruth’s caliber would make $20 million. Would that motivate him or make him lazy? Would that make him just another rich, out of touch superstar?

Ruth was known for the gusto in which he approached life. He partied hard. In 1925, he was sidelined early in the season for “the bellyache heard around the world.” A writer at the time said that Ruth’s ailment was caused by too many hot dogs and sodas before a game. A likely reason may have been alcohol poisoning (common in the age of prohibition) and venereal disease.

What Kind of Press Coverage Would He Get Today?

Back then, a person’s transgressions, especially those of an American icon, were not reported. At that time, the press traveled on the team trains and saw first-hand Ruth’s eating, drinking, and debauchery. There are stories (told years later) of Babe chasing woman through the train and drinking to excess. His appetite for sex was huge. How many of the women he caught were unwilling participants? We will never know because he was surrounded by a sympathetic and enabling press corps.

Babe today would be dealing with a much less enabling press corp. His off-the-field antics would be reported. Many would be dismissed by the public as just “Babe being the Babe.” But issues of sexual assault are taken very seriously today (just ask Ben Roethlisberger). It is possible that the league and legal authorities may take action leading to a loss of games (which would lessen his stats) and a tarnishing of his reputation. It is also possible, the Babe of the 1920s knew he could get away with this kind of behavior. Modern-day Ruth may be much more careful and discreet.

Steroids

Babe Ruth put up those amazing numbers without help of any kind. He, like many of his era, showed up for spring training and worked himself into shape after a long winter. Today, staying in shape is a 365-day endeavor. Many of the MLB players today are physical specimens. In Ruth’s age, it was thought that too much muscle would hinder, not help, a baseball player.

Would He Use PEDs?

In their pursuit of the perfect body and strength (which conceivably would lead to more home runs and more money), a few modern baseball players have turned to illegal steroids to aid and improve their workouts. Given his addictive behavior, it is conceivable that the modern day Babe would indulge in them also. His statistics would be disregarded by fans as being a product of the “steroids era.”

Would Babe Ruth Be Famous Today?

So, would Babe Ruth be the same today as he was in his era? After careful consideration, I have to say no. Given the fact that no one has been that good for that long a time since, it leads me to believe that—while there have been great players since—nobody will ever put up numbers like Ruth (OK, Barry Bonds, but we all know he was on the juice).

What is the reason? Has the game changed? Are the pitchers better now? Has the strategy and scouting of opposing hitters improved? Or is it the off-the-field issues like free agency? Have the huge salaries lessened the motivation of the modern player? Do they reach a point where they are satisfied and don’t go past it? Is the 24/7 scrutiny modern players get, affecting them on the field? Or was The Babe that great? I believe it is a combination of all these factors.

Famous, But Not an Icon

But the modern day Babe would not be an icon like he was in the 1920s. Back then, the media was limited to newspapers (radio was still in its infancy). Ruth was in a few silent movies then. But his reputation and legend were formed by a few sportswriters. Today, we have information overload. With cable, broadcast TV, and the internet, as well as newspapers and magazines, the media can report on many other people, especially in sports, politics, and entertainment. Sadly, Ruth, today would not be an icon. He would be just another famous American.

Babe Ruth Trivia Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. In 1914, The Boston Red Sox purchased Babe Ruth from which minor league team?
    • Baltimore Orioles
    • Pawtucket Red Sox
    • Minneapolis Millers
    • Toledo Mudhens
  2. True or False, the Baby Ruth Candy Bar was named after the Babe?
    • True
    • False
  3. How did the Babe make the last out of the 1926 World Series?
    • Struck Out
    • Grounded Out
    • Out Stealing 2nd
    • Fly out
  4. In what stadium did Ruth supposably "call" a famous home run in the 1932 World Series
    • Braves Field
    • Sportsman's Park
    • Wrigley Field
    • Yankee Stadium
  5. What position did Babe Ruth predominantly play in the first few years of his career?
    • First Base
    • Catcher
    • Pitcher
    • Catcher

Answer Key

  1. Baltimore Orioles
  2. True
  3. Out Stealing 2nd
  4. Wrigley Field
  5. Pitcher

Babe Ruth's Lifetime Statistics

Comments

glenn liguori on August 19, 2020:

no black or hispanic players.

