Who’s the greatest: Bonds, Aaron or Ruth?
It is November, and the 2007 baseball season, which was marked by the crowning of a new home run king, is finally over. Barry Bonds topped Hank Aaron, who had topped Babe Ruth’s 1935 record. But is the home run mark the measure for judging who is the greatest baseball player? Putting aside the steroid allegations against Bonds for the moment, let’s compare their records.An examination of these statistics shows that for the number of games played and times at bat, Babe Ruth was head and shoulders above the other two. For one thing, until 1920 there were only 140 games in the season, and 154 until 1962, when the number was increased to 162. If the home run totals for Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron are adjusted for the fewer number of games played in the shorter season, they would be 756 and 768, respectively. And taking nothing away from Hank Aaron, who had tremendous talent over a 23-year career, he had the advantage of playing in 32 percent more games and had 47 percent more times at bat than Babe Ruth, but exceeded Babe Ruth’s home run total by less than 6 percent. Compared to Barry Bonds, Aaron played in 10 percent more games and had 26 percent more times at bat. Comparing Barry Bonds with Babe Ruth, Bonds played in 19 percent more games and had 17 percent more times at bat, but hit only 7 percent more home runs.We should also consider Babe Ruth’s outstanding performance as a pitcher. In the six years he pitched for the Boston Red Sox before going to the New York Yankees (who quickly capitalized on his outstanding performance at the plate), he pitched in 158 games (105 of which were complete games), winning 89 (17 shutouts) while losing only 46. His earned run average was a spectacular 2.19. And he still had it late in his career in the early 1930s, pitching two complete games and winning both of them.Now back to Barry Bonds and the steroid issue. Steroids do not increase a player’s talent, only muscle mass. There is no question about Bonds’ skill as a hitter, but according to a recently reported Tufts University study, use of steroids could enhance the velocity of the ball leaving the batter’s bat by about 4 percent. This doesn’t seem like much, but could make the difference between a deep outfield double or fly ball and a home run, possibly increasing home run production by 50 percent or more. Applying this to Bonds’ home run total for the years 2000-2004, his “non-steroid” home run total might have been 172 instead of 258, which would have reduced his lifetime total to 676, putting him behind both Aaron and Ruth.But it’s not just the players who are guilty of performance enhancement; the whole baseball industry has bulked its profits since 1995, when it got the bright idea of dividing each league into three divisions and adding a “wildcard” team to create a four-team, two-tier playoff to determine each league’s pennant winner to go on to the World Series. This could add as many as 334 post-season games, potentially generating a much as $100 million in ticket sales in addition to the television revenues. Fourteen times in the last thirteen years, the team with the best season-long performance has not been in the World Series, and eight times it has been the wildcard team. It increases profits, but is it fair to give the pennant to a team that happens to get hot at the end of the season?In conclusion, I don’t think there is any question that Babe Ruth is the greatest all-around player in the history of the game.
Hal Sundin’s column appears every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
Playing career1914-351954-761986-2007Full years played20*2321*Games played2,5033,2982,965Times at bat8,39912,3649,789Hits2,8733,7712,935Runs batted in2,2132,2971,930
Lifetime batting average.342.305.298Lifetime slugging average.690.555.607Yrs. batted over .300171411Yrs. home run leader1041Yrs. 50+ home runs401*Babe Ruth played very few games in 1914 and 1935. Barry Bonds missed most of the 2005 season due to injury.
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