Wanted: The best player in MLB history

To hold me over during the off season, I’ve been reading up on some baseball books, I purchased them long ago when I was living on student loans, and now am glad that I did, since I’m poor. One book that fell into my lap was all about… SABERMETRICS!! I kind of envisioned like… the guy from the Super Friends announcing that… ya know, with that voice… or like… Piiiiiiggggssss iiinnnnn ssssppppaaaaacccce only… ssssaaaabbbbbbbeeeeeeerrrrrrrmmmmmmmmeeeeeettttttttrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiicccccccccssssssss. Does any of that make sense? I guess maybe that’s kind of a long word to do that with, but ya know, I have… weird visions. I’ll give the book it’s props right now since I’ll be taking massive amounts of information from it.
Baseball between the numbers.jpg
The Baseball Prospectus Team of Experts. (2006). Batting Practice: Is Barry Bonds better than Babe Ruth? In Baseball between the numbers: Why everything you know about the game is wrong (pp.38-62) [Introduction]. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures.

Yes, that’s the book right there ———->
With Albert Pujols on the cover.

So with all the shenanigans floating around Barry Bonds in light of this… “new” information about steroid usage, it made me think back to this section about arguing who the best player in baseball is, Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds. In 2001, Barry Bonds turned 36 years old; before this, his numbers were fantastic, 494 homers, nine All Star game appearances, and three MVP awards. The man was a machine. However, with his age increasing, his stats were destined to decrease. However, as we all know, this was not the case. In the next four years, Bonds would take MVP, win two batting crowns, and a home-run title. Not only that, but he went on to break the records for homers, OBP, SLG, and BB in a single season.

By taking a look at some raw stats, we can see that Ruth clearly comes out on top. 

                                  HR      SB      BB       BA        OBP    SLG
Ruth                         2173    123    2062    0.342    0.474   0.690
Bonds through 05    2078    506    2311    0.300    0.442    0.611

However, without sabermetrics, it’s impossible to compare these two statistics because they’re from two completely different times. I mean, if it weren’t for Jackie Robinson, would we even be debating? Consider some of these facts from the book:

  • The average baseball player today is about an inch and a half taller than he was fifty years ago, a reflection of improved nutrition during childhood and adolescence.
  • In 1964, about 4% of major league at bats were made by players aged 35 or older. In 2004, about 14% of major league at-bats were made by players aged 35 or older. Baseball players are playing longer and remaining effective longer because of vast improvements in training methods.
  • In 2005, there were at least 22 pitchers on major league Opening Day rosters who had successfully undergone Tommy John surger, a procedure that was invented in 1974 (and only perfected much later). That represents about 6% of all active major league pitchers, including stars such as John Smolt and Eric Gagne. Thirty-five years ago, these pitchers’ careers would have been over…

Essentially, through some sabermetric processes, the experts have come up with some numbers that can be normalized for the time period. Don’t ask me how it works, because I would be the worst person at explaning it. Pretty much what it comes down to, is that if through some magic time machine, Babe Ruth was brought to 1984, his most important stats would look like this: BA: 0.309, OBP: 0.441, and SLG: 0.682. When compared to the league leaders of both the AL and NL, Ruth’s BA falls short of being in the top.

So, what’s the real reason I’m debating this? With the steroid saga hitting Bonds pretty hard, could we say for sure, with absolute certainty who the very best player in major league history is?

Let me put this side note in, I do think that there is no comparison when it comes to the great Bambino. I think that Babe Ruth is absolutely phenomenal, and what I like more is that he made it to the top on talent. I mean, even with sabermetrics, in all it’s glory, can we really make a true and educated decision on who the best of the best is?

Yes, Bonds put up impressive numbers, but in light of a secret recording with Greg Anderson, the evidence against Bonds seems to be even more overwhelming. Like in this video:


While it’s unclear about who Anderson is talking about, he was Bonds’ personal trainer, and on five occasions Bonds has tested positive for PEDs. I read on ESPN about a conversation recorded between Bonds’ longtime friend Steve Hoskins and Anderson. The conversation went something like this:

Anderson: No, what happens is, they put too much in one area,
and what it does, it’ll, it’llmn_anderson_001df.jpgactually ball up and puddle. And what
happens is, it actually will eat away and make an indentation. And it’s
a cyst. It makes a big [expletive] cyst. And you have to drain it. Oh
yeah, it’s gnarly … Hi Benito … oh it’s gnarly.
Hoskins: He said his [expletive] went … that’s why he has
to, he had to switch off of one cheek to the other. Is that why Barry’s
didn’t do it in one spot, and you didn’t just let him do it one time?
Anderson: Oh no. I never. I never just go there. I move it all over the place. 

I don’t know. While I have my own opinions, I’ll leave this one up to the professionals.

Lets talk Rockies. Garrett Atkins is avoiding arbitration meetings by settling for $7.05 million or something like that. While I’ll enjoy him for the season, we’ll see what happens at the end and if he can get a multi year deal with the Rockies. We may also be missing a young and valuable Jeff Francis. By February 19th, he’ll need to decide if he’ll go through surgery which would ultimately put him out for most of the 2009 season.

With the season coming up, it’s made me think about our starters and batting lineup. I’ve heard that Todd Helton’s making a very slow recovery from his surgery, which makes me hope that he’ll be prepared for our season. He said something like he’s not preparing for spring training, he’s preparing for the season. With the resigning of Garrett Atkins, I am wondering where Ian Stewart is going to go. Stewart was fantastic at third, and, in all honesty, probably made some plays that Atkins wouldn’t have been able to. Bringing Helton back also makes it difficult because assuming that he’ll be able to play means that the lineup completely changes, and with Helton being a clutch player (maybe not so much in his age), where do you put him? The clean up spot? Or has his age affected him too much to be there? And where are you going to put your other big sluggers: Brad Hawpe and Garrett Atkins? And could Chris Iannetta be used as a big slugger? Excluding Matt Holliday, he came in third for most home runs in the club. Guess I’ll have to wait for the season to start… but I have some serious baseball on the brain.
1. Photo courtesy: testbooksrus.com
2. Video courtesy: ESPN.com
3. Photo courtesy: SFgate.com 



  1. juliasrants

    It is very exciting that Spring Training is almost here! The equipment truck leaves Friday from Fenway – wonder how I can hitch a ride? The book you were talking about sounds interesting – I’ll have to check it out. Thanks!


  2. rockymountainway

    As I was putting all my leftover stuff into boxes I put aside a bunch of baseball books to make sure to read in the time I’ll have this summer. Glad I got caught up on your blog and still the same great writing Emily. Glad you are representing the Bears with such quality : )

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