DC on April 18, 2020:

Pitching is specialized now w/ more guys throwing 97+ even some @100+. There are so many specialist:

Starters

Long reliever

Mid reliever

Set up guy

Lefty specialist

Righty specialist

Closer

And each pitcher seems to throw harder the later the game gets. Not saying that Ruth wouldn't be good but it would've be more difficult because of how the pitching has tremendously evolved

Baltimorean on June 15, 2019:

Given the fact that racism excluded many of the truly best pitchers. He hit many bombs off of guys who would be cut from minor league teams today. In addition to hitting the tired arms of the limited "whites only" pitching pool. The likes of Mays and Aaron would've hit over a thousand homers if Ruth hit 714.

Jim Trentadue (James King 32) on March 20, 2019:

This is why you only compare apples to apples. Ruth wasn't born for todays game. But there was nobody in the history of any sport that i know of who has dominated in his era like him.

Not Joe Louis, Jack Johnson, Michael Jordan, Jim Brown, Wayne Gretsky, Rocket Richard, Mark Spitz, Jesse Owens,... nobody! I mean N-O-B-O-D-Y!!!

He was top five pitcher 1915-1919. He had more home runs (by himself)than any other team in 1921 as he swithed to the outfield- and he could run.

So the question... would then be as good today?

How many variables would be the same. Cultures are different. The Babe grew up in an orphanage, with a Catholic Priest that cared about kids and him especially. He was taught the value of morality (although he didn't catch on until all of his oats were sowed). That Priest taught him the game as a loving mentor as well as a student of the game. He had his disadvantage changed by someone through the loving God that tried to reach him through a priest to fulfill his destiny.

If he had these same variables with a guy at a gym that taught him to work out or a military academy guy like Major Payne......Hey that is Donald J Trump!

I digress.

But, Baseball is defined by so much science, that it has become homogenized. It makes you as close to the same as the other guy. For instance; when i taught hitting in the 70s my teams could hit the cover off of the ball. Now they have broken down a swing to enhance the slightest movements to gain power through bat speed. Thas what i did. What i taught was natural, today its how well you incorporate science. I took a twelve year old team(my last) in 2012. They did well. We were up against teams that bought their own pitching machines at 12 yrs old! The fun is gone. So could The Babe adapt?

I would ask what desire lurks inside him to overcome the " science's " that rule the game.

Ever hear of Paul Bunyan?

Cornelius on March 20, 2019:

You can't compare 1920 to 2018. But the Players of the 1920's would be playing today with the best of everything regarding equipment and travel. I could fill up 20pages of what the players of that error would gain to play today. Oh and by the way the ball has been juiced the last 3 years. This has been confirmed by players who have left the game. Everything mentioned by Bubbahthebig would be available to the players of the 20's. Or try this send the players of today back to the 20's without what they have now and see how well they would do. When players were out for blood and would take you apart to keep their job paying 2 to 8000 thousand dollars a year. Get real. The players of today play like pussy cats.

BubbahtheBIg on January 18, 2019:

The notion that 1920s pitchers were "more talented" because there were half as many teams is ludicrous. They were smaller than today's pitchers and threw 5-10 MPH slower. They may have been craftier, but hitters today study more than ever. Moreover, the U.S. population was 122 million in 1930 vs. 326 million today and very few latin and other foreign players (and no black players of any background). Basically, baseball is drawing from a field 4-5X as big as in the 20s and these are athletes (in the USA at least) who have had years in organized ball and training, more college opportunities, etc. Serious scouts trying to look at footage and estimating pitch speed would likely only find a few major league pitchers of the 20s to be MLB capable. Not to say Ruth couldn't compete, he obviously had tremendous hand/eye coordination and a knack for hitting balls. Give him some weight training and who knows? Fat Tony Gwynn and John Kruk showed you don't have to be a specimen (although neither of them played in today's era with each team having 5-8 guys who can throw 97+). And, of course, the same could be said of many of the guys in the 20s. Maybe they didn't throw in the 90s because they just didn't know how to maximize power in their deliveries, not that their bodies were not able.

