Babe Ruth Still Tops Two-Way Star Ohtani
ALSO: MLB NEEDS TO SILENCE SALARY INFORMATION TO SAVE ITSELF
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RUTH vs OHTANI: A Different Perspective...
By Paul Semendinger, Ed.D.
Over the last many decades, it has been fashionable to discount many of Babe Ruth's accomplishments. We've seen this a lot. "The Babe was great, but..."
There have been a host of reasons why writers, experts, fans, and others have discounted many of Babe Ruth's great accomplishments ranging from the fact that he played before integration and also before the rise of great relief pitching. We have heard that the overall level of competition wasn't of the level it is today, that Yankee Stadium was designed for Ruth's swing specifically, that the ball might have been livelier, that there were no West Coast trips or night games, on and on...
"The Babe was great, but..."
I think it's difficult to imagine or understand today just what a unique and special baseball player Babe Ruth was. Because of that it is sometimes easier to write off or denigrate many of his amazing accomplishments.
Today we see a new Babe Ruth-type player — a great player in his own right — Shohei Ohtani. And, for some, what Ohtani is accomplishing seems even more impressive than what Ruth did.
In the history of Major League Baseball, there have been only two players who have been both great pitchers and great hitters, basically at the same time. Those players are, of course, Ruth and Ohtani. But, when Ruth was a great pitcher, he didn't bat as often, and once he became a full-time position player (outfielder), he rarely ever pitched.
Ohtani, on the other hand, is hitting and pitching at the same time, giving rise to the latest way to discount Babe Ruth's accomplishments, "The Babe was never the pitcher and hitter that Ohtani is at the same time."
And that is primarily true.
In Babe Ruths's first four seasons (1914-17), he was a pitcher exclusively. He hit extremely well for a pitcher in that time, or any time, batting .299 with 9 homers and 50 runs batted in.
It was in 1918 that Ruth started to become a two-way player. In that year, Ruth pitched in 20 games (19 starts and 166.1 innings while going 13-7, 2.22). He also played in 47 games in left field, 12 games in center field, and 13 at first base while batting .300 with 11 homers (to lead the league) and 61 runs batted in.
(Ruth also led the league in Slugging Percentage and OPS, but those were not the statistics of the day, so for the purposes of this article, we'll stick with the traditional old counting stats of batting averages, home runs, runs batted in, and pitcher wins, losses, and earned run average.)
That was a season unlike almost any ever seen before. In 1918 (in helping the Red Sox to a World Championship), the Babe played significantly in the field and was also a reliable starting pitcher.
That is something that Shohei Ohtani has never done, and I'm not just talking about the World Championship part. But, before I get ahead of myself...
The next season, in 1919, Babe Ruth pitched in 17 games (15 starts). He logged 133.1 innings while going 9-5, 2.97. In the field, Ruth played in 111 games in the outfield (all but one in right field) and five games at first base. In 1919, Ruth blasted 29 homers (to lead the league) with 113 runs batted in (to also lead the league) while batting .322. A new day had dawned...
In 1920, Ruth was a Yankee and his pitching days were all but over. Ruth would pitch five times as a Yankee (going 5-0) with one start in four different seasons: 1920, 1921, 1930, and 1933. (He appeared in relief once in 1921.)
All told, in summary, there were only two seasons, 1918 and 1919, where Babe Ruth was a pitcher and a hitter. That was a practice he couldn't sustain.
In comparison, Shohei Ohtani has been a pitcher and a hitter in... wait... just a little more than two seasons?
2018: 104 games, but just 10 games pitched
2019: 106 games, and none as a pitcher
2020: 44 games, and just two as a pitcher...
The two seasons where Shohei Ohtani has been like Babe Ruth, appearing throughout the year as a pitcher and as a hitter have been 2021 and 2022. To date, he really hasn't done anything vastly different than what Ruth accomplished in 1918 and 1919.
In 2021, Shohei Ohtani pitched in 23 games (23 starts). He logged 130.1 innings while going 9-2, 3.18. Ohtani batted in 155 games hitting .257/46/100.
In 2022, Ohtani pitched in 28 games (28 starts). He logged 166 innings while going 15-9, 2.33. Ohtani batted in 157 games hitting .273/34/95.
Now, I do not wish to detract from Shohei Ohtani's great abilities nor his success. Shohei Ohtani is a tremendous baseball player, one of the greats in the game, and he is doing something, as a pitcher and a hitter, that, to date, has only been accomplished once before, by Babe Ruth. (It is interesting to look at their innings pitched over those two full seasons of batting and pitching and see how close they are, since it's almost identical (Ruth pitched 299.2 innings compared to Ohtani's 296.1.)
But here is the statistic that no one has looked at, and it's an area that demonstrates just how great Ruth was. In this statistic, Ruth's numbers bury Ohtani's. It's not even close. In this statistic, Ruth wins 554 to 0.
