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Who was better? Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds?

Jun 24, 2013, 11:03 AM EDT

Ruth Called Shot Baseball

This is a fun exercise from David Laurila of FanGraphs. He asked ten major leaguers — some players and some coaches — who they thought was “better,” Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds. David didn’t define the terms. He left it up to the respondents to decide what “better” meant and to explain their choices.

I won’t give away how many thought Ruth was better than Bonds — you have to read that for yourself — but I will say I was pretty impressed with the answers. Especially given who a couple of the respondents were (note: Luke Scott was one of them, and in the past his reasoning on various topic has been … curious). I was impressed because the players seem to have a way better appreciation of the differences between eras than most fans and even many baseball writers do. I was a bit disappointed that a couple of them didn’t appreciate that Ruth was also an elite pitcher when talking about the “all-around game” of the two, but on the whole I think the answers are pretty darn good. Even Scott’s. Indeed, his may be one of the best-reasoned in the lot.

As for me: I agree with the guy who said that Bonds would do better in Ruth’s era than Ruth would in Bonds’. I think it’s hard to argue against that. If you differ, please give me your reasons for it. I’m genuinely curious.

254 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. drewsylvania - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    I suspect that the act of hitting a baseball in MLB is much harder now than it was when Ruth played.

    • waiverclaim - Jun 24, 2013 at 1:14 PM

      Youre right but dont tell that to these racists.

    • djpostl - Jun 24, 2013 at 2:28 PM

      I suspect that Bonds couldn’t win 3 WS games as a pitcher with a sub-1.00 ERA also.

      • badintent - Jun 24, 2013 at 4:52 PM

        I suspect we have the usual suspects here posting

      • drewsylvania - Jun 24, 2013 at 6:50 PM

        How much better at pitching did Ruth have to be in order to be “better” overall than Bonds?

    • rg396ray - Jun 24, 2013 at 2:34 PM

      First of all, Ruth was better than Bonds hands down. The deciding factor is that Ruth was simultaneously the best left-handed pitcher and best hitter until he became a full time outfielder. Bonds could not pitch. End of that story. Yes, we cannot hide the fact that today’s players are better and stronger but Ruth has the longest home run of all time on record. Most long home runs do have a lot of hyperbole attached to them but the Babe’s home run in 1921 at old Navin Field (Tiger Stadium) has been analyzed and documented at 575 plus feet.It is an anomaly that no one to this day has even approached that distance. It also amazes me that people forget or have no clue as to how powerful Ruth’s bat was. Read Bill Jenkinson’s book on all-time power hitters. If you transplanted Ruth into today’s game he wouldn’t do very well. And if you sent Bonds back to the Roaring 20′s he might be a tad better but it’s an interesting thought because the game would be just as foreign to Bonds for these reasons. First of all, he would be subjected to using the old equipment of bats, gloves, and balls. And consider that over 100 balls a game are used today but when the live ball era started in 1920 the balls were still not as “fresh”. If the ball looked clean it was kept in play so not as bouncy. The strike zone was much larger. Some spitballers were allowed and of course the pitchers got away with cheating a little bit easier. A fastball under Bonds’ chin would be a strike. And there were no batting helmets! And the ballparks were a lot bigger. Yankee Stadium in RF was 430 feet, CF 495′. RF c. 450. Bonds wouldn’t stand a chance. Players like Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, Walter Johnson could do well in today’s game IF they were given time to train and acclimate themselves to the new game.