issac reisman on January 18, 2019:

Your wrong about facing tired pictures 3 or 4 time around, he hit the most home runs in first inning out of all the innings,do the research

James King 32 on December 12, 2018:

When there comes along an All Star pitcher on his way to the Hall five years into his career, then get switched to an everyday player to become the best of his time and all time. (I mean he hit more home runs than any other team in the League in 1921). Then you can talk about greatest player on a lesser plateau. As of now the best athletes are thinned out by other money making endeavors. It would be hard pressed to find a collection of the best athletes in the world performing in one sport as did in 1915-1935 (Babes career).

Except for exclusion of the Black athletes of the day (in which Ruth lobbied for to play in the Bigs) these guys were the best of their day.

I love Negro League Baseball and feel for those guys. We missed a lot... by segregation!

Those guys deserved better! Satch, Oscar, Devil Wells, Josh, Turkey, many,many more. Their legend lives though!

Just your average white guy admirer!

David on December 11, 2018:

One thing to take into account it is we don't know what kind of training regimen the Babe what have nowadays. Maybe if he trained all year long like other athletes today do he would still be one of, if not the greatest hitters of all time. Talent is Talent.

James King 32 on August 12, 2016:

It was The Babe who introduced Japan to baseball during his barnstorming. Also The Babe was a strong advocate of integration of baseball. Many of the great black players knew that and talked about it. In Ruths day Oscar Charleston and Rube Foster where the best Black players. Oscar was kind of a "Willie Mays" type of player.

As a white guy I feel cheated that he didn't get his opportunity. I think Ruth felt the same way. Not only would it have changed baseball I believe that it would have changed history and provided integration without having to legislate a patchwork law.

mark devon on August 11, 2016:

So you consider african american and hispanics to be superior to whites.

You donot consider that to be racist? I guess we can say that whites are inherently smarter.

Ted Zatorski on August 11, 2016:

The so called Baby Ruth candy bar was named after an illegimate child of President Grover Cleveland and his mistress. As Casey Stengel would say, " You can look it up".

Cbailey10 on July 03, 2016:

He faced the best white guys of his day, yes.

The Babe never had to face Hispanic or African American players (not to mention Japanese or Korean). Could you imagine? Drop all those guys out today, and now you have competition the Babe is more used to.

James Trentadue from Madison, WI. on November 13, 2014:

The Babe was Superhuman w/o Roids. He lived when he should have. He took the game to the next level when baseball was about to lose its appeal. The BlackSox scandal was about to ruin Baseball. Although, I would have liked to know how he would have faired in the sixties. I believe the 60's were the best BB era. Nice piece!

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on September 10, 2014:

Thanks jcressler

James E Cressler from Orlando, Florida on September 08, 2014:

Old time and modern baseball players all took performance drugs. Today they use blooding and steroids. Ruth and peers drank a half-pint and a hotdog and went to the plate.

There's no legitimate comparison with today's cheaters.

Frank Slovenec from San Francisco, CA on June 04, 2013:

Great Great Great HUB! Think of the pitchers think of the lower mound think of the longer fences, think of the dead ball! Babe Ruth will stand out always as the greatest...I was knick named after him... thanks

John David from Middle America on June 03, 2013:

Great Hub!

I believe The Babe would be able to hit in any league, same with Ty Cobb and many others. Would his numbers be as stellar? Probably not, but he could put up monster slugging percentage. Ty Cobb could probably have similar numbers as he had more than a century ago. Guys like him, may be jerks yet have grit on the diamond.