Many fans of the game, believe that Shohei Ohtani is a great pitcher and a great outfielder. But he isn't. At all.
Shohei Ohtani is a great pitcher and a great hitter, but he's not an outfielder. Shohei Ohtani doesn't play the outfield. In the entirety of his Major League career, Shohei Ohtani has appeared in the field (at a position other than pitcher) in just 7 games (for a grand total of only 8.1 innings) and he had never made a play on defense. His total chances remain at zero. Over the two seasons 1918 and 1919, Babe Ruth was involved in 554 chances in the field. Making plays on defense (at a position other than pitcher) is something Shohei Ohtani has never done.
Now, in 2023, when Ohtani bats and pitches and does something that Babe Ruth never did — having a full third season excelling those roles, we have to also remember that he has an advantage that Babe Ruth never had... a position known as the Designated Hitter.
As I noted at the beginning, it is relatively easy to discount much of what Babe Ruth has accomplished. I have been reading the likes of arguments such as I laid out at the start for decades now, but the comparison to what he did in 1918 and 1919 shouldn't be compared as similar to what Shohei Ohtani has accomplished. Ohtani has an advantage that Ruth never had: a position where all he has to do is hit, and not play the field.
I have to wonder, if there had been a Designated Hitter back in the 1920s, if Babe Ruth might also have continued pitching, and quite possibly, with more days off from running in the outfield (Ruth played in 2,241 games in the outfield!) if his batting statistic would have been even that much better.
Shohei Ohtani is great, but he has not accomplished what Babe Ruth did.
It's time we also give the Babe some credit.
Dr. Paul Semendinger is a writer, baseball player, marathoner, college professor, and retired school principal. His newest book, a collaboration with the great Yankee Roy White, From Compton to the Bronx, will be released in April but it available for pre-order now. He says it would make a fastastic holiday gift — one that a person would look forward to receiving in the new year.
Crazy Salary Spiral Has to Stop: Here’s How
By Dan Schlossberg
Even Marvin Miller, who single-handedly turned baseball players from paupers to princes, wouldn’t believe what his machinations have wrought.
The late labor leader, who turned the Major League Baseball Players Association into the second coming of U.S. Steel, ran the union for 27 years and served as the invisible wizard behind the curtain long after Donald Fehr prolonged his legacy.
Left to their own devices and without a dissenting word from Rob Manfred, owners stumbled all over themselves trying to bid for this year’s bountiful harvest of free agents.
Pitchers from Ross Stripling to Carlos Rodon received ridiculous contracts heavy in years and dollars despite warnings from baseball history that pitchers should never receive long-terms contracts.
Wayne Garland, who signed for 10 years but delivered one, and Kevin Brown, who made good on three years out of seven he was guaranteed, are just two of many examples.
While previous commissioners spoke about the importance of parity, rich teams and spendthrift owners had a field day in San Diego. The movie Fistfull of Dollars could have been made about them.
The question now is how to stop the madness before it makes struggling teams and even some middle-of-the-roaders go belly-up.
The answer is obvious: stop publicizing salaries.
Every American office manager knows it is dangerous to let one employee know what another is making. Jealousy will always raise its ugly head — even when it is justified.
Once Trea Turner signed his 11-year, $300 million pact with Philadelphia, the price-tags of fellow shortstops Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, and Dansby Swanson immediately went up. Within days, Bogaerts signed a San Diego contract that will carry him beyond his 40th birthday.
Justin Verlander, who turns 40 in February, got a two-year deal, with a third-year vesting option, with an annual average of $43.3 million, tied with new Mets teammate Max Scherzer for the most in major-league history.
With Shohei Ohtani hitting free agency next year and Juan Soto soon to follow, the game is certain to see its first $500 million man — unless the fiscal insanity stops.
All it takes is an agreement among the 30 owners. Or would the union dare to cry collusion?
Even the players themselves know they are overpaid, over-pampered, and over-protected. It’s time to put a stop to that madness.
Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ grew up when the major leagues had two eight-team leagues, most games were played in daylight, and winners went directly to the World Series without passing GO. He insists those were The Good Old Days. Contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Winning 300 games is a bigger challenge than it once was. Because of the number of innings starters are pitching, the way they are used, and the number of bullpen pitchers who come in and get involved with the game, winning 300 is definitely a bigger challenge today.”
— Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who worked in a 4-man rotation and often threw 200 pitches per start
Ryan was among 17 pitchers from the modern era — none since 2009 — to win 300 . . .
According to BaseballLibrary.com, it took nine balls to walk a batter in 1881, six in 1884, five in 1886, and finally the present-day four in 1889 . . .
The original National League teams of 1876 carried two pitchers among the 10 or 11 men on their rosters . . .
Old Hoss Radbourn, who won a record 60 games in 1884, did not have a pitching coach or a pitch count . . .
Greg Maddux, who tops all living pitchers with 355 wins, never won more than 20 games in a season.
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