So, "The Curse of the Bambino" has finally been lifted, and after an 86-year drought, the Red Sox fans can revel in a World Series Championship.
While this makes a great story and even better headlines, most people gloss over how different the game of today is when compared to its 1918 counterpart, the year the Sox last won a World Series championship. In many ways, it's not fair to discuss the two games as if they are one and the same.
As a self-proclaimed student of history and an avid baseball fan, I am constantly in pursuit of crowning the best baseball team of all time. And just when I think I am close to achieving that goal, I remember it's impossible. It's not impossible to simulate cross-era match-ups on one of any number of simulated baseball games; it's impossible to end up with a realistic result.
That is, baseball of the early 1900s is far different from the game being played today.
Consider these comparisons: The 2004 Red Sox smashed 222 home runs, while their 1918 counterpart hit just 15. Babe Ruth hit 11 of those for the 1918 Sox. And, by the way, he also won 13 games as a pitcher while compiling an ERA under 2.30, an amazing feat in modern baseball.
Fans of baseball familiar with its history know the trend: the quality of pitching has decreased over the years and power-hitters now rule the game. In 1918, the American League's combined ERA was 2.77 while the National League's was 2.76, according to Baseball-Reference.com. In 2004, it was an appalling 4.63 in the American League and a better, yet still vile 4.30 in the National League. This year, Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins led the American League with an ERA of 2.61, with the second place pitcher, Curt Schilling of Boston, ending with a 3.26 ERA.
Pitchers' increased ERA can partly be blamed on hitters' increased power and the use of performance enhancing drugs. Modern baseball is tainting many of the most prestigious records. I'm not saying, "Records shouldn't be broken." I'm saying, "Records set by modern athletes, some implicated in and others who admitted to using illegal drugs should not tarnish those set by baseball greatest stars."
Ruth's accomplishments, for example, far outweigh any of those set by his modern counterparts. And although baseball purists of the 1920s would probably make a similar argument that Ruth was tarnishing the game of old, the fact is Ruth stands out because he was a natural, changing for the better how the game was played. He was one of a kind, setting many records that until only recently remained unbroken.
In that 1918 season, Ruth pitched in 20 games, played 59 in the outfield and another 13 at first base, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Still, he smacked 11 home runs, tying Tilly Walker of the Philadelphia Athletics for the league lead. For the record, Walker played in 114 games and batted 97 more times than Ruth.
Since the end of his career in 1935, Ruth and the number "714" have become synonymous. That, of course, is the number of home runs Ruth hit in the 22 seasons he played in the major leagues. But, what about 94? That is the number of games Ruth won as a pitcher. The Bambino started his career as a pitcher, and had he stayed the course, he would today be a Hall of Fame pitcher, most likely amassing more than 300 wins in his career.
But he didn't. Instead, he moved to the outfield full-time and began hitting home runs at a remarkable pace. He hit 60 in 1927, a record that stood for 34 years until Roger Maris broke the mark in 1961 with 61 home runs, a controversy for the time. Maris' record stood for 37 years. That's when home runs began to rule the game and Maris' mark was obliterated. Today Maris ranks No. 7 on the single season home run list, while Ruth now holds down the Nos. 8 and 9 slots.
By comparison, Hank Aaron, the career home run leader, played 23 seasons in the majors, none as a pitcher. Likewise, Barry Bonds, No. 3 on the career home run list n and rapidly approaching Babe Ruth, No. 2 on the list n has already played for 19 seasons.
Not to mention how the season has lengthened over the years.
This is not to say Maris' and Ruth's records should never have been broken. Yes, they are made to be broken. But, how is it possible that between 1998 and 2001 three people n Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire n have managed to make the top six single season home run list?
The last 30 years have seen power prevail over pitching. Those three decades have seen the designated hitter rule tarnish the game and destroy the strategy that makes baseball the smartest sport. And the game has seen illegal drug use become more common than a complete game.
If I were Babe Ruth, I'd be rolling over in my grave. True, the game has changed. But unlike Ruth's era, it has changed for the worse.
It's a shame what America's pastime has become. It's time the sport take a look back at its history and return to its roots.
Todd DeFeo is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .