Babe Ruth always comes up in any discussion about the best ballplayer who ever lived. But is the Yankees icon all he’s cracked up to be?
New York Yankees fans, in particular, often have a difficult time when arguments of this nature arise. Baseball traditionalists rally around Babe Ruth, while those who saw Joe DiMaggio play during the 1930s and 40s or Mickey Mantle during the 50s and 60s, rise in their support.
Complicating the matter, we have a host of players in the game today who are well on their way to establishing themselves as icons in the game. Among these, Mike Trout is typically mentioned as the best player in the game today.
Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander creep their way in representing pitchers in the discussion against, as an example only, the likes of Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, etc.
But who is the best of the best, and if Babe Ruth usually wins the argument, does he deserve the honor?
I have developed a litmus test to settle the argument once and for all. And it has nothing to do with handing out a bunch of analytics nobody except those in the exclusive club understands. My test is merely an eye test.
I call it the Solid Black test and what you do is pull up a player using Baseball Reference as a source. In the search box in the upper right corner, type in the name of the player you want to look up. Next and finally, scroll down a little way to the Standard Batting Section.
Now, look for solid black, which signifies the player was a league leader in those categories. Why is this important? Your eyes will tell you if this particular player was dominant in the era he played. And by definition, these players did so, while others did not.
Here, let’s try it. Here’s a link to Mike Trout’s page. That’s a lot of black for seven years, wouldn’t you say? And there’s destined to be a lot more before Trout’s career ends. Which might mean that a decade from now, Trout could be in the conversation as the best who ever played the game. But not so fast.
Two more, and then we’ll stop the exercise. Do Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. Whoa! See the difference? I bet you didn’t expect to see the paucity of Solid Black for Joe D. Which tells us only that DiMaggio was not as dominant a player as we might have thought he was. At the same time though, we take nothing away from the great player he was.
Let’s digress to make a significant point. NASA gives credit to an event on February 20, 1962, when a mission was piloted by astronaut John Glenn, who performed three orbits of the Earth, making him the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth.
At the time, John Glenn and NASA performed a feat that was unimaginable. Jump to today with missions to Mars and beyond and Glenn’s efforts look like kindergarten. Still, that does not negate the complexity and output of what was achieved more than a half-century ago.
So too it is with baseball and, in particular, with Babe Ruth. And if you haven’t done so already and I suspect that you might have, it’s time to do a Solid Black check on Babe Ruth.
Check me on this, but I counted ninety-three times Babe Ruth appears in Solid Black, having led his league across the board in the stats presented by Baseball Reference.
Forget Bill James and all the other smart sabermetrics dudes who populate this planet today. All I need to know about Babe Ruth is what my eyes tell me – and the eyes have it.