Steve Austin is not a Baseball Player
We are NOT bigger, stronger and faster.
I know that flies in the face of human progression, but many analysts forget the economies of developing countries when considering the growth of baseball. Yes, scouts do a better job in Latin America, both the Caribbean and South America, and Latin America (which in grade school I learned was Mexico and the myriad of countries between Mexico and South America. Of course, that was 1974, and that may be completely inappropriate these days.)
Every analyst is quick to point out that baseball is better these days because we draw from a larger talent pool, and that athletes are bigger, faster and stronger in other sports. Both of those things are true in general, however, they have a point of conflict.
Yes, we, in the US have benefited from a better diet and healthcare system since World War II. For that matter, a few million extra kids were born from 1946-1964 to only enhance the baseball talent pool from the USA. Also, once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, teams could more freely use Latin American players, and many did, picking up players like Luis Aparicio and Roberto Clemente. But even then these players were still like the gaijin in Japan: a few players per team. However, the age of the 1960s changed the culture of America, and the influx of minority players increased dramatically. That has continued to this day, as the ratio of white US players to minority player has decreased significantly.
It is easy, and sloppy, to say “athletes are bigger, stronger and faster” than they were 30 or 50 years ago. Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals in the 1972 Summer Olympics, had times that college women can beat today. [Ed. Note: not quite] Javelin and discus throws are longer. Sprinting races (100m, 200m) are done much faster than in the past. All of these events lead people to conclude that MLB players MUST be “bigger, stronger and faster”.
If baseball, MLB, were as lily-white as it was in 1946, then I might be inclined to agree. But it isn’t. The percentage of minority players has grown dramatically since 1947. As the search for more talented players has grown, and the net is cast wider, we gather in players of all sizes and skills. And what we learn is that as the minority population of MLB grows, the *size* of MLB players *decreases*. It’d be nice to emphasize that enough, but I do not believe I can.
As MLB uses a greater talent pool, the size of the players decreases. Were MLB to stick with US-born players for the last 50 years (going by birth date), the average player, born after 1964, would be 73.76 inches and weigh 197 pounds. But they do not, and I believe we are all in agreement that the talent of MLB is better off for expanding the talent pool and drawing on players from all cultures. Just using the Latin American countries (Caribbean, South America and Mainland Latin America), we see that the average of LA players (born after 1964) is 72.54 inches and 184 pounds. That size and weight coincides with players that *debuted* from 1950-1954 (and were born some 20 years before).
This isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a tremendous surprise. The socio-economic conditions of the countries often approaches the US in the 1930s. The size of the players is reflective of that.
Does that mean the quality of their play if equal to that of the 1950s? Absolutely not. They play on better fields and have better equipment, and since joining an MLB team are better fed with better healthcare. What it absolutely does mean is that today’s players are NOT “bigger, stronger, faster”. Yes, many of them are, but the influx of foreign players lessens that every day. The fact of the matter is that MLB is getting *smaller*. Players making their debut from 1990-1994 averaged 73.46 inches and 193 pounds. Players that made their debut from 1995-1999 averaged 73.44 inches and 192 pounds.
You may shrug and say that’s nothing (and maybe it is, because the database is older now), but the only two other times the sizes dropped were during WWI and WWII. That isn’t something we have these days, so for even the tiniest drop to occur is significant.
In a nutshell, MLB is getting smaller, not bigger. Maybe it is getting faster and stronger (highly unlikely), but it is NOT getting bigger. So the next time someone wants to assert that a player today is better than a player from yesteryear, do not accept that players are bigger, stronger and faster than then - because they aren’t. You can read more about the changes in the game and players in these older articles, here and here.
Posted: July 11, 2009 at 04:14 AM | 158 comment(s)
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