As might be expected, Rose also has a few ideas about how Cobb might fare in the current era. Rose recently recalled an argument he had with the former pitcher and broadcaster Waite Hoyt, who died last year at age 84.
"If Cobb started the same day I did and was still playing as I am, he wouldn't be hitting .367," said Rose of Ty's lifetime average.
"Yes, he would," Hoyt answered.
"No, he wouldn't," Rose retorted. And so it went back and forth.
"I didn't argue with him anymore," Rose says. "He'd kick my butt. I think Cobb's average would still be the highest in baseball history, but not .367. Night games, West Coast travel and specialized relief pitching would get him."
At this point let us pause to commiserate with what can be called baseball's Lost Generation—the players who had some of their best years taken away from them by wartime service. Ted Williams lost virtually five seasons, first in World War II and then the Korean War. When he retired in 1960 at 42, he had a .344 lifetime average, 521 homers, 2,654 hits and 1,839 runs batted in. Projecting his average annual figures onto the seasons he lost, Williams would have hit nearly 700 home runs, had well over 3,000 hits and become the alltime RBI champion with 2,300 or more.
From 1938, when he was 19, through 1941, Bob Feller averaged 252 strikeouts a season. He missed 3½ seasons in World War II. Projections indicate that he would have had nearly 350 wins and more than 3,500 strikeouts had he enjoyed a complete career. Willie Mays missed most of the '52 season and all of 1953 because of the Korean War. He undoubtedly would have topped 700 homers had he not been away.
But this is speculation. It is also speculation when members of the current milestone-passing generation say that theirs will be the last to pursue career records. For that matter, not many generations have. Cy Young could not possibly have known that his 511 wins—"some kind of record," says Niekro—would remain the one, as yet, unassailable career standard. Ruth had no records to break but his own, and so basically had Cobb and Johnson. The Williams-DiMaggio-Feller generation had records denied them. The Mays-Mantle-Aaron generation went after them and set a few, notably the single-season and career home-run records previously held by Ruth. But will the players now in their 20s seriously take aim at the major records in the years to come?
"Today's players lack incentive to excel because of the big-money contracts," says the newly retired Joe Morgan. "I look at players who come into the game nowadays and they play a couple of years and then get a five-year contract for a lot of money. They get a lot too early, and it takes away their incentive to work hard. They don't work hard, they don't excel and they don't stick around in the game that long."
"We might be the last goal-oriented generation," says Sutton. "We are really transition people who started playing before the big salaries. I made $7,500 with the Dodgers my first year, and I didn't care. We were motivated then by goals, not salaries. The players now are earning so much so soon that they're self-sufficient when they're very young. I wonder if some young pitcher will be willing to stay around 20 years to win 300 games if he can ensure his future by winning only 140. I wonder if Dwight Gooden will want to last long enough to get 3,000 strikeouts. I wonder if it will have the significance for him that it had for me or Seaver or Carlton."