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View Full Version : When did the slugging style take over the game?



Windy City Fan
03-06-2007, 09:38 AM
We all know before Babe Ruth the dominant style of the game was focused on batting average, contact, and base stealing. Ruth pioneered a new style that emphasized slugging and to a lesser extent, on base percentage. However, Ruth's game didn't take over the league immediately. So I was wondering, when did the power game become the predominant style being played in baseball? Even in the 30's we see people with homerun totals in the teens making the leader boards, an indication that not many guys were playing for slugging.

I think this is an important question, because I do slightly dock Ruth and Hornsby's relative stats due to the relative advantage they had over a league that was still playing a less productive style of ball. But I probably should also be factoring that into other early sluggers like Gerhig, Foxx, and maybe a few others. So I'd love to hear what the general concensus is on when the slugging game became the way the majority of the league played.

Honus Wagner Rules
03-06-2007, 10:01 AM
We all know before Babe Ruth the dominant style of the game was focused on batting average, contact, and base stealing. Ruth pioneered a new style that emphasized slugging and to a lesser extent, on base percentage. However, Ruth's game didn't take over the league immediately. So I was wondering, when did the power game become the predominant style being played in baseball? Even in the 30's we see people with homerun totals in the teens making the leader boards, an indication that not many guys were playing for slugging.

I think this is an important question, because I do slightly dock Ruth and Hornsby's relative stats due to the relative advantage they had over a league that was still playing a less productive style of ball. But I probably should also be factoring that into other early sluggers like Gerhig, Foxx, and maybe a few others. So I'd love to hear what the general concensus is on when the slugging game became the way the majority of the league played.
What do you mean by "dominate" the game What percentage of players decided to focus on power? In the 1930s the top guys had outstanding power numbers but beyond the top players not so much. By the 1950s I think the power game was firmly in place. By that point teams would look specifically for power hitting prospects I would think. Also, some positions became "power" positions. For instance, Harlond Clift leading the way for the modern power hitting third baseman.

stevebogus
03-06-2007, 09:59 PM
There has been a gradual evolution toward a power-based game. Ruth was the trailblazer, the player who showed what could be done. But in his day who could teach power hitting? Every manager and coach back then had played and taught deadball baseball. While I'm sure there were always some strong players around, they had all been told all through their careers that winning baseball involved hitting line drives and grounders, moving runners over, everything that we today call "little ball".

A few active players adapted relatively quickly (within a few seasons). The next players after Ruth to hit 30+ HRs were Rogers Hornsby, Ken Williams, Tilly Walker, and Cy Williams. They all reached the majors in the deadball era. And there were a good number of line drive hitters who responded by hitting 10-20 HRs a season, probably without changing their swings at all.

By the mid-1920s a new generation of power hitters began to arrive in the majors, players who were teenagers or in the minors when Ruth began setting HR records. Bob Meusel bridged the gap here, arriving in 1920 and playing in the same outfield as Ruth. He didn't really post great power numbers, but did hit 33 HRs in 1925 when Ruth had his famous "bellyache" and missed a third of the season with an illness. It is tempting to guess that, with Ruth out for an extended period, Meusel was asked to supply some extra power that season. Hack Wilson reached the majors in 1923 but didn't blossom until being traded to the Cubs in 1926. Lou Gehrig got his first big league at-bats in 1923 but didn't win a regular job until 1925. Al Simmons joined the Athletics in 1924 but didn't hit for power at first. Jimmie Foxx was signed as a teenager in 1925, and Mel Ott in 1926. Chuck Klein arrived in 1928. Lefty O'Doul, who didn't stick as a pitcher in the early 1920s, went to the PCL where he became a sort of minor league Babe Ruth, pitching with great success and developing into a terrific hitter. He returned to the majors as an outfielder in 1928, and hit 32 HRs while winning the 1929 NL batting title.

The 1920 Yankees were the first team to hit more than 100 HRs. The 1927 Yankees were the first to hit 150. The first to 200 were the 1947 Giants. Each successive decade produced more and more power hitters, although there was a long pause from the 1960s through the 1980s, when HR rates stabilized somewhat. There were hitter's years and pitcher's years, but the long-term trend stalled. Today's lineups feature multiple power hitters, and in 2006 the average team hit about 180 HRs. THAT is a recent development, and has only been happening for about a dozen years. As recently as 1992 the typical team was around 120 HRs. The KC Royals were last in the majors in 2006 with 124 HRs.