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  • Jenkinson and Comparative Difficulty

    In his book The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs, Bill Jenkinson tackles the tricky subject of comparative difficulty. He concludes that Babe Ruth had it tougher than the modern athlete in almost every way. There is something that Jenkinson introduces called the Babe Ruth Factor, which stipulates that Ruth had it harder than other ballplayers of his time, because of his status as the game's biggest star. This may cause Jenkinson to rate the early days as more difficult as it pertains to Babe Ruth, but not as it pertains to the rest of Major League Baseball. However, my best guess is that Jenkinson still views the conditions of the game in the early days as worse for all players, as compared to the modern game.
    When we analyze statistics, we note a significant tilt toward the old-timers as being the greatest players. If we were to set the modern game at a factor of 1.00, and we acknowledge that the conditions made it more difficult for the old-timers, which is certainly reasonable, we must set the early days at a positive factor. That factor probably experienced a steady decline over the years from Ruth's time to the present. So, for those of us who like a balanced list across the eras, we must introduce a league quality factor, in which we suggest the caliber of competition has gotten stronger over the years. Jenkinson states that it hasn't.
    Jenkinson writes, "Today's player's are bigger and stronger than the players of the past, but they are not as skilled. They can't be. By the time they arrive in the Major Leagues, they have played thousands fewer hours of baseball than their earlier counterparts. In Babe Ruth's day, baseball was at the zenith of its popularity relating to participation, and ballplayers were generally more skilled than at any other time." (Jenkinson, p. 225) He goes on to say that "It is the great body of average Major Leaguers that lack the skill level of the older guys. It's not their fault. They grew up with video games, personal computers, DVDs, and so forth. They may be smarter and more sophisticated, but they don't play baseball with the same finesse as their predecessors. How could they? They simply don't play as much. They are definitely bigger and stronger, but, if my belief about declining skill is correct, they probably can't play baseball any better. I don't think anyone knows for sure."
    Jenkinson does say he thinks the best players of today are as skilled as those of the past, but the problem is, they can't be. If the average player is better in the early days, and the early day top players are putting up better relative stats, and the relative stats are based on comparisons with the average player, the early day players must be more skilled. Jenkinson's conclusion about the caliber of competition is that it's about the same for Babe Ruth. This may seem like a contradiction of what he was saying, but I believe it reflects his acknowledgement of the expansion of the number of available athletes to be distributed among the major league rosters. If Jenkinson is right, and the caliber of competition was about the same in Ruth's time, then we should ultimately be multiplying the statistics from the early days by a positive factor, because the conditions were so prohibitive, and the caliber of competition wasn't any lower. I have no idea how the multiplicative factor would work throughout baseball history, but I suspect it would be at its peak in the 1920s.
    Is Jenkinson off his rocker? Our lists already have a leaning toward the early days. The lists would have an extreme early days skew with the idea that it was harder to put up great numbers in the early days. Is the reason the players of the early days look better by numbers is because they were simply better players, and in fact, even better than that?
    "Any pitcher who throws at a batter and deliberately tries to hit him is a communist."

    - Alvin Dark

  • #2
    No one wants to discuss this? Really? I must say I'm surprised.
    "Any pitcher who throws at a batter and deliberately tries to hit him is a communist."

    - Alvin Dark

    Comment


    • #3
      --Okay, yes Jenkinson is off his rocker.

      Comment


      • #4
        My father grew up during the heart of Ruth's career, and his father died when my father was 8. My Dad immediately started working whenever he could to help his family survive. When I asked him once about what sports he played when he was a kid, he laughed derisively and said he didn't have time for that...although he did learn golf when the caddies could play on the off days of the golf course where he lived during the summer. Yes, he lived in the clubhouse during the week while he carried bags all summer, went home on weekends.
        There are a billion individual stories out there, but the economy wasn't as strong back then, and there wasn't much of a safety net. It's hard to say with homelessness, poverty, and income disparity being big problems today, but my take would be that more people were struggling to get by then. A lot of kids probably couldn't afford balls and bats, didn't have playing fields nearby, didn't have transportation to fields that may have been around, and/or were expected to work in or out of the home to help the family get by.
        Without the other distractions we have today, the kids that did get to play ball may have played a lot more than most modern kids...but, a lot surely never had the chance. And, plenty of modern kids play very busy travel baseball schedules, with coaching and good equipment...maybe better than kids playing together in a field all day, maybe not.
        Ruth is a funny story...he grew up on the streets, causing trouble and getting into fights. When his parents gave up and put him in St. Mary's, he suddenly had structure in his life and playing fields to use...and, the brothers emphasized sports to keep the boys occupied and healthy. My strong suspicion is Ruth wouldn't have been a pro baseball player if he had stayed on the streets.
        "I throw him four wide ones, then try to pick him off first base." - Preacher Roe on pitching to Musial