Ruth was also a dandy pitcher early on, so there is a chance he could have adapted his game to the one played today. He would have to be in fitter shape, however.

I think most players of old could hang today. Baseball, minus the steroid era, is not like football where big brutish guys with speed make all the difference. Baseball is a thinking man's game. A game of streaks and clutch hitting, while knowing what to do with the ball once you have it.

Sure, speed and power help.. yet if you look at guys like Ted Williams or even Pete Rose, just plain ole push to play better can make the world of difference.

You do not have to be Barry Bonds to make a splash, nor should you want to.

Some folks have natural ability, some work hard to get better, and some cheat along the way. Baseball is everyman's game no matter if it were played a century ago or today.

I would rather hit any pitcher today than a Sandy Koufax!

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on May 09, 2013:

Thank for reading and commenting Raymond

Raymond Bureau on May 09, 2013:

I really enjoyed your relating Ruth's era to today's game, media and all. I would have out that much thought into it. Yes, I believe he did call that shot (I now have a hub about it). You did a terrific job with this, Bill.

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on November 16, 2012:

Thanks everyone for reading. I appreciate it!

Frank Slovenec from San Francisco, CA on November 16, 2012:

The game today is a lot different...baseball is a period game, very difficult to compare players across periods..look today at Buster Posey and Miquel Cabrera...a tripe crown and a catcher MVP...they game is the best game on the planet and it is the best in every era..look to at the analysis the players have today..they just about know what pitch is coming in which situation.. let us agree the Babe was the best of his era, Mickey, Joe, Ted, Whitey, Reggie on and on were the best in their era..I should be pushing ruth my nick name after the Babe is Babe.. great HUB!

petertebin from Maryland on November 16, 2012:

What an amazing hub and as I debate all the time who wouldn't love to see him play in this ERA and vice versa with today's modern super stars playing back then. The game has changed along the way and with the way he carried himself of the field with the drinking and heavy weight he would have to change that to make it in modern day baseball. Though he could hit with the best of them. The biggest thing I always say is could superstars handle the modern day pressures of "Money" and the media? It's to much about a business now and not about the game that is what has really changed along the way. Though he will always go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game.

Joe from New York on August 14, 2012:

Awesome topic!! I think the Babe would have been a superstar no matter what era he played in, he was just so dominant and larger than life

Your Cousins from Atlanta, GA on August 12, 2012:

It's great to celebrate Babe as an icon of his era and still today. He came along at the right time to fulfill his destiny. Thanks for this HOTD.

ghy on August 12, 2012:

hhhhhhh

Peter Allison from Alameda, CA on August 12, 2012:

Interesting hub. Gives credit to the Babe where credit is due while pointing out the reality of the social/media realities of the day that allowed the legend to grow. As for 'how would Babe Ruth perform today?' I think he'd be awesome. You can't under-estimate any person's ability to see and hit a ball thrown 80, 90 plus miles an hour and given the overall benefits of the sports training norms of today I don't have any doubt he'd be a legend. Likewise I think the best stars of today would have done well in Ruth's era.

Cameron Conner from Cornelius, North Carolina on August 12, 2012:

I personally see the Babe as the greatest hitter of all time. Although his record has been broken, Babe Ruth was able to get all of those hits in about 16 games. If I am not mistaken, today's baseball season consists of about twice that. Until someone breaks his record in 16 games I will still consider him the home run king.

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on August 12, 2012:

He is a legend no doubt about it. Skill is important even today.

Liberum on August 12, 2012:

It's very hard to compare athletes from different eras. Maybe back then players had even bigger talent but all methods how they were trained, were simply different. In modern conditions he probably would be even more amazing.

Keith James Kennedy from Milwaukee, WI on August 12, 2012:

I really enjoyed the hub! A fun fact on Babe Ruth is that he was an aggressive base stealer, even at his weight. He is credited with 123 stolen bases and twice was top 10 in the AL. If you look into it more, he is also the most unsuccessful base stealer, because he got caught stealing more than he was successful (48.46% success rate).

