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Old 10-06-2006, 05:35 AM   #18
Ring of Famer

Join Date: Dec 2002
Posts: 31,806

The author of this weblog offers some tremendous insights into Ruth as a player and a man.

Response to Dayn Perry's article directing us not to wax nostalgic about Babe Ruth

May 12, 2006 | 11:25PM |

I saw Perry's article a few days ago, but dismissed it because it is full
of misleading information and misinformation. However, when I saw a friend
cite the article in an internet baseball forum, I felt a duty to respond.

Perry makes a few valid points, like the one about the all-white
competition. But mostly his comments are ill-informed opinion supported by
little or no fact, which I'll attempt to demonstrate here. For example,
Perry wrote:

>>For instance, imagine the kind of stats, say, Lance Berkman could put up
if he never had to face a Pedro Martinez, a Dontrelle Willis, a Johan
Santana, a Carlos Zambrano or a Mariano Rivera ...<<

This comparison is foolish. These guys weren't alive when Ruth played. A
fair comparison is with the top non-anglo/caucasian talent of the time
period in which Ruth lived.

>>... and never had the likes of Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter or Mike Cameron
turning doubles into fly outs.<<

No, but he had Harry Hooper and Tris Speaker turning doubles into fly outs
with little tiny gloves instead of giant leather baskets. And outfields
were far more cavernous in those days. I've never before seen anyone argue
that the discrepancy amongst fielders then and now is anything like the
discrepancy amongst hitters and pitchers then and now. This is the first
time I've ever seen such a silly assertion.

Then there is the Jim Crow issue, which has been anaylzed in depth on
SABR-L. Perry omits at least three important points pertinent to the issue:

1) football and basketball were far less developed sports in those days,
so that the best athletes of the period - anglo/caucasian and
non-anglo/caucasian athletes - tended to gravitate to baseball.

2) It is a statistical fallacy to assume that the percentage of the most
superior non-anglo/caucasian athletes of Ruth's day was the same as the
percentage of the top non-anglo/caucasian athletes of today. If anything,
the percentage (of the total number of non-anglo/caucasian athletes) of
the most superior non-anglo/caucasian athletes in Ruth's day was greater,
meaning that the non-anglo/caucasian talent pool at that time wasn't as
large; further meaning that the competition - had integration existed -
wouldn't come close to what it is today. Baseball's development in Hispanic
America and Asia still was primitive.

There is no question that had Ruth regularly hit against Bullet Joe Rogan,
Satchel Paige, Rube Foster and the like, he very well may not have fared
as well as he did against the likes of Bill Sherdel, Flint Rhem, and Jesse
Haines. However, he almost certainly would have fattened up on the many
lesser pitching lights in the Negro Leagues since the variability of Negro
League pitching talent (differences between top and bottom) was much
greater then than now, and greater as well for the anglo/caucasian talent
of Ruth's time. This point was argued well by the late professor Stephen
Jay Gould in his classic article on why it's unlikely we'll ever see another
.400 hitter.

3) It is well-acknowledged that Ruth was an extraordinarily gifted hitter.
See article in above post.

What this rather long article underscores is that it is highly probable that
if Ruth could hit the likes of Lefty Grove, Walter johnson, Grover
Alexander, Stan Coveleski, and Eddie Cicotte, he more than likely also
could have hit Satchel Paige, Bullet Joe Rogan, Rube Foster, Bob
Poindexter, and William Bell.

That addresses much of Perry's misleading information. Now for the

>>In the statistical sense, Ruth is overvalued. The lefty-swinging Ruth
benefited greatly from an inviting right-field porch (once called
"Ruthville") in Yankee Stadium, where he played his home games from 1920
through 1934. Back then, the right-field line was only 295 feet from home
plate, and it was only 350 feet to straightaway right field. Contrast
those with the current dimensions of Yankee: 314 feet down the line and
353 to straightaway. Yankee Stadium, over the last three full seasons,
inflated the home-run rates of left-handed batters by seven percent. While
we don't have the necessary data to get the figures from Ruth's day, it's
safe to assume that Yankee Stadium back then was even more beneficial to
lefty power hitters. So his numbers need to be discounted accordingly.<<

