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Thread: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    The subject title is the headline used for Bill Peterson's column in this week's City Beat magazine:

    Bonds Vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    By Bill Peterson

    Sometime this week or next, Barry Bonds is likely to pass Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list, which means absolutely nothing except that it's brought the discussion back around to Ruth.

    Baseball always comes back around to Ruth, the Bambino who built the Yankees, who restored the game's credibility through his incredible exploits on the field and whose incredible exploits off the field branded an eternal mythology.

    Ruth is no god, but he's Moses or Noah, without whom the rest of the story could not have been told. Baseball's first compensatory hero at the dawn of mass culture in the 1920s, he is, was and always will be the standard, regardless of how time weathers his records.

    Many who love baseball wonder how the game would have survived without Ruth because his power hitting made the game matter when it might have died from the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Baseball lives because of Babe Ruth, so Babe Ruth lives for as long as the game.

    Ruth is part man, part myth, part magic and a lot of institutional memory. No one ever wants to lose him, not even when it's really time for him to go, like right now, as Bonds is about to match and exceed 714 career homers. That number, 714, is not the record for career home runs -- but it's the number Ruth hit, which alone makes it historic if not sacred.

    When Roger Maris broke Ruth's single-season home run record in 1961, not even the commissioner's office wanted to recognize the new standard. Fans were indignant. The tension made Maris' hair fall out.

    When Henry Aaron approached Ruth's career home run record in the early 1970s, hundreds of death threats and racist hate letters every day were his reward.

    Dissolute and debauched though he was, the public loved and still loves Ruth for the good will and pure, dumb fun he attached to stardom. Back before America went completely perverse and tricked itself into thinking that men playing boys' games are supposed to be moral exemplars, Ruth tickled hearts as America's Biggest Boy.

    The country was rapidly urbanizing in the 1920s, by the end of which half the population lived in cities. A city boy through and through, Ruth emblemized urban life all the way from the penthouse to the gutter and back. If his carousing rankled the farm folk, it's not like they expected more from a ball player.

    For all his determination, the public mostly disinherited Bonds before the steroid allegations because he made stardom too unpleasant even as he bloated himself in interviews, performances and training sessions. Strong allegations of steroid use have intensified the friction between baseball's best player and its fans, especially now that Ruth is in sight.

    From among the dissenters as Bonds approaches 714, there is to be heard a convincing argument as to why the contemporary slugger is no match for the ancient. To wit, Bonds isn't really a human performance example or a natural athlete. He hatched himself in a laboratory, and we laugh at him the way we chuckled at the Soviet bloc Olympians 30 years ago.

    Barry Bonds is a monster, no more man than man-made, a Frankenstein with eyes fixed on Babe Ruth. Ruth worked out a bit, but he also trained on prohibition liquor, cigars, hot dogs and women and probably placed a wager here and there.

    If John Daly were a great golf pro, he might be Ruth. If Albert Pujols were also a free-wheeling street runner, he might be Ruth. And if Bonds were a gregarious lover of his gifts and the people who love them, he might be Ruth. But he isn't.

    The man who's forgotten in all this is the true Home Run Champion, Henry Aaron, who bashed 755. Bonds and Ruth have one element in common that Aaron doesn't share. Aaron's home run feats are more legitimate by far, while both Bonds' and Ruth's are tainted. If Aaron needed more at-bats than Bonds or Ruth, he also worked under the least favorable conditions for one hitter to dominate.

    The prevalence of steroid use in recent years created a sub-class of players who didn't use them. We'll spend the next several years trying to piece together how steroids influenced baseball records, and almost everyone who played the meat of his career in the past 10 years will be under question as he comes up for the Hall of Fame. Even if Bonds was a Hall of Famer before 2000, it won't spare him the inquisitor.

    Ruth has never endured that kind of scrutiny. When statisticians analyze his career, they end up finding that he might have hit an extra 400 home runs if he played today because the parks are smaller, the outfield fences are lower, he would have faced more raggedy pitchers and those balls that used to be called foul because they landed foul in the seats now would be home runs if they left the park fair.

    But if we're going to say that Ruth is out 400 homers through no fault of his own, we also have to say, through no fault of his own, that he didn't compete against championship talent from the African-American population. A good number of historians believe Negro Leaguer Josh Gibson would have hit more homers than Ruth. We'll never know.

