The Sultan Of Swat, Babe Ruth

Yankees Icon Babe Ruth: A Closing Argument On Greatness

Babe Ruth, for most of us, is seen in travels through the record books, a collection of images, or tales of epic proportions. But here, we take a look at how he crushes everyone in what I call, The Black Test.

We know enough about Babe Ruth, even though we did not have the good fortune to see him play, to trust when we are told he is one of the greatest, if not the greatest ballplayer who ever wore a major league uniform.

Countless books and biographies about Babe Ruth have been written, all with the purpose of convincing us this is a truism. I’ve found a new way to convince myself, though, and I pass it on to you to judge as a litmus test for baseball greatness.

It’s based on the adage that if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and talks like a duck – it is a duck. I call it the Black Test, and it’s based on a simple premise of letting your eyes do all the work to reach a conclusion. There’s nothing to read, though you can if you want to.

As a prelude to explaining how to conduct the Black Test for any ballplayer alive or dead, here is a snapshot of Babe Ruth’s career batting stats:

Babe Ruth Lifetime Batting Source: Baseball Reference
Babe Ruth Lifetime Batting Source: Baseball Reference

Notice all the highlighted black text. These are all the times Babe Ruth led the league or the majors in each of the categories specified. I counted them up and came with the “Stat” that Babe Ruth led the league in about 1/3 of all the groups he could have throughout his career. A rather impressive stat.

But then I said to myself, no wait, there’s no need for more stats. The Black says it all. So then, I decided to see how Babe Ruth measures up against other all-time greats. I began with Barry Bonds, the man who stole Ruth’s home run record. Here’s what Bonds looks like:

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Mmm…notice a difference? Barry Bonds is noteworthy, but he doesn’t anywhere near approach Babe Ruth.

Barry Bonds Photo Credit: sthope
Barry Bonds Photo Credit: sthope.com

The Black Test indicates dominance in the era in which a ballplayer played. Pick a player to try it yourself. Remember, you are not looking at numbers, your eyes are only looking for black,

Here’s a couple of links to get you started: Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. Williams, you’ll see gives Ruth a run for his money and might have surpassed The Babe, if not for three seasons lost to fight in the Korean War.

I’ll do one more with you, this time selecting a current player who is widely considered the best player in the game today, Mike Trout. Here’s his “snapshot”:

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Looks good for only eight years work, right? Still, a long way to go to meet the challenge of Babe Ruth. Only 26, one day just might be the player to put up more black on his resume,

So, what does this exercise prove? Not much, and I doubt the Black Test is destined to be the new measurement for entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But it is the kind of thing we do when the Hot Stove is brewing only tepid heat, and there are no box scores to pour over.

What we can learn, though, is that our powers of observation and things our eyes tell us can make the ever-present stats and numbers we see and hear about rendered useless. As fans of baseball, we can “see” greatness for ourselves.

If you can find a player who beats Babe Ruth in the Black Test, I’ll buy you a Baby Ruth candy bar, which by the way, Ruth hardly made a dime off (see Jane Leavy’s new book The Big Fella: Babe Ruth.

Written by Steve Contursi, Editor

Reflections On Baseball

 

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