That all depends on what Perry means by "accordingly". If Perry actually
goes by Ruth's home vs. away splits, then "accordingly" means Ruth's
numbers require an upward adjustment, because he hit more home runs on the
road than he did in Yankee Stadium. Ruth hit 49% of his homeruns from
1923 - 1932 Yankee Stadium (the fences were changed in YS in 1933) and
51% on the road. Lou Gehrig hit 46% of his HRs in YS during that
span. All other left-handed hitters, Yankees or non-Yankees, hit
two-thirds of their homeruns in Yankee Stadium. Look at the following:

>>From 1923-32, left-handed Yankees hit 52% of their home runs at home,
while their visitors hit 69% of their HRs against them there - a striking
contrast. During those years, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig accounted for 78%
of Yankee LHB home runs (722 of 923) and hit slightly more home runs on
the road, while the other left-handers hit two-thirds of their home runs
at Yankee Stadium (see Table 6.7). As pre-eminent sluggers, Ruth and
Gehrig were less park-determined.<< --Michael Schell

These data were sent to me by Michael Schell, author of Baseball's
All-Time Best Sluggers. Michael Schell is a Professor of Biostatistics at
the University of North Carolina. His book is carefully researched, with
attention to the minute details of park
factors, home-away splits, and playing era in his analyses.

What Schell's findings mean in this context is that Ruth and Gehrig hit such
prodigious homeruns that they received no special benefit from the 295'
foul line. Ruth homers typically were towering fly balls anyway. But this
is an example of where a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
Perry knows about the Yankee Stadium foul line in those days, and he knows
that lefties enjoyed a general benefit from that foul line, so he assumes
Ruth experienced that same benefit, which therefore discounts the value of
the homeruns Ruth hit "accordingly". But because Perry didn't know about
the unique splits of Ruth (and Gehrig), Perry simply fooled himself,
along with a few thousand readers.

>>There are also the moral failings of Ruth to be considered. Bonds these
days is subjected to (entirely warranted) scrutiny, ridicule and dismissal
because of his alleged cheating. However, Ruth was anything but an angel
in his day.<<

This is a completely spurious argument. Ruth's moral failings - excessive
appetites for women, food, drink, and tobacco - were common to his era,
and arguably undergird the way he is celebrated as a hero, because he rose
from a horrific childhood to become adored internationally not only due to
his athletic successes, but because of the kind of person he became. Ty
Cobb was arguably as or more successful a baseball player than Ruth, yet he
wasn't adored. Ruth was charitable, noted for his frequent fundraisers for
orphanages and visits to hospitals to see sick kids (these are documented
facts), and reformed himself from womanizing after his second marriage. He
did train in the off-season to get himself into playing shape. He was one
of the first players to have a personal trainer, Artie McGovern of
McGovern's Gym. He was accessible, approachable, kind-hearted, and not
one to hold a grudge.

Perry's arguments don't make sense even given the realities of Ruth's life
and times, but when looked at in the context of a person like Barry Bonds,
who is utterly impervious to the opinions of teammates, fans, and the
media alike, one wonders what sort of point Perry is trying to make.

Most importantly for this discussion, it isn't like Ruth's vices helped him
pad his numbers. If Ruth trained like today's players and took Hgh, andro,
ThG, Provigil, and the rubbing balms and flaxseed oils used by Bonds,
does it not make sense that his numbers would have been even more stupendous
than they were? All I can say here is that this is a fatuous and
self-serving argument by Perry that backfires in his face.

>>While it's a bit too hindsighty to skewer Ruth for not rising above the
mores of his time, he did gleefully participate in - and get rich off of -
the racist construct that was organized professional baseball. It's fair
to hold that tacit approval against him to a limited degree.<<

Frankly - and this isn't something I say often - this comment is stupid.
Literally. It betrays a likelihood that Perry never has read a reputable
biography of Ruth. For "his time", Ruth was one of the most accepting,
unbigoted players in the game.

>>... it was rumored that a 1925 illness was the result of a runaway case of

Right - this was a rumor, and roundly discredited by several biographers
who established that he had surgery for an intestinal abscess. (See, for
example, biographies by Creamer, Smelser, and Wagenheim. Smelser was a
professional historian.) There were no antibiotics then. If Ruth had had
VD he never would have gotten rid of it. He likely never could have
played again. Repeating this canard is a vile act by Perry, who appears to
overreach the bounds of ethical propriety in his effort to persuade a naive
readership of an opinion he doesn't wish contradicted by inconvenient facts.
I can't respect a writer like this.

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