    As we try to place the past 10 years in historic context because of steroids, we should remember that the career and single-season records are equally suspect before about 1950, when African-Americans began competing in numbers three years after Jackie Robinson's debut. If we're going to be purists about records, we might decide that the only records to really count were established by fellows playing between about 1950 to about 1990, after African Americans began playing and before steroids took hold.

    Aaron played in the major leagues from 1954 through 1976. Before he retired, he was the last Negro League player still going in the big leagues.

    Because he played when all races were allowed, only Aaron's home run mark is fully human. Because he played before steroids, only his home run mark is truly human.

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    Oy Vey! Red in Chicago's Avatar
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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    ruth tainted? i really don't buy that...also, did they forget that ruth was a pitcher his first handful of years? certainly, his total would have been slightly higher, had he been a regular position player at the time...

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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    It also would have been higher if he had as many AB's as Hank did. Not putting Aaron down, he is a baseball legend, but I think we know who would be at the top of the list, had been the same amount of AB's.

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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    It amazes me how even baseball writers seem to miss just how remarkable of a player Ruth was. No one will ever mean as much to the game as that guy did. That's no knock to any past or present player. But to compare Ruth's legacy to any other player's is just crazy. And it goes way beyond the stastics.

    And whenever a comparison is attempted, it's usually ignored just how much better Ruth was than any of his peers. He was - and still is - in a class all his own.

    (And I wouldn't even really call myself a Babe fan.)

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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    Sure, you can compare Aaron's or Bonds' stats to Ruth's.

    And then you have to consider that the Babe was also a pretty successful pitcher.

    Case closed.

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    The Boss dougdirt's Avatar
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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    You can compare their numbers, but its an unfair comparison.

    Ruth played against Whites only. He didnt have to face a Doc Gooden, Pedro and Nomo in his prime. How often do you think they brought in an Eckersley type to face Ruth? Heck, he didnt even have to hit it 300 feet down the line in Yankee stadium to hit a home run. The game was completely different when Ruth played....and that wasnt his fault.

    Bonds on the otherhand used steroids, so he doesnt have any home runs in my mind.

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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    I would imagine that the baseball in the 1920's was a tad different than it was when Hank played and it damn sure is different now.

    Babe Ruth is the greatest player ever to play the game.


    Didnt play against black players? Thats a BS argument. You cant dismiss his stats because a black player MIGHT have hit more. He didnt. How many of the great White Pitchers did the Black players in the Negro Leagues play against? Maybe thats why Josh Gibson hit so many.
    Rabid Astros Fan !

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    A Little to the Left Redsfaithful's Avatar
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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    Quote Originally Posted by Astrobuddy
    I would imagine that the baseball in the 1920's was a tad different than it was when Hank played and it damn sure is different now.

    Babe Ruth is the greatest player ever to play the game.


    Didnt play against black players? Thats a BS argument. You cant dismiss his stats because a black player MIGHT have hit more. He didnt. How many of the great White Pitchers did the Black players in the Negro Leagues play against? Maybe thats why Josh Gibson hit so many.
    It has nothing to do with the fact that black players might have hit more. It has everything to do with the fact that Ruth didn't face multi racial pitching or multi racial fielders.

    Babe Ruth would suck if he played today. He'd be a bench warmer at best. And Barry Bonds (had he been allowed to play) would have hit 1,000+ home runs back in Ruth's day.

    How hard do you think an average pitcher threw back then? 80? 85? How much has pitching changed? How many new pitches have been invented? How much better are off speed pitches?

    Heck, forgetting all that, how much bigger is the average pitcher now? Think about it, if you're not a minimum of six feet tall as a righthander then you usually won't have a shot at making it at the big league level.

    This is why it's silly to compare across eras. I've said this before (and got a rather "RedsZone famous" response once) we're watching the best players to ever play the game right now. They're bigger, stronger, faster, and just plain better.

    I'm not saying baseball is better for it, and I'm not saying that baseball is more fun to watch now. I have no idea, although I really love baseball the way it is. I'm just saying that it's stupid to pretend that Babe Ruth is the best that ever lived. He's not even close.
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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    Here's several factors that I don't think are regularly considered about the differences in eras.

