Is it possible to underrate the greatest baseball player of all time?
It may be. And we may be doing it at this very moment.
We do not spend a lot of time looking at the baseballreference.com pages of guys like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb.
Those players, for the most part, are known quantities. Numbers like 714, 755 and 4,189 are not numbers we spend a lot of time debating (actually, Cobb's hits totals have been the subject of much debate, but I am largely speaking rhetorically here).
I only bring this up now, though, because Florida Marlins' right-fielder Mike Stanton is currently making a bit of history for himself, climbing the "home runs before the age of 22" chart. He is currently tied with Cepeda for 12th all-time with 52, and is two behind Ted Williams and Andruw Jones for 10th on the list.
Babe Ruth, of course, was a dead-ball era pitcher at the age of 21 and does not make the list. As a pitcher in the early part of his career, Ruth did not join the full-time hitters until the age of 24. Indeed, playing in the deadball era, Ruth would not have made the list even if he was an everyday outfielder at that point in his career.
At the same time, though, it is worth noting what Ruth was doing at the age of 21.
Ruth was 21 for the Boston Red Sox in 1916. As the ace of the Red Sox staff, he went 23-12 and led the American League with a 1.75 ERA, nine shutouts and 40 games started. Ruth pitched 323.2 innings, which was good for third in the American League, and he also finished three games.
The Red Sox won the World Series that season in five games over the then-Brooklyn Robins. Ruth appeared in only one game. Of course, it was a 14-inning game, and he pitched the entire game, allowing one run on six hits and taking the win.
But I have digressed.
I think my real point here is, when you consider how unreachable many of Ruth's career numbers have been for all but one or two players, and consider the fact that he put these numbers up after the age of 23 while spending five years as a full-time pitcher, is it possible that we are underrating Ruth?
As a corollary, is it possible to underrate a player you have ranked as the greatest player of all time and have never considered bumping from the top spot?