White Hat Sports Headlines

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tip toeing through the rain drops and not getting wet.

While re-reading Seth Mnookin's phenomenal book, "Feeding the Monster", something struck me as funny while reading the beginning of the book where he rehashes the troubled history of the Boston Red Sox. You remember that right, back before the two recent world series championships when the Red Sox were "cursed" and could never and would never win a World Series Championship. While reading through the section about the Ruth era in Boston and his departure to the Yankees two things struck me funny.

1. That the Broadway play that is rumored to have been funded by the selling of the Babe to the Yankees, No No Nanette, which actually came out years after the sale of Ruth. This is the end of an urban legend that pseudo fans accept as truth and feel like they are big time Red Sox fans because they know the name of the play. Well Pink Hatters, you know less than you think you know.

2. Ruth didn't serve during World War I, granted he was pitching at that point mostly for Boston, but he did start batting during this era while a lot of other players did serve.

The second point is the one that made me ponder for a longer amount of time and led me to a conclusion. Was Ruth really the greatest player of all time, or was he just the best player who didn't lose large sections of his prime to things outside his sports. The case can always be made for Ted Williams missing the equivalent of 5 years of his career to military service, that he would have hit at least 30 home runs per season, (which is low balling him, the first three years would have been perhaps his greatest seasons.) Right now Williams is set at 521 home runs, add onto that 150 home runs (672 total) and he would be fourth on the all-time list or third whether or not you count Barry Bonds. The fact of the matter is that Williams sacrificed his overall numbers for the military, thus his greatest accomplishments are things he did in a single season (.406 batting average in 1941 and the second highest slugging percentage in a season behind only Babe Ruth) instead of being known as one of the top home run hitters of all time (which he was).

Williams possible total of 672 would put him a dozen home runs ahead of Willie Mays on the all-time list, or would it? Mays also lost time due to being drafted into the military in 1952. Overall he missed 266 games between 1952-53. Though this was at the very beginning of his career you can make a case that he might have been the one who broke Ruth's home run record of 714 before Hank Aaron did it in 1974. Adding these prime years to the careers of Williams and Willie Mays might put four players in history ahead of the Babe's total right now and to me that definitely discounts his overall standing as the greatest player of all time. But now it looks like I'm picking on the Babe here and maybe I have been but to show that I'm not, I'll use another example.

It depends on whether or not you believe Bill Simmons conspiracy argument that Michael Jordan's first "Retirement" was actually a suspension for gambling, but either way you look at it Jordan missed 2 seasons in his prime to another sport. If you take Jordan's career total for points, 32,292, and add on the point totals for the seasons surrounding the ones that he missed and he would have flirted with breaking Kareem Abdul Jabbar's all time scoring record and he probably would have broken in while playing for (gulp) the Washington Wizards. This case is different though than opposed to the Ruth case, because Jordan is considered to be the greatest Basketball player of all time and some people believe that greatest athlete of all time. Giving him the all time scoring title locks it up even further because some people like me believe that Wilt Chamberlain might have been a little bit more dominant.

The case for an all time great missing time and it not really effecting his legacy except for robbing us from seeing more of his greatness. Muhammad Ali missed three years during what might have been his prime in the late 1960's because he refused to serve in the Viet Nam War. The case of Ali is different from all of the others, in the way that he missed time out of his prime and is still considered to be the "Greatest of All Time". Boxing is different though, because it isn't about numbers at all really. Nobody counts how many times they were the world champion, just that they were the champion at some point. Besides how much they weight and what weight class they are in, number don't mean a damn thing. Ali is still the greatest and his time away from the sport robbed us all of seeing more of his greatness.

Now what was the point of all of this?

The point is, why is it that some of the greatest players of all time in most sports have missed time in the midst of their careers and the ones who didn't are the ones who hold the records and are seen on a higher level. Besides Ruth you can look at Hank Aaron as well. He didn't miss time due to military service, never had any long term injuries that made him miss prolonged periods of time and he was incredibly steady throughout his entire career. It's about avoiding landmines through out your career, just ask Ken Griffey, Jr. Griffey missed time, Bonds didn't and Bonds who wasn't named to the All Century team (Griffey was, the last century seems so far away) passed him by on all the all time lists (with a little help from his friends, at BALCO). The overall point of this whole argument is that the numbers through out a career doesn't always say who the greatest players were.

Williams the best damn hitter that ever lived.

Mays, the best all around player of all time.

Ali, he must be the greatest.
Sterling Pingree

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