Mr Tindle on August 12, 2012:

Billdo1603,

Nice and interesting article. A lot of things have changed in Baseball since Ruth was playing, so I would have to think he would not make as much of a splash today. You mention the conditioning and use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in the sport today, but here is an interesting question to think about. Do you think Babe Ruth and other players around in his era would use these kinds of things to compete or would they shun them?

Nira Perkins on August 12, 2012:

I didn't do very well on the quiz, I'm not sure my father would be happy with that. I grew up in a household of baseball lovers. Congrats on Hub of the Day. This is a great article and the type I don't see very often.

Jenn-Anne on August 12, 2012:

An enjoyable hub that baseball fans in particular can appreciate! I enjoyed your analysis. Wish we could bring back the Babe for just one modern-era game. Wouldn't that be fun!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on August 12, 2012:

Well done. Babe is a colorful character...He always seems larger than life to me kind of like a tall tale kind of fella'. His accomplishments are worthy of note.

I do wonder how he would feel today if he walked into the playing arena. You are probably correct about him not being the icon he was then due to the fact that we are awash in info bombarding us. I for one am glad he lived when he did.

Congrats on HOTD!!!

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on August 05, 2012:

Thanks Gary! I never thought about the balls and the variety of pitches. Glad you enjoyrd this Hub

GaryKauffman from North Augusta, South Carolina on August 05, 2012:

Nice job. You raise some interesting points to speculate on. While Ruth didn’t have to contend with some of the off-field scrutiny that is present today, some of the on-field conditions would be more favorable today. Through at least half his career the balls in use in his day were mushier and didn’t travel as far. The stadiums were also much bigger. Yankee Stadium was originally 480 feet to center (it was brought in to a more modest 457 feet after DiMaggio’s first season) and Ruth was a spray hitter, hitting balls to all fields, not just the “short porch” in right. Pitchers didn’t have the wide assortment of pitches they have today but many still doctored baseballs. Would the on-field changes have offset the off-field changes? It’s hard to tell but it is fun to speculate.

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on August 04, 2012:

Thanks for reading theframjack. I appreciate your reading. I try to publish one Hub a week. Usually on weekends

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on August 04, 2012:

Thanks for reading whonunuwho. Despite the fact that I'm a Red Sox fan I admire what Babe did.

billd01603 (author) from Worcester on August 04, 2012:

Hi AJ thanks for reading. Until yesterday I believed the Baby Ruth bar was named after Ruth Cleveland. But check out the Wikipedia page for Babe Ruth. It seems the story about Ruth Cleveland was made up by the candy company to avoid paying Babe Ruth royalties. Ruth Cleveland died 15 years before the bar was available and when Ruth was already a star;

theframjak from East Coast on August 04, 2012:

Great hub billd01603. I love reading about the Babe. Another amazing feature of his baseball career was that he was a dominant starting pitcher before he become an outfielder. He won over 20 games in both 1916 and 1917. This tells me he must have had amazing baseball instincts to both hit and pitch so well at the highest level. The book "The Big Bam" provided a wonderful account of the Babe's training regime that he started after his legendary bellyache. He was actually ahead of his time in this regard. I look forward to your next hub!

AJ Flanigan from Griffin, GA on August 04, 2012:

Good hub, although, I took the quiz, and the Baby Ruth was not actually named after Babe Ruth. Officialy, it was named after Grover Cleaveland's then daughter, Ruth. But there is controversy with some back-bone to it that the original candy makers named it after their granddaughter, but changed the story to Ruth Cleaveland for a better marketing campaign. Aside from that, I really enjoyed it.

whonunuwho from United States on August 04, 2012:

Great hub and a wonderful account of Babe Ruth. He was always one of my favorites and added a lot of color to the game. Say what you want, there will never be another Babe Ruth and what he gave to the game of Baseball.

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