The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan catches a lot of grief, occasionally deserved, and sometimes not. And on other times, he’s uncommonly sensible while his peers are in hysterics, particularly where “the sanctity of the record book,” is concerned
I love baseball more than any other sport or human entertainment activity, and part of the fun for the serious fan is discussion and analysis of the famous numbers. If 4,256, 4,191, 2,632, 2,130, 511, 755, 714, and 56 mean nothing to you, then I submit you are not a serious fan.But revering the numbers helps perpetuate the myth that baseball is timeless. It is not. The framework of the game is, but the inner workings are not. We’ve got to be grown-up about this. As much as we love to compare the numbers in the hope of pretending that baseball is baseball is baseball, it is not.
The games being played all over the country today will look very much like the games that were played 30, 50, or 100 years ago, but they will not be played with the same equipment, or under the same conditions, or even with the same mind-set.
What about that dead ball? How many more home runs would Ruth have hit in 1916, 1917, 1918, and 1919 were he hitting the same ball he was swinging at in 1920, when he increased his own record from 29 to 54 in the first year of the so-called lively ball? And we won’t even get into the pitching business. Were the Babe a full-time outfielder from Day 1, would he have hit 20 more homers? 50? More? No one knows. What we do know is that when you add these mythical homers to the 714 he did hit, Aaron would be No. 2.
Oops, but wait a minute. There were many great pitchers out there the Babe never had to face, people of color being barred from the big leagues. I have a feeling Satchel Paige would have whiffed the Bambino every now and then. So multiply that one a few times over.
Where were we? Did I mention the 296 feet and very low fence in Yankee Stadium, a.k.a. The House That Ruth Built? Or did I mention that Ruth’s home field from 1920-22 was the Polo Grounds, which was 257 feet to right (before sloping off dramatically)? And did you know that in the ’20s, a ball that bounced into the stands was ruled a home run, not a ground rule double? Does anyone know how that affected Ruth’s total? The answer is no.
I could give a thousand examples. Batting records, pitching records, and, perhaps most of all, fielding records must be viewed in the proper context.
So let Barry do whatever it is he’s going to do. Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs in his times, under his conditions, both personal and general. The same goes for Hank Aaron and his 755. The circumstances have not been created equal. Barry Bonds will hold the record for home runs in his time, period.