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Jun 24, 2013 at 4:54 PM

        Not just the helmet. Take away Barry’s elbow armor and see how he does against the headhunters of the 1920s.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jun 24, 2013 at 5:51 PM

        HBP

        Bonds – 106 (2986 games, or 5.75/season)
        Ruth – 43 (2503 games, or 2.78/season)

      • jlovenotjlo - Jun 24, 2013 at 5:56 PM

        I have long said that Jim Thome and his career would have been about what Ruth would have accomplished had he played today. But he didn’t, and what he did back then makes him the greatest ever

  2. cavemanna - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    Barry bonds was a great power hitter for about 10 years. We all know why. Go back and look at the speedy outfielder that weighed 175 lbs and hit 19 hrs. You can’t really compare because of the evolution of the athlete. If the man GH Ruth would of been born in the 80′s he would have been the best of this era. I can’t say the same for Bonds going backwards . From an accomplishment standpoint it’s Ruth by a mile. .342 career avg 714 hr 60 dingers in the dead ball era…. For an elite pitcher!?! Lol. Ya Ruth by a mile.

    • cohnjusack - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:35 PM

      From an accomplishment standpoint it’s Ruth by a mile. .342 career avg 714 hr 60 dingers in the dead ball era

      The deadball era ended in 1920.

      Runs per game: 1920-1934: 9.72
      Runs per game: 1990-2004: 9.42

      There were far few *home runs* hit in Ruth’s era, but overall, offense across the board was a bit better. Ruth played the best environment in baseball history for hitters. They just weren’t hitting a ton of home runs.

  3. drewsylvania - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:20 PM

    Uh, McGwire wasn’t nearly the player Bonds was. And McGwire *is* getting a pass from MLB. He wasn’t blackballed and is now a hitting coach.

    Everyone hates Bonds because a) he refused to pull a mea culpa and appease his critics, b) he was an a-hole, and c) he juiced, and d) he didn’t fit MLB’s standard for how black athletes should act.

    Think of it this way. If it were Jeff Kent who owned the HR record, and did everything that Bonds did, would we think as poorly of him?

    • valarmorghuliss - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      Almost, only difference being Kent was never voted off a baseball team by his teammates. So he’s slightly less of a jerk.

      I have a friend who loved Big Mac, had his autograph framed in a picture.
      He threw it in the garbage years ago

      Your entire “argument” is that Bonds tried to re-enter baseball and was denied. Something completely not based on fact.

    • Old Gator - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:55 PM

      I don’t think that being black had anything to do with the terrible image Bonds has engineered for himself. His conduct certainly has everything to do with it. But his being Black? Naaahhh. I don’t buy that at all. A-Rod is widely detested. No one could stand Denny McLain even before his career was over. Folks thought Jeff Kent was a schmuck. Bonds’ every bad p/r move was magnified because of the magnitude of his talent and “achievements” and the obviousness of his chemical augmentation. If he had been white, and all other things were the same, folks would still think he was an über-jerk.

      • waiverclaim - Jun 24, 2013 at 1:15 PM

        ^ says a white guy

      • lazlosother - Jun 24, 2013 at 1:42 PM

        You must be right waiver, it’s the only way to explain Clemen’s extreme popularity.

      • raysfan1 - Jun 24, 2013 at 1:48 PM

        ^before laying it at the doorstep of racism, counter the truth of how detested Denny McLain, Lenny Dykstra, and Mark McGwire are.

      • Old Gator - Jun 24, 2013 at 2:26 PM

        Ackcherley, I happen to have a beautiful tan.

        Also, the rest of you do realize that you’re trying to point out the obvious to an idiot, right?

    • cohnjusack - Jun 24, 2013 at 10:09 PM

      Well…everyone hates Roger Clemens, right?

  4. valarmorghuliss - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:20 PM

    I don’t know why I even bother commenting on this entry. It’s sole purpose of the writer is to troll his readers and get views.

    You would get a real debate with some merit if the question was Ruth vs Mays, but that’s not the writers objective.

    • valarmorghuliss - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:27 PM

      That being said, I think the Ruth vs Mays debate is a lot like the Miggy vs Trout debate.

      • Old Gator - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:56 PM

        I dunno. I think it’s more like the velociraptor versus Komodo dragon debate.

  5. steviep23 - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    The Babe was killing it drinkin’ beers and eating junk food in bigger ballparks. Bonds was on HGH and Steroids playing in smaller ballparks.

