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Could Babe Ruth make the adjustment to today’s game?

Jul 5, 2013, 10:03 AM EDT

Ruth Called Shot Baseball

Fun article from Bob Klapisch talking about what it might be like for Babe Ruth to adjust to the modern game. Clearly there were huge differences: Ruth played only against white players, only played day games and didn’t have to deal with bullpen specialists. By the same token, what would he have been able to do if he had video and better advance scouting and modern training techniques? Throw into the mix a neat factoid Klapisch passes along about how Ruth was found to have had substantially above-average hand-eye coordination, intelligence and steadier nerves.

It’s all fascinating to ponder. And on balance — once you give Ruth both the advantages and disadvantages he’d face by moving to 2013 — I feel like he’d still be a good player — maybe an All-Star or MVP-caliber player — even if he wasn’t a dominant slugger. One guy, however, is a bit more dubious:

“Honestly, I think it would’ve been tough for Ruth to succeed against that,” said Kevin Long, the Yankees’ hitting instructor. “I see too much movement in his stride, he’s hitting off his front foot. That’s OK only if you’re sitting on an 80-mph fastball or waiting on a curveball that only breaks on two [up and down] planes.”

I guess Ruth would have modern hitting instruction to help him out there too. But it is a great time killer to try and figure out if the Bambino would, in this day and age, be Miguel Cabrera, Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds or someone altogether different.

  1. pauleee - Jul 5, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    I watched this film once, probably in the ’70s, which was a fight between Muhammed Ali and Rocky Marciano. They had crunched a bunch of numbers and took into account each fighter’s tendencies and somehow spliced footage of each together so it looked like a real fight. If I remember correctly, Marciano was a bloody mess by the middle of the fight, but knocked out Ali in a late round.

    Considering today’s statistics compilation and computer power, couldn’t we get a realistic simulation of Ruth in today’s game, taking into account every little variable amaginable that would answer this question?

    • jctuttle5 - Jul 5, 2013 at 12:58 PM

      I saw that computer fight. I loved Ali, my favorite fighter of all time, but it did look convincing. And that wasn’t even taking into account the beatings Ali took later on from fighters similar in style to Marciano who didn’t have Rocky’s rock hard chin. I don’t think they could simulate Ruth seeing a less steep pitching angle or not having to swing at pitches letter high. People don’t realize that Ruth was a left-handed batter and most likely a low ball hitter. Pitchers are taught that the best pitch to throw a left-handed batter with two strikes is a high inside fast ball. If he had faced a strike zone primarily from the waist down as today’s is ( not to mention all the other advantages today’s batters have in the post- 1968 Bob Gibson era), who knows what he would have done.

    • skids003 - Jul 5, 2013 at 1:02 PM

      Try Strat-O-Matic. They have a new disc where you can compare oldtimers versus new guys and it attempts to even up the eras. It’s a good try. He’s a great one.

      • pauleee - Jul 5, 2013 at 1:23 PM

        Strat-O-Matic! Wow, used to play the hockey version back in the 80s. Might give that a try.

  2. jctuttle5 - Jul 5, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    One last thing. When the strike zone is smaller as it is today compared to say before the mid 1960′s, the batter has a much smaller window to concentrate on after the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. The mound is shorter. The angle is flatter. The batters see more batter’s counts and more pitches in their wheel house. Nice big, white, lively baseballs on a plate. Yum.

  3. iranuke - Jul 5, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    The thing that most people who think about Ruth forget is that hw was a very successful left-handed pitcher before he was moved to the outfield. My contention is that if he were playing today, he would still be a pitcher, I mean would you move Randy Johnson or Tom Glavine to the outfield?

    • km9000 - Jul 5, 2013 at 1:15 PM

      I think the idea is what he’d do today as a hitter, since that’s what he’s in the record books for.

  4. thesixersbench - Jul 5, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    In my opinion, Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player of all time. If he were to play today, he’d be the greatest player in the game.

    Pitching accomplishments aside – which are notable and factor into my opinion – we’re talking about a man who hit 60 homeruns in an era where the ballpark fences were as deep as 440 ft and the next best sluggers were hitting between 20 and 30 homers a year. This was all done on a diet of cigars, hot dogs and beer with little-to-none ‘professional’ training that would be akin to what athletes receive today. Imagine if he played his home games at Citizen’s Bank Park? He could have 40 by the All Star Break with those dimensions.

    Yes, the competition is no doubt stiffer today – but he faced plenty of HoF-level talent in his career. As a commenter noted earlier, Walter “The Big Train” Johnson – by all objective measures – is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. The Babe faced him multiple times through his career and took him deep almost a dozen times.

    Yes….if Babe Ruth were “brought to the present day” through a time machine, I definitely think there would be an adjustment period as he learned the ropes of the modern game – but the skill set he had doesn’t just disappear. Baseball is a game about tools, about skills – and Babe had arguably the best set of skills of any slugger ever.

    There are a few people in sport who you could say “were born” to do what they did – Ali, Jordan, Gretzky. I think Babe Ruth is definitely in that class, if not leading it.

    This is one of my all-time favorite sports questions. I would LOVE to see how the Babe stacked up against today’s greats. My feeling is that his career would be almost identical to Miguel Cabrera’s.

  5. yankeesgameday - Jul 5, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    Ruth would stand no chance in modern baseball because of all his off field activities. He was a drunk who would be hounded by the New York press daily for his hatred of Lou Gherig (they didn’t speak to each other for 7 years). He cheated on his wife then hooked up with a famous actress and he would probably find himself suspended more often than not for horrible Twitter rants.

    Babe Ruth was Arod to Jeter’s Gherig and if he played today 99% of non Yankee fans would despise him and Wallace Matthews would make his career out of telling us what a prima Dona he is and how Ruth doesn’t play the game the right way.

    • wonkypenguin - Jul 5, 2013 at 3:03 PM

      I love this comment.

    • thesixersbench - Jul 5, 2013 at 3:12 PM

      Interesting and highly amusing. Now I’m imagining his Twitter account…@The_Bambino

  6. tanzkommandant - Jul 5, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    Who were these legions of negroe pitchers that would have been shutting him down in that day?

  7. louhudson23 - Jul 5, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    We always see the same old crap about various players from earlier eras.Be it Ruth,Bobby Jones in golf, or Richard Petty in racing. We are given the reasons that they were successful compared to modern situations(all white leagues,less games,Amateur status,small tracks etc. etc)…What has never been explained to me is that if these things made it easier for them,then why didn’t someone else hit the HR’s Ruth did ,or win the Tournaments and dominate the way Jones did,or win 200 races like Petty did….whatever the conditions,rules,competition,every competitor faced the same….and the best showed out. As for today’s game,the real question is could today’s players have succeeded back then…..All day games,rail travel,pitchers pitching many many more innings,huge ballparks,no guaranteed contracts and production required to keep your job,managers who actually acted like bosses and not nannys and they would have to de-muscle to stay in the line up long enough to remain employed…..See how this works??…..great is great.Ruth was great.If not the greatest…. he would feast today,just as he did then….

  8. hushbrother - Jul 6, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    The Babe’s best modern comp would be Rick Ankiel.

  9. brucewayne3561 - Jul 6, 2013 at 9:37 PM

    Ruth was the Greatest ball player that ever played the Game! No matter what league or what era! He was simply ahead of his time! Hands down! The BEST of all time!!!

  10. dezertfox4323 - Jul 6, 2013 at 9:46 PM

    The Babe would adjust for sure, he would roid and be in a little better shape.

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