The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is a magical time of year, bringing the focus and attention of people of all levels of love for the game, from all walks of life, from all over the country and putting it on one game, in one place, at one time.
Their rooting interest in the game generally follows the individual’s opinions and beliefs— in this case, it’s not religion but to DH or not, to interleague or not, to speed the game up or not — and to me that’s amazing. The more the merrier, I say. I am open for discussion about pro baseball any time of the day or night, and I’d love to hear your opinions.
And it’s OK if you don’t believe as I do, including the fact that Babe Ruth was not the greatest player in baseball history.
You’ll just be dead wrong.
Last week, I saw a Facebook post that listed some website’s opinion about the top 25 hitters in MLB history, the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time), and I agreed with it for the most part. Ruth had 714 career home runs (3rd) but also a .342 batting average (10th) and was first in, among other things, slugging (.690), OPS (1.164) and career WAR (182.5) and second in RBIs (2,214), OBP (.474) and runs created (2,718). The list had him as the second-best hitter behind Ted Williams of the Red Sox, and I can’t put up much of an argument with that. If Williams hadn’t missed five years of his prime in the service, their career numbers would have been pretty darn close.
But notice I said “player,” not just “hitter.” It occurred to me that Ruth was an outstanding pitcher at the start of his career — he came up with the Red Sox at 19 and went 2-1 in his first season, 1914 — and I wondered what his pitching marks would have been, had he not given up a spot in the rotation for an everyday spot in the order.
Just for kicks, I went to several websites to look up the Babe’s pitching numbers and here’s what I found:
• In his first full season, the 20-year-old Ruth went 18-8 with a 2.44 ERA over 28 starts, 16 of them complete games.
• His second season was even better, with a 23-12 record in 40 starts, with a 1.75 ERA, 23 complete games and nine shutouts.
• In his third season, 1917, Ruth went 24-13 with a 2.01 ERA, a whopping 35 complete games, the American League’s best.
• It was in 1918 that the transformation began. He “fell off” to just a 13-7 mark with a 2.22 ERA in 20 starts on the bump because at the plate, he collected a league-leading 11 homers and batted .300 in 317 at-bats.
Wanting to keep that bat in the lineup every day, the Babe became an outfielder, and in 1919 he smacked a season-record 29 home runs with 113 RBIs and a .322 average. He made only 15 pitching starts that year and, when he was traded to the Yankees over the winter, he never appeared in more than two games on the mound in a season the rest of his career.
He ended up with a career pitching record of 94-46, an amazing .671 win percentage with a 2.28 ERA.
Okay, follow me here.
Figuring Ruth was a full-time pitcher for four seasons and averaged 19.5 wins a season over 31 starts per. If he had remained a pitcher for another 12 years to the age of 35 — an age that would be considered early retirement for standout pitchers in the day — and remained near that quality, that’s a total of 372 starts.
At a slightly lower winning percentage of .600, those starts would have yielded 223.2 more wins, giving him a somewhat conservatively-figured 317 career victories. Yep, 317 wins. That’s right there with Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry, several more than Tom Seaver, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson.
And before anyone starts the argument that in Ruth’s era there were no black players allowed in MLB and therefore he didn’t see some of the greats in the Negro Leagues, let me cut you off. Sure, the segregation of baseball was just wrong, a huge injustice, and their absence took away from the game as a whole.
But remember that in that age, there were only eight teams in each league for a total of 16, a far cry from the current 30. That means that pitching now is watered down. Hitters are batting half the time against pitchers who wouldn’t even be close to making MLB rosters if there were half as many teams. Well, you know what I mean.
My point is that Ruth was not only one of the top two hitters in the history of the game, he could also have been a 300-game winner on the hill, making him one of the top 24 pitchers of all time as well.
I’m not taking anything away from all of the great hitters and pitchers of MLB history. I love them all, or almost all.
But people should just remember when they’re talking about the G.O.A.T., there’s only one player who was the best of both.