    • waiverclaim - Jun 24, 2013 at 1:16 PM

      That right field porch in the house that ruth built was actually 500 feet from home plate? News to me.

      • djpostl - Jun 24, 2013 at 2:33 PM

        You say that as if that short porch went away when Ruth did lol. Now run along Malcom X, impress us some more with your profound observations.

      • jk55299 - Jun 24, 2013 at 4:57 PM

        Bonds was in a pitcher friendly park that was not 295 to right. Without Lou Gehrig protecting him

    • tuberippin - Jun 24, 2013 at 5:53 PM

      The Yankees moved in the fences at the original Yankee Stadium in Ruth’s day so it would allow the Babe to hit more home runs.

  6. stinkfist5 - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    Bonds was the better player…he may have cheated to become the better player, but he was the better player.

    • Old Gator - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:57 PM

      May have cheated?

      Gowachin guilty!

  7. valarmorghuliss - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    Arguing with a apologist be it, steroids, Lance Armstrong or Joe Pa, it is like playing chess with a Pigeon.
    No matter how good I am at chess, the Pigeon is just going to knock over all the pieces, crap on the board, and strut around like it’s victorious.

    • cohnjusack - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:52 PM

      So many questions here….

      1. Do you often play chess with pigeons? If so, why?
      2. Are you aware that pigeons are not known for their ability to play chess and likely have no idea what is happening?
      3. Are you aware that the pigeons strut is just it’s natural gate, and that they have no concept for “victory”?
      4. When making up your own metaphors, why don’t you think them over before posting them? Are you aware that the result of this metaphor lead to nothing but many people looking at the screen thinking “this is the worst metaphor I’ve ever heard in my life”?

      • Old Gator - Jun 24, 2013 at 1:02 PM

        I disagree. People who come to that conclusion have never read John Irving.

    • waiverclaim - Jun 24, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      making your body more muscular so you can be better at sports = child abuse and rape???

      please die in a fire

      • Old Gator - Jun 24, 2013 at 2:24 PM

        Naturally, as dimwitted and fundamentally committed to intellectual dishonesty as you are, you had first totally to misread and then mangle completely in order to egregiously misrepresent what valar wrote in order to construct your stick figure straw man. Fortunately, dummies like you are transparent enough that only other dummies like you would take your ravings seriously.

  8. cohnjusack - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:48 PM

    This rolls nicely into our next debate:

    Who was better? Al Newman or Jeff Huson?

  9. spursareold - Jun 24, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Ruth was a quality left handed pitcher before his bat was deemed too important to keep out of the lineup. He won 20 games twice. End of discussion.

    • waiverclaim - Jun 24, 2013 at 1:22 PM

      That’s actually the best argument here, the ambiguity of the “better” part really

  10. waiverclaim - Jun 24, 2013 at 1:26 PM

    The funny thing about this is that no one even read the article linked in the original post, where the split from the 10 MLB players and coaches went 65-35 Bonds-Ruth.

    So all the nerds in here can just shut up now. Ruth was great but Bonds was better, unless you want to count Ruth as a pitcher, in which case he becomes a more complete player. But Bonds was unbelievable at hitting, running and defense up until he was 35 or so, he was like Ted Williams with more power. He was a marvel to watch, I always dropped everything to watch him, he did was Puig is doing over 10 years, not 2 weeks. Think about how insane that is!

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jun 24, 2013 at 2:05 PM

      he was like Ted Williams with more power

      Ted Williams had a higher SLG, higher OPS and higher adjusted OPS than Bonds. So the correct phrase would be “Williams is like Bonds with more power”.

  11. j0esixpack - Jun 24, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    The difference is that the Babe did what he did using performance REDUCING drugs

    • tuberippin - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:58 AM

      Except many of the game’s greatest hitters were raging alcoholics. Mickey Mantle, Wade Boggs, Whitey Ford, Miguel Cabrera, to name a few.