    Full competition - neither black or white players all played against the best - how much of a factor that would have been, I can't say, but those that didn't have to face a Satchel Paige or throwing against a Josh Gibson, weren't playing against the best. We can't undo history, so we'll never know.

    Relief Specialist In the day, relievers were generally guys in the last throes of their careers or starters filling in elsewhere. Now you get late in the games and you're facing a 90 MPH fastballer in the 8th or 9th inning, only pitching an inning or two.

    Travel Schedules Prior to the moves of the 1950's, the furthest a team had to travel was Boston to St. Louis; Washington to Chicago. Evening the A's moving to KC only added another 200 miles to that equation. With the move to the West Coast, you changed that formula significantly. Now you have literally all 4 corners of the country (give or take a couple of hundred miles) - Boston, Miami, San Diego, Seattle and everything in between. Granted, air travel has lessened that, but still think of how raggedy the Reds have been on some West Coast trips in years past.

    Expansion A nod to the old days - the most recent expansions in the latter part of the 20th century has diluted pitching. I'll argue that the first rounds of expansion in the early and late 60's was necessary to make room for the influx of players from the old Negro Leagues, but pitching has been thinner over the last 15 years or so.

    One can never say for certain which player was better and which era was better and there are too many holes in the equations to answer definitively. I think the original column was meant as a tribute to Hank Aaron, a less flawed player than either Bonds or Ruth - and unquestionably the Home Run champion.
    Last edited by redsmetz; 05-20-2006 at 07:10 AM.

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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    Quote Originally Posted by Astrobuddy
    I would imagine that the baseball in the 1920's was a tad different than it was when Hank played and it damn sure is different now.

    Babe Ruth is the greatest player ever to play the game.


    Didnt play against black players? Thats a BS argument. You cant dismiss his stats because a black player MIGHT have hit more. He didnt. How many of the great White Pitchers did the Black players in the Negro Leagues play against? Maybe thats why Josh Gibson hit so many.
    There was considerably intermingling in post-season barnstorming. Here's an excerpt from an article from American History Magazine. Sadly, the segregation of professional baseball is a tragedy which can never be undone and we'll never know the answer to just how good everyone was. I don't think it's any accident that for nearly 15 years after breaking the color line in 1947 a signifcant number of the Rookie of Year awards went to black or Latin players who had been kept out of MLB, six of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

    URL="http://www.historynet.com/ah/blbnegroleague/"]http://www.historynet.com/ah/blbnegroleague/[/URL]

    In an age of unlettered, rough-neck ballplayers, a gangling shortstop from Florida named John Henry Lloyd, whose foulest oath was "Gosh bob it!", was the gentleman of black baseball, much as Christy Mathewson was the model gentleman of white baseball at that time. Lloyd scooped up ground balls, dirt and all. He cradled his bat in the crook of his elbow and hit stinging line drives to all fields. His lifetime average of .350 was the third highest in the history of the Negro Leagues, and during games against white big-leaguers he batted .306. Inevitably, Lloyd was dubbed the "black Wagner," leading Honus to reply softly that he was proud to be compared with such a great player.

    Another of the early black stars was Joe Williams. In 1917, he bested Walter Johnson, the greatest pitcher in white baseball, by a score of 1-0. During his career, he also beat Grover Cleveland Alexander and five other Hall of Famers. In the fall of 1917, Williams struck out twenty of John McGraw's New York Giants in ten innings, while giving them only one hit. A Giant player approached Williams after the game and told him, "That was a hell of a game, Smoky"; from then on, the pitcher was known as "Smoky Joe."

    Oscar Charleston, another renowned black player, was a tough ex-soldier who hit with Babe Ruth's power, ran with Ty Cobb's slashing speed, and played a tremendous center field. Twice he led the Negro National League in both home runs and stolen bases. Reportedly strong enough to loosen a baseball's cover with one hand, and fearless enough to snatch the hood from the head of a Ku Klux Klansman, Charleston was sometimes called "the black Cobb." But those who saw both men disagreed. Cobb, they said, was "the white Charleston."

