The 10 greatest hitters ever (Cont.)
4. Lou Gehrig
According to the official Lou Gehrig Web site, the Yankees offered to trade Gehrig to the Red Sox in 1925 for the unforgettable Phil Todt. The site says that this was, at least in part, to make up for the Babe Ruth trade. I fear this is something I should have already known, something everyone knows, but I don't recall ever hearing this. Seriously, isn't this in some ways WORSE than the Babe Ruth trade? Shouldn't it be the curse of Lou Gehrig? I mean, hey, the Ruth deal was awful, but there seem to be extenuating circumstances. And here was their chance to make up for it. This was like the Beatles going back to Pete Best and saying, "OK, look, we're not going to take you back, but we've put in a good word for you with this guy we know, Mick Jagger, who is in this band that might do pretty well, all you gotta do is call."
And the Red Sox said, "No thank you. We are quite happy with Phil Todt."
3. Barry Bonds
In case you're wondering, Barry Bonds from 1986 to 1999, before he, er, "bulked up," would have ranked somewhere around 14 -- on either side of Frank Thomas. And remember, that's just as a hitter. That Bonds was a great base stealer and perennial Gold Glove winner. When Bonds comes up for the Hall of Fame vote, I'm sure we'll try to break this down better, but I would say he was pretty close to a Top 10 player before 1999.
And so it's weird that his next five years -- and the 241 OPS+ he punched up in 3,000 plate appearances; nobody ever did anything quite like it -- are what, in the minds of many, will diminish him forever.
2. Ted Williams
I do think there's a strong argument to be made for Ted Williams over Babe Ruth. He had the better on-base percentage. He missed three prime seasons because of World War II and most of two seasons in his young 30s when he went to Korea -- there seems little doubt that with those years his numbers would have been even better. He walked more than Ruth and struck out a lot less. The main thing that Ruth could do better than Williams was hit home runs. That's not a bad advantage to have -- especially because Ruth was so good at the things that Williams was good at (hitting for average, drawing walks, consistently putting up jaw-dropping numbers).
In the end, I could not quite put Ted at No. 1 -- at least not this time. The home run advantage has to count. And Ruth really invented a whole new way of hitting a baseball.
1. Babe Ruth
You have heard the various rumors about Babe Ruth corking his bat. Well, what would happen if tomorrow someone wrote a book proving that Ruth absolutely used a primitive form of steroids? I'm just wondering -- I remember that Leigh Montville, the author of the excellent Babe Ruth book The Big Bam. told me once that he thinks Ruth would have taken steroids in a heartbeat. Let's be honest: The Babe was not a man known for restraint or any romantic notions about fair play.
I'm pretty sure there were no steroids for Ruth to take. But my question is: If we found out that he did, would that change the way baseball fans everywhere view Babe Ruth's career? Would everyone say: Well, NO WONDER he put up those ridiculous numbers? I mean the guy hit more home runs than ENTIRE TEAMS for crying out loud. We should have known.
Or would a discovery like that just spark yawns of disinterest? Who cares? It was a long time ago. It was a different era.
I don't know. It's just something to think about. Then again, Babe Ruth on steroids (and with a better workout plan) might have hit 100 home runs in a season. And Josh Gibson, with no color barrier, might have hit 120. And Walter Johnson with a split-fingered fastball might have struck out 400 in a season. And Zack Greinke, transported to 1968 Detroit, might have had 30 wins and a 1.33 ERA. And Duane Kuiper, in Coors Field, might have hit .300. It's a great game, this baseball. So many possibilities.
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