  12. buffalomafia - Jun 24, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    Babe Ruth could hit & play defense! Barry Bonds was lazy on lots of outfield plays!

    Babe Ruth hands down!

    • jk55299 - Jun 24, 2013 at 3:17 PM

      Ruth was known as a lousy fielder. Bonds won multiple gold gloves.

  13. jk55299 - Jun 24, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    I get the Barry Bonds was a dick etc steroids- whatever arguments. But Ruth played in a time when guys had offseason jobs in coal mines. The starting pitchers would throw 5 million pitches a game while smoking two packs a day. No weight training, no attempt to keep in shape in the off season. The gloves they wore- My grandfather recently died and I got his glove from when he was young, it was a combination of an oven mitt and a cutting board, tiny difficult to use. Bad gloves equal more hits… The most glaringly obvious issue is the lack of integration, a much smaller pool of athletes. Bonds was a much better player. So was Mays and Ted Williams…Ruth is overrated.

    • tuberippin - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:21 AM

      Weight training has been around since the Hellenic Era of ancient Greece. It wasn’t as prevalent as it is today, but there were certainly numerous ballplayers who utilized weights in some capacity during Ruth’s era.

      Beyond that, people overlook the fact (and a point you make yourself) that most of the Dead Ball Era to mid-1930s/early 1940s era ballplayers had other jobs, usually involving a lot of manual labor. Cy Young used to chop lumber and tend his farm. Manual labor is as good a substitute for pure strength training (weightlifting) as there is.

      • jk55299 - Jun 25, 2013 at 9:02 AM

        Chopping wood is not a substitute for the weight training there is today. Manual Labor is not a substitute. GianCarlo Stanton is 6’5 250 pounds with 4% body fat. It would be hard to find a player that size in that era, let alone that muscular. Most players did not lift weights, they were scared of being musclebound.

      • tuberippin - Jun 26, 2013 at 1:49 PM

        Giancarlo Stanton is 240lbs and 6’6″, and certainly not 4% body fat. Google a picture of Stanton and you can easily tell he is well over 4% body fat. That level of BF (3-5%) is not only unsustainable over long periods of time, but unhealthy for the body beyond brief time periods (say, a few weeks). It is highly likely there is not a player in baseball functioning at sub-5% body fat over the course of a 162+ game season. It would not only be pointless, but also counterproductive.

        (But what would I know about lifting weights? I’m just a personal trainer and competitive weightlifter…)

        Beyond that, you’re cherry-picking an anomaly. There have been 172 players in the history of professional baseball (1876 onward) that were 6’6″ or taller, and about 610 players to play at 6’5″ or 6’6″.

        In that same time period, there have been roughly 12,000 players between 5’10″ and 6’3″. So it’s not as though every guy in the game now is Stanton’s size. There were comparative anomalies in size then for certain players, just as there are now.

  14. jdvalk - Jun 24, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    In Ruth’s era (I assume we’re talking post-dead ball era, which Ruth played and pitched in several seasons of), magic cream was not yet available.

    • jk55299 - Jun 24, 2013 at 3:16 PM

      The competition was probably close to what AA is now. No minority players, no split fingered fast ball, no cutter, limited lousy relief pitching and almost all day games.

      • jlovenotjlo - Jun 24, 2013 at 5:54 PM

        I actually lol-Ed at that one, and you’re definitely right. Don’t forget about a lack of velocity and nickel beer night.

  15. jdvalk - Jun 24, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    And as PEDs were hardly unknown in pro sports well before 1998, there’s no proof that Bonds was “undeniably clean” prior to there.

    • jk55299 - Jun 24, 2013 at 3:11 PM

      The common timeline suggests that he was. I think most people believe that he was.

  16. boltfansmith - Jun 24, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Ruth is a great classic ball player. He’s not going to take yard against the caliber of new age pitchers. Bonds was the shiznit before the PED’s and I guarantee he would rope Ruth’s best pitch time and time again. Plus Ruth played in the league during a time where minorities were not allowed to play.