    Because accurate statistics are often lacking, it is difficult to say how good many of these black players were, but based on their exhibition play against their professional white counterparts during the pre-Robinson years, it is clear that they were exceptional. Black teams opposed white professional teams in more than four hundred barnstorming games between the 1890s and 1947, and came away winners sixty percent of the time. White stars like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Bob Feller, Honus Wagner, Jimmie Foxx, and Christy Mathewson were glad to make extra money in games against blacks, and their testimony attests to the considerable skills of their opponents

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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    Quote Originally Posted by dougdirt
    Heck, he didnt even have to hit it 300 feet down the line in Yankee stadium to hit a home run.
    Ruth hit 347 HRs in his career at home, including all those games in Yankee Stadium. He hit 367 HRs on the road.
    In Ruth's 60 HR season in 1927, he hit 28 HRs at home, 32 on the road.
    "Hey...Dad. Wanna Have A Catch?" Kevin Costner in "Field Of Dreams."

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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    ESPN talked about an interesting fact with Ruth the other day. In the early 20's a foul ball was determined by where the ball landed not where it passed the foul line/pole. Teammates of Ruth have estimated that he lost anywhere from 60 -90 home runs on balls that passed the fence fair but curved and landed foul in the stands. you can't go back and give him extra home runs, that was the rule at the time but I thought it was interesting.

    As for Ruth, Bonds, or Aaron -- They were all great players and we shouldn't forget that for any of them. Ruth would be a good player today and we don't know what type of adjustments he could make, just as Aaron would be a good player today also. For me, I would want Bonds for my team over both of them. In his prime he was a better defender than each and a better base runner (and Aaron was good on the bases also, but not as good). Bonds could hit for average, power, and drive in runs. The only knocks on him are his major attitude and that he failed in the playoffs. I feel that he proved he could play under pressure in his only world series b/c he carried the giants most of the way and I believe Baker mismanaged game 6 causing them to loose the series.

    I may want Bonds on my team but for a night out on the town I'll go with Ruth.

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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    Quote Originally Posted by Redsfaithful
    It has nothing to do with the fact that black players might have hit more. It has everything to do with the fact that Ruth didn't face multi racial pitching or multi racial fielders.

    Babe Ruth would suck if he played today. He'd be a bench warmer at best. And Barry Bonds (had he been allowed to play) would have hit 1,000+ home runs back in Ruth's day.

    How hard do you think an average pitcher threw back then? 80? 85? How much has pitching changed? How many new pitches have been invented? How much better are off speed pitches?

    Heck, forgetting all that, how much bigger is the average pitcher now? Think about it, if you're not a minimum of six feet tall as a righthander then you usually won't have a shot at making it at the big league level.

    This is why it's silly to compare across eras. I've said this before (and got a rather "RedsZone famous" response once) we're watching the best players to ever play the game right now. They're bigger, stronger, faster, and just plain better.

    I'm not saying baseball is better for it, and I'm not saying that baseball is more fun to watch now. I have no idea, although I really love baseball the way it is. I'm just saying that it's stupid to pretend that Babe Ruth is the best that ever lived. He's not even close.
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    For a Level Playing Field RedFanAlways1966's Avatar
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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    Quote Originally Posted by Redsfaithful
    Babe Ruth would suck if he played today. He'd be a bench warmer at best. And Barry Bonds (had he been allowed to play) would have hit 1,000+ home runs back in Ruth's day.
    No one will ever know. But I cannot disagree with you more.

    Trains instead of planes. Better bats and equipment. Harder baseballs and using brand new balls at all times. Etc, etc, etc. Just as you can say this, that or the other... I can counterpoint with this, that and the other.

    I too do not like to compare different eras. Therefore, I never go there and say this person would do this or that in that different era. No way anything can be proved. Babe Ruth was great. Henry Aaron was great. Barry Bonds was (not "is") great. Simple as that.
    Small market fan... always hoping, but never expecting.

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    Re: Bonds vs. Ruth? We'll Take Henry Aaron

    Quote Originally Posted by steig
    ESPN talked about an interesting fact with Ruth the other day. In the early 20's a foul ball was determined by where the ball landed not where it passed the foul line/pole. Teammates of Ruth have estimated that he lost anywhere from 60 -90 home runs on balls that passed the fence fair but curved and landed foul in the stands. you can't go back and give him extra home runs, that was the rule at the time but I thought it was interesting.
    When the Nats were in town, Frank Robinson mentioned that there was a change in the home run line on the outfield wall at Crosley, lowering it from its previous mark. He said he hit 6-8 balls there a year that had all been doubles then which would have been homers later.


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