Posted: Wednesday March 16, 2005 4:37PM; Updated: Wednesday March 16, 2005 4:37PM
This Week's Special: Humble Pie
After reader e-mail began arriving last week, I realized to my horror that in making my case for Babe Ruth as the greatest major league hitter of all time, I'd only considered the talent pool he competed against from a shallow, purely mathematical perspective (16 teams instead of 30).
"The Babe did not play against the best competition of his time mainly because of this little thing called racism," wrote Fred, from Northridge, Calif., who echoed the sentiments of many. "Ruth only competed against white players while the Negro leagues were changing the way the game would be played forever. How would Ruth have done against a young Satchel Paige? Probably struck out like everyone else. I think Hank Aaron is clearly the best because he played during integration, and the talent pool was still relatively stocked."
I hereby plead guilty to cerebral flatulence in the first degree and stand before ye mortified by my slight of great players who were unjustly barred from the majors, and of Aaron, who courageously went through hell while breaking Ruth's career homer mark. Baseball's color line is a significant factor that tips my choice in favor of Aaron, who I had picked before I considered that he needed more games to catch Ruth and played a chunk of his career in the expansion and lowered mound era. But any aid he may have gotten from those factors was surely offset by the ordeal he went through at the hands and voices of racists.
Of course, exactly how much Ruth's stats would have been negatively affected by the presence of the Satchel Paiges of the world is impossible to quantify, as is how many more homers Aaron would have hit had he been showered with support. Trying to quantify greatness is largely futile because there are always so many different factors in the mix, from changes in rules to social issues to advances in training.
Bob Bohannon of Bellmawr, N.J., made a fine point about the varying dimensions of big league stadiums: "The home run distances, heights of walls, and foul territory in which a putout can be made, it's like having a different distance for the three-point shot in basketball or a different length for every football field, or different measurements for goal posts or heights for baskets."
It all goes to show how misleading numbers can be. Now please pardon me while I chow down on a slice of humble pie. You all deserved better than half-baked goods.
The Game's The Thing
Once again, thanks to all who have sent in accounts of the best games they've ever seen in any ol' sport.
Langdon Shoop, Lexington, Ky.: The 1998 NCAA South Region final between Duke and Kentucky. With UK down by 17 in the second half, Wayne Turner started taking [Duke's Steve Wojciechowski] to the rack, and when Scott Padgett hit that three with 40 seconds to go, the place exploded. Did I mention that I was sitting right next to Ashley Judd, and that she got so excited by the win that she kissed me? I will never forget that game [Kentucky 86, Duke 84].
Barry McCormick, Powder Springs, Ga.: 1976 NBA Finals, Game 5 at The Gahden, Celtics beat the Suns 128-126 in triple OT. Fans on the court -- twice. Hondo hitting the seeming game-winner with one second left in the second OT. Gar Heard hitting an utterly impossible shot to send the game to the third OT. A true classic.
Trevor Buckley, Calgary, Alberta: The 1993 World Series that ended with the Joe Carter home run. Unbelievable. That is how every kid dreams of winning a World Series. I just loved watching Joe jump around the bases similar to when he caught the ball to end the Series the year before. Lucky man.