EXCLUSIVE: How Babe Ruth’s Era Made Hitting Easier, According to Ex-Mets GM

Published 01/15/2024, 4:45 PM EST

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Babe Ruth‘s name echoes through baseball history, synonymous with monstrous home runs and unparalleled slugging prowess. His statistics—714 career home runs, a single-season homer record of 59 in 1921, and a total bases mark of 457 in that same year—stand as one of the many little testaments to his legendary hitting. Yet a recent claim by a former New York Mets General Manager casts a shadow of doubt on these achievements.

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In an EssentiallySports exclusive interview, ex-Mets GM Steve Phillips suggests that the era Ruth played in artificially inflated his dominance. Phillips contended that Ruth’s numbers were better because he didn’t have to play against any of the Negro League players of his time. For Phillips, the absence of segregation would’ve made Ruth lose his numbers. Does his staunch belief hold any semblance of truth?

Did racial exclusion inflate Babe Ruth’s home run records?

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In the exclusive EssentiallySports interview with Abhay Aggarwal, Phillips was found stating how one kind of performance enhancement or another has always been prevalent in Major League Baseball throughout history. While speaking about the biggest baseball maestro, Babe Ruth, Phillips said, “Babe Ruth had 714 home runs; he was great. But his numbers were better because he didn’t play against any of the Negro League players of that era! There was segregation at the time, where many of the best Black pitchers weren’t allowed in Major League Baseball. No Black players were.”

This statement carries considerable weight, given the undeniable talent present in the Negro Leagues during Ruth’s reign. Stars like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Buck Leonard were denied entry into MLB solely due to their race, leaving them to showcase their brilliance in a segregated parallel league, giving further foundation to Phillips’ comment in the EssentiallySports exclusive: “I think his (Ruth’s) performance was enhanced because of the segregation at the time.”

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Paige’s fastball was clocked at speeds exceeding 100 mph, while Gibson’s hitting power of .373 rivaled, if not surpassed, Ruth’s .342. Their absence from the Major Leagues undoubtedly meant that “The Sultan of Swat” faced a less diverse and potentially weaker pool of rivals, allowing him to rack up astronomical hitting numbers that might not have been achievable against the likes of these segregated stars.

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While acknowledging the talent in the Negro Leagues is crucial, one must also consider the broader context of Ruth’s era. Pitching strategies of the time, with an emphasis on contact and fewer strikeouts, played a role in favoring the hitters. Additionally, the “dead-ball era” that preceded the Bambino’s rise saw a significant swing in favor of batters due to less lively baseballs. Furthermore, Ruth possessed otherworldly talent beyond the context of his competition. His exceptional hand-eye coordination, prodigious strength, and unorthodox swing mechanics made him a force to be reckoned with, regardless of who he faced.

Ultimately, judging his greatness solely through the lens of racial segregation paints an incomplete picture. While the absence of Negro League players undoubtedly contributed to Ruth’s inflated statistics, diminishing his true talent would be a disservice to his phenomenal athleticism and revolutionary impact on the game.

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In retrospect, acknowledging the limitations of his competition while recognizing his unique abilities provides a more nuanced understanding of Babe Ruth’s place in baseball history. He will remain a larger-than-life figure—deservingly so—with his legend forever tied to the booming crack of the bat and the soaring majesty of the home run, even if an asterisk of segregation whispers in the background.

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Written by:

Shrabana Sengupta

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One take at a time

"Those who gaze outward dream, but those who turn inward awaken." A pro-writer for MLB EssentiallySports, I’ve been a fan of the New York Yankees since my school days. In my adolescent years, I was introduced to the iconic franchise through one of my beloved Friends characters, Joey.
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Edited by:

Riya Singhal

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