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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Posnanski: Feb. 6 Birthday: Babe Ruth

You could be loooooooved, but you’re way out of liiiiiiiine….

Today is a great celebrity birthday day—Babe Ruth, Ronald Reagan and Bob Marley were all born on February 6. Also Zsa Zsa Gabor and Axl Rose and Tom Brokaw. America and the world would be a poorer place without them…

Ruth is, quite easily, the best hitter AND the best pitcher born on February 6. The second-best hitter is Smoky Burgess or Richie Zisk, and while they were both good hitters they were obviously a million miles from Ruth. But the second best pitcher is probably Bob Wickman, who did save 267 games. But—and I find this amazing—he threw FEWER INNINGS than Ruth, who was only a pitcher early in his career but still went 94-46 with a 2.28 ERA and was pretty close to unhittable in his three World Series starts…

There are a few players before 1900 who were very good hitters and pitchers, probably highlighted by Monte Ward… Kid Gleason was not Hall of Fame caliber either way, but he was a pretty good pitcher (won 138 games), a pretty good hitter (1,946 career hits) and then he was the beleaguered manager of the 1919 White Sox… Smoky Joe Wood was absolutely a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher—there are those who still push for him as a Hall of Famer because one incredible season and a couple of very good ones—and after a serious injury he returned as a hitter, and was good… Wes Ferrell is probably the best hitting pitcher other than Ruth—but he never did get 200 plate appearances in a season. He hit 38 career home runs, nine of them in 128 plate appearances in 1931. He was also a very good pitcher in a high-scoring era—he is not in the Hall of Fame but he IS in the Baseball Think Factory Hall of Merit.

... Here, for fun, are the teammates who have combined for 100 homers in a season:

1. Mantle-Maris, 1961: 115

2. Barry Bonds-Rich Aurilia, 2001: 110

3. Ruth-Gehrig, 1927: 107

4. Mark McGwire-Ray Lankford, 1998, 101

5. Alex Rodriguez-Rafael Palmeiro, 2002, 100

Yes, who can forget that Bonds-Aurilia power combination?

The District Attorney Posted: February 06, 2013 at 12:28 PM | 10 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: babe ruth, history, joe posnanski

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   1. AROM Posted: February 06, 2013 at 02:54 PM (#4364062)
There are those who say that Ruth being a great pitcher and a great hitter proves that the quality of play was far inferior in his day. That specialization means that such can never happen again.

I don't argue that quality has improved (though quantifying it is an impossible task), but I think that such a player COULD happen. Take Bryce Harper, fresh off one of the greatest, maybe the greatest, teenage hitting seasons ever. Bryce also has an absolute cannon for an arm. Is it possible that if Bryce really, really wanted to pitch, and focused on doing so for the last 4 years, he could be a pitching prospect similar to Dylan Bundy? Or maybe in a few years a fine young pitcher with similar results to say, teammate Jordan Zimmerman?

I think it's possible, but totally unrealistic because if someone has the hitting tools Harper has, he's going to play every day. You just would not make him a pitcher, even if he has the skills to be a good one (give him once in a generation Strasburg skills, then maybe, but still probably not if he can hit like Harper.)

So the question to me is, with such awesome hitting skills, why was Ruth allowed to pitch a few years before his value as an everyday player became too obvious? I think the answer is in his unique timing, debuting at the tail end of the deadball era. Ruth may have had great batting skills, but he didn't look like what a top 1915 batter was supposed to look like. Even though he hit for high averages, he swung and missed too much, and the uppercutting, what is the point of that? Nobody knew what a power hitter was supposed to look like back then because Ruth hadn't invented the power game yet.
   2. OCF Posted: February 06, 2013 at 04:05 PM (#4364196)
Here, for fun, are the teammates who have combined for 100 homers in a season:

But for a minor labor annoyance, Matt Williams/Barry Bonds 1994? They were at 80 with about 45 games to go.
   3. kthejoker Posted: February 06, 2013 at 04:23 PM (#4364228)
Proof of the theory of evolution: pitchers don't hit because if pitchers could hit they wouldn't be pitchers.
   4. DL from MN Posted: February 06, 2013 at 04:26 PM (#4364236)
Also the birthday of the boy held hostage in Alabama and me. Henry Aaron is 2/5 which makes him ahead of Ruth alphabetically, by birthdate and on the home run list.
   5. DL from MN Posted: February 06, 2013 at 04:30 PM (#4364246)
Kid Gleason was not Hall of Fame caliber either way, but he was a pretty good pitcher (won 138 games), a pretty good hitter (1,946 career hits) and then he was the beleaguered manager of the 1919 White Sox. Then, he stole from that retirement home causing great pain to his lovely daughter who fell in love with the guy who owned that record store whose mother was a grifter, though I could be confusing movies.


Good stuff in the article
   6. Moeball Posted: February 06, 2013 at 05:11 PM (#4364323)
Kid Gleason was not Hall of Fame caliber either way, but he was a pretty good pitcher (won 138 games), a pretty good hitter (1,946 career hits) and then he was the beleaguered manager of the 1919 White Sox. Then, he stole from that retirement home causing great pain to his lovely daughter who fell in love with the guy who owned that record store whose mother was a grifter, though I could be confusing movies.


Doh! Until reading the above, my feeble mind had not made the connection that John Mahoney and John Cusack were in 2 films together...
   7. Lassus Posted: February 06, 2013 at 05:25 PM (#4364370)
Also the birthday of the boy held hostage in Alabama and me.

Me too.
   8. bjhanke Posted: February 07, 2013 at 12:47 AM (#4364706)
Ward and Gleason weren't really "hitters and pitchers." They were guys who started out as pitchers, came up with sore arms, and moved to the infield. When they were actually pitching, they didn't hit that well. Al Spalding, Bob Caruthers, Dave Foutz and a few others were 1800s guys who actually hit well while they were actually pitchers. Modern guys would include George Uhle, Wes Ferrell, Don Newcombe and Bob Lemon. Bob Gibson was a good hitter FOR a pitcher, but not really a good "hitter AND pitcher." He more or less represents the line where you're talking about a good hitter for a pitcher as opposed to a good hitter and pitcher. - Brock Hanke
   9. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: February 07, 2013 at 01:51 AM (#4364727)
The birthday thing is fun, however I reckon just for pure historical coolness, nothing beats 12th Feb 1809.

Only great player born on my birthday..Steve Carlton.
   10. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: February 07, 2013 at 09:03 AM (#4364762)
If anyone is interested, Headin' For Home starring Babe Ruth is now streaming on Netflix.

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