If you were asked to sum up the last 20 baseball seasons in one word, what would that word be? Of course, the words dramatic, exciting and dominating probably come to mind, but there are a few other words that would provide much more detail about this era. How about cheating, scandalous and the word that describes this era. Steroids.
Over the last 20 years, we have succumbed to the villainous acts of Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and numerous others, emphasis on the numerous. Though Mark McGwire's 70 home run season and Barry Bonds's 73 home run season sparked an incredible interest in baseball, the legacy of these steroid users crumbled down faster than the Old Man of the Mountains.
It is times like these that we should look back and honor our history. Now is the time where Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and all the great players of the past should receive the credit they deserve.
And then there's that guy who is arguably the greatest player of all time, Babe Ruth.
How is it that 80 years ago, a guy could hit 700 home runs without any artificial substances, and now, less than a century later, a guy can't hit 700 home runs by himself?
Unless Ruth was in fact the time traveler in that corny new movie, he had no chance at getting any kind of drugs to enhance his game, which means he did everything naturally, or the right way.
Considering the acts of the guys from the last 20 years, Ruth's legacy looks even better now, seeing that he played the game right, that is without any performance enhancing drugs.
But Babe Ruth had his own advantage. The absence of African-American competition.
Think about it. While McGwire, Sosa and Bonds were juicing, Babe Ruth was swinging away, playing amazing baseball, without an entire race to compete with.
The stories of the talents of Negro League players go on. Somewhere between the tales of Josh Gibson hitting a home run out of Yankee Stadium or Cool Papa Bell running into his own groundball while rounding first base is the truth. But, regardless of what is true and what is false, these guys obviously had unbelievable talent.
Yes, Ruth's unprecedented success is undeniable. And the interesting thing we don't realize about Ruth is that it's not necessarily his accomplishments alone that makes them special. It's the fact that he was the first one to hit home runs like he did. True, before 1998, nobody hit 70 home runs, and people were amazed to see it happen.
But can you imagine the surprise of people in 1919, when Ruth hit a record 29 home runs and a league leading 114 RBI? By the way, he also made 15 starts as a pitcher that season, going 9-5 with a 2.97 ERA.
Something we don't understand was how the home run was perceived in the Dead Ball Era. Home runs were rare, and when they occurred, they were almost always inside the park.
Though 29 home runs doesn't seem like a ton because of the home run culture we have adapted to (which, by the way was basically started by Ruth), it was beyond unheard of at the time. It's like Carlos Zambrano hitting 50 home runs, while still starting 30 games as a pitcher. It was that unpredictable.
Ruth was beyond a once-in-a-decade player. He was even beyond a once-in-a-century player. He was a once-in-an-eternity player. There was never anyone who could do what Babe Ruth did, and probably won't be anyone ever again.
By no means am I trying to belittle Ruth in any way. All I am saying is that if Ruth had to go up against pitchers like Rube Foster, Hilton Smith, Martin Dihigo, Satchel Paige and Smokey Joe Williams, and have offensive competition like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson and Pop Lloyd, his legacy would be completely different.
If Cap Anson hadn't been a racist and a crybaby, African American baseball players would have been playing with everyone else post-1884.
Considering the rumors of Josh Gibson hitting a home run out of Yankee Stadium, I have to operate under the presumption that there would have been some African American player who would have had the impact Ruth had. This is assuming the game was integrated at the time that Ruth shined. Though Gibson was younger than Ruth, I have to assume that someone would have done what Ruth did.
Babe Ruth did nothing wrong. All he did was work hard at the game he loved and became widely known as the greatest player of all time.
The villains of the last 20 years did everything wrong. Instead of working hard and relying on what they had, they went out and used steroids, and it was wrong. You can tell me all you want about how pitchers were dominating the '70s, and that these guys had to do something to stop it. That's a great point, and it definitely validates why it was done, but it doesn't make it right. It was wrong, and that's what it comes down to.
As I said, Babe Ruth did nothing wrong. In saying that, he had a HUGE advantage, and that was the lack of the Josh Gibsons and Oscar Charlestons, who could have easily established themselves as the "Ruths" of the era instead.
There is also the argument, and I kind of agree with this, that what made Ruth so definitive was not necessarily his prowess on the field, but his extremely colorful personality off the field.
Of course, Ruth was the greatest player of his era, and perhaps all time. But Ruth was something else. He wasn't a star, he wasn't a superstar. He was the superstar. Of course, there were plenty of Humphrey Bogarts of Ruth's era. But Ruth was so huge, that it's impossible to compare him to anyone today.
Ruth was once asked why he thought he made more than the President, at the time, Herbert Hoover.
"I had a better year than Hoover."
Babe Ruth could get away with saying that, along with very few, if any other people. Besides the on-the-field greatness, it was his unbelievable character (which ended up hurting him in the long term) that made him who he is today.
So, yes, Babe Ruth is one of, if not the greatest player of all time. But I am here to inform you that if it weren't for Cap Anson the racist, Ruth's legacy might have been extremely different from what we believe it to be today.