Writing about baseball leads to all sorts of fun debates. I am constantly interacting with Ranger fans, and the disagreements are some of the most fun I have as a sports writer.
Arguing over sports is also part of the national pastime. Before integration, the arguments were over Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson, or was Lefty Grove better than Satchel Paige?
Recently the debate has turned to past and present players. Could someone like Hank Aaron hit like he did if he played today? How would Randy Johnson do against the 1919 Black Sox or Ty Cobb? All are reasonable questions that could lead to an interesting happy hour at your favorite watering hole.
Imagine the barbershop in “Coming To America.” Can’t you hear Eddie Murphy as the barber yelling something like, “Greg Maddux would make Shoeless Joe Jackson look like 6-year old trying to hit bottle caps with a jump rope”! Or Eddie Murphy as the old Jewish guy yelling back, “Greg Maddux wouldn’t even make it out of the first inning”! These are funny and interesting quips. They are also fun conversations to have after a few cold ones.
Of course, Mike Trout would break every record in baseball if he played in the 1920s and ’30s. Ty Cobb would never make a big-league team today. Satchel Paige would have an 8.00 ERA today, and Adolis Garcia might hit 120 HR’s in 1925.
The problem with these questions are that nobody takes into account the intangibles. If you remove the intangibles, then the answer is clear.
Let’s add in all the intangibles and see what happens.
Mike Trout Playing in the 1920s
First of all, Trout would likely have been born around 1901-1905. His dad would likely have worked hard labor, or they had a small farm. Even if he was the product of a wealthy family, organized baseball for kids didn’t exist. So young Trout would have learned the game by playing stickball with his buddies and listening to the games on the radio. The only games he would have played before high school would have been in vacant lots or freshly cut hay fields.
Working out with weights wasn’t something most people did. Trout also would not have had a nutritionist. So his 6’2 230 lb body would have likely been smaller. He likely would have smoked or chewed tobacco or grew up with parents who did. He also wouldn’t have had a 33 to 34-inch bat that only weighed 31.5 ounces. His bat would most likely have been around 36-40 inches long and weight around 38-40 ounces.
With that being the case, he likely wouldn’t have been compared to Babe Ruth but more like a Al Simmons or Jim Bottomley.
Satchel Paige Playing Today
Paige was 6’4 when he started his pro career for Chattanooga Black Lookouts in 1926. Suppose he was born in 1996 instead of 1906. He would have likely started organized ball at age 5 or 6. He would have started travel ball at about 12 or 13. He would have played organized ball year-round between fall ball, summer ball, high school ball, and Perfect Game. He would have also likely had private pitching coaches.
Imagine Paige with video of his opponents or medical care for sore arms. How about a nutritionist helping him with caloric intake. He would have worked out with weights and had more muscle. They didn’t have radar guns back then, but most think he threw in the low to mid 90’s. Whatever the speed he threw, he didn’t have someone teaching him drills to help add velocity. Please think of the players who get drafted and add value as they progress. I’m guessing you give Satchel Paige what today’s pitchers have, and he may be comparable to Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, or Gerrit Cole. He is certainly a big leaguer.
The short answer is yes.
Putting everyone on a level playing surface with the same equipment and training, players from the past would be able to play today. How they look would be the fun thing. Babe Ruth might look like Mike Trout since they are both 6’2. Ty Cobb was 6’1 and mean. So was Albert Belle. Imagine Josh Gibson today with weights and equipment that was 10 ounces lighter and stats.
What about Jose Altuve in 1930 with no weights or a bat that weighed 40 ounces. He would probably be asked to bunt 40% of the time.
How many bases would Rickey Henderson steal with a catcher on one knee?
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