  17. vikesfansteve - Jun 24, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    Ruth out homered teams.

  18. cavemanna - Jun 24, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    In 1917 Ruth pitched 326 innings and had a 2.01 era. Think of that who pitched the first 4or 5 years of his career before going on to hit 714 hrs. Bonds hit 370 once. Ruth hit over 370 6 times. Did you know Ruth was a catcher in his youth before he was a pitcher… Before he was a power hitting outfielder. Guys it’s not even close.

    • jk55299 - Jun 24, 2013 at 3:13 PM

      He was playing against a bunch of smallish white guys that thought working out would hurt their ability to play. They had off season jobs that caused them to not play baseball.My guess is that most of those guys topped out at under 90 mph on their fastball.

  19. ebrownwareagle - Jun 24, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    Stats Pre Steroid Era. Dude was a stud!

    Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
    1986 21 PIT NL 113 484 413 72 92 26 3 16 48 36 7 65 102 .223 .330 .416 .746 103 172 4 2 2 2 2 *8 RoY-6
    1987 22 PIT NL 150 611 551 99 144 34 9 25 59 32 10 54 88 .261 .329 .492 .821 114 271 4 3 0 3 3 *78/9
    1988 23 PIT NL 144 614 538 97 152 30 5 24 58 17 11 72 82 .283 .368 .491 .859 148 264 3 2 0 2 14 *7/8
    1989 24 PIT NL 159 679 580 96 144 34 6 19 58 32 10 93 93 .248 .351 .426 .777 126 247 9 1 1 4 22 *7
    1990 25 PIT NL 151 621 519 104 156 32 3 33 114 52 13 93 83 .301 .406 .565 .970 170 293 8 3 0 6 15 *7/8 AS,MVP-1,GG,SS
    1991 26 PIT NL 153 634 510 95 149 28 5 25 116 43 13 107 73 .292 .410 .514 .924 160 262 8 4 0 13 25 *7/8 MVP-2,GG,SS
    1992 27 PIT NL 140 612 473 109 147 36 5 34 103 39 8 127 69 .311 .456 .624 1.080 204 295 9 5 0 7 32 *7 AS,MVP-1,GG,SS
    1993 28 SFG NL 159 674 539 129 181 38 4 46 123 29 12 126 79 .336 .458 .677 1.136 206 365 11 2 0 7 43 *7 AS,MVP-1,GG,SS
    1994 29 SFG NL 112 474 391 89 122 18 1 37 81 29 9 74 43 .312 .426 .647 1.073 183 253 3 6 0 3 18 *7 AS,MVP-4,GG,SS
    1995 30 SFG NL 144 635 506 109 149 30 7 33 104 31 10 120 83 .294 .431 .577 1.009 170 292 12 5 0 4 22 *7 AS,MVP-12
    1996 31 SFG NL 158 675 517 122 159 27 3 42 129 40 7 151 76 .308 .461 .615 1.076 188 318 11 1 0 6 30 *7/8 AS,MVP-5,GG,SS
    Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
    1997 32 SFG NL 159 690 532 123 155 26 5 40 101 37 8 145 87 .291 .446 .585 1.031 170 311 13 8 0 5 34 *7 AS,MVP-5,GG,SS
    1998 33 SFG NL 156 697 552 120 167 44 7 37 122 28 12 130 92 .303 .438 .609 1.047 178 336 15 8 1 6 29 *7 AS,MVP-8,GG
    1999 34 SFG NL 102 434 355 91 93 20 2 34 83 15 2 73 62 .262 .389 .617 1.006 156 219 6 3 0 3 9 7/D MVP-24
    2000 35 SFG NL 143 607 480 129 147 28 4 49 106 11 3 117 77 .306 .440 .688 1.127 188 330 6 3 0 7 22 *7 AS,MVP-2,SS

    • yahmule - Jun 24, 2013 at 3:42 PM

      Nicely formatted.

