In 1920, Cy Williams led the National League with 15 home runs. This year, Troy Tulowitzski hit 15 home runs… in the month of September. Between 1890 and 1911, Cy Young managed to win 511 games, throwing an incredible 749 complete games. He pitched when spitballs (among other novelty pitches) were still allowed and when the single baseball used during a game which would be covered by dirt by the end of a game, rendering it invisible to batters.
Cy Young pitched within the bounds of the game, throwing pitches and using advantages that would certainly be considered illegal today. Likewise Cy Williams was a prolific hitter in his day, but stats of the same magnitude would hardly allow him a spot on the pine. Both played in a different era, with different rules, conditioning and strategic advantages that made up those stats. One is revered with a yearly award, and one has about the same name recognition as Neifi Perez.
Think of Sandy Koufax!
The 1960s saw pitching unlike any other time in history. Sandy Koufax had four consecutive Cy Young seasons, throwing up stats that any pitcher not named Pedro Martinez can touch. Then in 1968 Bob Gibson threw 28 complete games to the tune of a 1.12 E.R.A. In 1969, Major League Baseball agreed to lower the mound to allow offense to catch up. Since then only Martinez, Dwight Gooden and Greg Maddux have approached Gibson’s microscopic E.R.A.
Is it fair to compare pitchers of today to pitchers like Gibson and Young? Each was given advantages that were corrected by the MLB, but their records remain enshrined. They played within the rules of the game, and because of that, they are recognized among the all-time greats. Today stalwarts like Roy Halladay are certainly dominant, but he can never hope to touch Koufax’s 382 strikeouts or Young’s win total.
Is this all hypocrisy?
Yet, baseball fans across the country would like to discount decades of baseball records because of steroids. It should be noted that baseball banned steroids in 1991. However, they did not begin testing for steroids until 2002, a sign of at least tacit approval of performance enhancing drugs. In this span baseball fans saw home run totals that would boggle the mind of a player from the dead ball era. Players like Barry Bonds and Mark Mcgwire hit astronomical home run totals by taking substances that were accepted as part of the game. Like Koufax and Gibson pitching from higher mounds, or Cy Young throwing pitches that blended in with the night, they were merely using every advantage afforded to them. Why should their records be discounted?
It’s probably unfair to compare the home run total Cy Williams hit in 1920 to the totals that an average baseball player hits today. But neither is it fair to compare the successes of previous generations to the current one. Should Gibson be given an asterisk because he had a better plane from which to pitch? Should Cy Young’s win total have an asterisk because hitters couldn’t see the ball? No. Like every generation of baseball their feats were amazing. And like them, the perhaps juice-driven feats of more contemporary players deserve to be credited.
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