Thursday, August 02, 2007

755: Playing the Game of What If [J. Mark English]

WHAT IF Babe Ruth had not pitched in his first six seasons of his career. Between 1914 and 1919, Ruth averaged 185 at bats per season. In those seasons he averaged just over 8 home runs a season. Then from 1920 (the year after being traded to the Yankees) through 1934, he averaged well over 400 at bats per season. He didn't get that high a number of at bats in the first six season since he was busy being a dominant left handed pitcher. But suppose he had played the outfield instead of pitching, and had hit for his average home run total between 1920-1934. What might his grand total of HR's at the end of his career looked like instead of the famed 714 number? He averaged about 44 home runs a season between 1920 and 1934. Take that number and multiply it by six, and you get 264 home runs (six coming from his seasons as a pitcher). Then take his career total of 714 HR's and subtract his original 49 HR's from his career in Boston and you get 665. Now add 665 to the assumed 264 HR's from his first six years. This brings you to 929 home runs. Obviously this is speculative, and its not necessarily true that a young and inexperienced Ruth in 1914 could have sustained those kind of power numbers. Yet, is it not reasonable to suggest that Ruth would not only have surpassed at least 755 home runs, but also even 800 home runs? If Ruth did that then this whole discussion about Bonds becomes moot.
WHAT IF Ted Williams had never fought and served in the Army during World War II, and the Korean War? He missed out on playing in the seasons of 1943-1945, as well as most of 1952 and 1953. Those are five lost seasons, that could have helped pushed his career total of 521 home runs much higher. Take his home run total and divide that by the 17 full seasons he did play and you get an average of just about 31 home runs a season. Now take that number and multiply it by five for each of the seasons he missed. You wind up with 155 HR's. Add that total to 521 and you get 676. Not quite as impressive as Mays, Ruth, or Aaron, but still its an eye-popping total.

WHAT IF players such as Joe DiMaggio and Ralph Kiner had not served in the second World War. It is safe to assume that they, and a few others could have joined the 500 HR club easily. To continue on this train of thought, what if Mickey Mantle had been able to put together a career where he played at least one or more entire seasons without sustaining an injury. He could have easily surpassed 600 home runs, and more then likely would have threatened the 714 HR mark left by Ruth. Even Willie Mays was in the army between 1952 and 1953. Subsequently he missed almost two entire seasons. Its safe to assume that he could have broken the HR record long before Aaron ever did.

WHAT IF players from the Negro Leagues prior to the integration of baseball in 1947, had been allowed to play from 1900 onwards as opposed to being forced to wait nearly a half century. Suppose someone like Josh Gibson had been allowed to play during the same time as Babe Ruth. His stats would not only have stood up to Ruth, but may have blown away Ruth's numbers. It is said that in 1934 he hit 69 home runs. In 1933 he hit .467 with 55 home runs and 137 RBI's. (Talk about the ultimate fantasy player.) If you project those numbers over an entire career its reasonable to assume he might have hit over a 1,000 home runs in a full MLB career.

WHAT IF Hank Aaron had never hit 755 home runs. He still would have had over 3,000 hits, bringing his total to 3,016. Which means that without hitting a single home run, for which he is most famous for, he still would have made the HOF as one of the greatest hitters of all time.

Putting things into perspective helps to diminish the achievements of Barry Bonds. I mean suppose Bonds had never used steroids. He still may have finished his career with over 650 home runs, over 500 stolen bases, and would have been hailed as one of the greats of all time. Now his reputation and any record he breaks is tarnished because he cheated, as did a lot of players during his (our) time. Any player who hits over 500 home runs today must be looked at with a skeptical eye. (Can you say Palmero...Sosa...Thomas...even A-Rod?)

WHAT IF players like Bonds never used steroids. Imagine how much more pure our appreciation of the game would be, and how much more fun it would be to watch someone try to break Aaron's record.

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