      • stlouis1baseball - Jun 24, 2013 at 4:50 PM

        Hahaha! No shit. THAT…is why I never even attempt it.

    • cohnjusack - Jun 24, 2013 at 4:28 PM

      Hey ebrownreagle

      http://www.w3schools.com/tags/

      Merry Christmas.

      • stlouis1baseball - Jun 24, 2013 at 4:54 PM

        Cusack:
        I am not entirely sure what the hell you just posted as I opened it and my head starting hurting as a result of all the letters and numbers and…and…things.
        But I do know you were somehow trying to help Wareagle.
        Good job on the effort.

    • jk55299 - Jun 24, 2013 at 4:44 PM

      Yeah against no weight training and no minorities.

  20. yahmule - Jun 24, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    Babe Ruth’s career slugging percentage was .690. Barry Bonds never had a single season slugging percentage that high until 2001, when he was 36 years old, with a head the size of Fisherman’s Wharf.

    • tuberippin - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:36 AM

      Okay? Babe Ruth never went 30/30 or 40/40. Barry Bonds stole 40+ bags in a season three times, and 30+ bases 9 times. Babe Ruth stole 123 bases in his career and was caught 117 times; Barry Bonds stole 514 and was caught 141 times (Bonds played about 400 more career games and ~2,000 more innings).

  21. largebill - Jun 24, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    Both great athletes and fantastic baseball players. I go with Ruth because of overall play and how far above his contemporaries he was. If Bonds was born in 1895 who knows how he would have done with worse food, medical care, etc. If Ruth was born in the 1960′s he would have faced more relief pitchers and so on. One thing that would be constant for Bonds, Ruth, Williams and other great hitters regardless of era is great eyesight and great eye hand coordination. The greats transcend their era and would succeed during any period.

  22. dboydc - Jun 24, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    Gotta go with Ruth he changed the game. Bonds was a cheater, Ruth did it on steaks and alcohol. Bonds is a great one yes but he tainted the game. Ruth is a legend Bonds is a chump.

  23. foreverchipper10 - Jun 24, 2013 at 4:34 PM

    Pretty sure only one of them has a candy bar named after him. Case closed. I mean, what other criteria could you ask for?

    • danandcasey - Jun 24, 2013 at 5:46 PM

      Wait – there is a “Barry Bar”? I shudder to think what is in it. I am sure it is not as good as say, a Baby Ruth (which, by the way, is named for President Grover Cleveland’s daughter Ruth).

  24. jk55299 - Jun 24, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    Ruth hit in front of Gehrig. Bonds hit in front of Jeff Kent……

    • js20011041 - Jun 24, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      Yes, please use more arguments that have been refuted time and again. The only thing lineup protection affects is the number of walks a player has. Ruth wasn’t getting BP fastballs down the middle of the plate because he was hitting in front of Gehrig. Come on.

      • largebill - Jun 24, 2013 at 11:08 PM

        You’re right. In fact, plate protection is actually more in Gehrig’s favor working backwards especially in regards to RBI accumulation. Ruth was almost always on base meaning Gehrig had lots of RBI opportunities and being a great player he cashed ‘em in a lot.

    • drewsylvania - Jun 24, 2013 at 6:54 PM

      The greatest hitting 2B of all time? I’ll take that!

      • tuberippin - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:41 AM

        As a hitter, Jeff Kent wasn’t anywhere near the level of Rogers Hornsby. Or for that matter Eddie Collins, or Nap Lajoie, or Joe Morgan.

  25. jayscarpa - Jun 24, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    Who would get paid more? Ruth could lead the league in hitting AND win the Cy Young. Imagine what that would be worth on the open market.

    • drewsylvania - Jun 24, 2013 at 6:53 PM

      It’s an open question. And there are way too many Ruth homers and Bonds haters who have no idea how to be objective about it.

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