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by AstrosFan View Post
          Jenkinson states that it hasn't.
          Jenkinson writes, "Today's player's are bigger and stronger than the players of the past, but they are not as skilled. They can't be. By the time they arrive in the Major Leagues, they have played thousands fewer hours of baseball than their earlier counterparts. In Babe Ruth's day, baseball was at the zenith of its popularity relating to participation, and ballplayers were generally more skilled than at any other time." (Jenkinson, p. 225) He goes on to say that "It is the great body of average Major Leaguers that lack the skill level of the older guys. It's not their fault. They grew up with video games, personal computers, DVDs, and so forth. They may be smarter and more sophisticated, but they don't play baseball with the same finesse as their predecessors. How could they? They simply don't play as much. They are definitely bigger and stronger, but, if my belief about declining skill is correct, they probably can't play baseball any better. I don't think anyone knows for sure."
          I'm not even sure how accurate his ideas with regard to playing time are. I'm 28. I grew up, really, at the vanguard of both PC use and the resurrection of the video game industry with the NES (DVDs are even newer, but home movies viewing is about the same era). I don't think things like that are really a factor for anyone older than me. Modern distractions like that are a very, very recent phenomenon. I'm also profoundly middle class. Anyone with fewer economic advantages than me is even less likely to be effected by recent technology - like players from the DR or Venezuela, etc. I'm also Canadian, so baseball is - at best - the second most popular sport (and soccer is probably ahead of it too, at least) for organized participation, far behind hockey.

          All that said, I played an astonishing amount of baseball and baseball-related activities when I was a kid. Not just little league, but things like 500 up and running bases, and catch, and red a$$. My neighbour and I had a grand set of rules for two man baseball, which we'd play for hours. I took my glove to school with me every day I could, as did most of my friends. None of us were ever that good at baseball, or came close to playing it competitively, but we probably did something to hone our baseball skills most days between April and October for about a decade.

          Now, for all we did, it's possible that kids in the 10s and 20s did more. I'm not sure how I can really see that they did a lot more though. It's possible future players will have to deal much more with the distractions of modern technology in their formative years, but I really don't believe it's been a huge distraction for players like Ryan Howard or Erik Bedard or Adam Dunn. They're all my age. For anyone older than them, these distractions are even less likely.
          sigpic
          5.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by AstrosFan View Post
            No one wants to discuss this? Really? I must say I'm surprised.
            1) I don't think that there is as extreme an increase in LQ as many systems make it out to be-as much as 40% since 1900 and 30% since 1920 for example. Sprinters from the 50s would be fairly close to sprinters from today with the same equipment.

            2) First off, I don't think having a league of better athletes makes the league higher quality. The question is tha balance between what the best can do and what the average guy can do. The AVERAGE guy today will have some big plusses. You can't even make a college team as an outfielder if you can't run 60 yards in 7.5 or 7.6 seconds, or if you can hit it 450 feet regularly. So baseball players who make it ARE chosen from a more selective physiological section of the population.

            3) There is more specialization. More pitchers contribute in more specialized ways. On the other hand, we are approaching the point where everyone has to hit, so we may not see too many Ozzie Smith's in the next 100 years. That may shift. Consider this. What if there was suddenly a new rule that if you could bunt the ball to a spot on the infield you got a run. We would soon get a lot of specialized bunters spreading the value out more and more.

            Overall, homogeneous playing conditions tend to make it harder for the best to dominate because there are fewer variables to dominate, but they may make it easier to dominate because there is a limit to specialization, due to roster size.

            4) I was just thinking this morning that the players from the original NBA dream team: Jordan, Bird, Johnson, Drexler, Stockton, Malone, Barkley, Robinson, Ewing would be better than today's stars, if not for physical reasons, because they played better. Today NBA players get criticized for not playing defense, but at the same time, guards don't shoot 52% like Jordan and Johnson did, which means to me that those guys PLAYED better. But it doesn't mean that if you took Kobe or LeBron and put them in that game they wouldn't shoot 55%. Then again in basketball you directly depend on the players around you.

            5) Maybe when we see that it was "easier" for players to separate in earlier times, we fail to realize the differences inherent in non-statistical factors. Ruth and Williams separated in hitting hugely, largely because the average guy was not hitting for any power, but maybe the average guy was picking up an extra 5-10 bases on the basepaths because they were smaller and quicker and if they couldn't run, they wouldn't be there.

            6) I know kids who have the chance to play 100 games a year starting from 9th grade counting school, and summer and fall leagues. These kids probably play 40 weeks out of the year. Collge has created more development. The minors are better. By the age of 22, kids who are serious have probably logged 1000 competitive games and 10,000 hours of TEAM practice.

            7) Ruth would never hit 104. If the fences had been brought in, and the league quality more evenly distributed-more guys with power, he wouldn't have been AS dominant, and at a certain rate of home runs and slugging, it is statistically advantageous for the opposition to walk a player strategically half the time. Much better (900 slugging) and he wouldn't have gotten 350 at bats. Much MUCH better (1,000 slugging) and he basically would be walked 75% of the time and would have gotten <200 at bats. Nobody hits 80 home runs in a league of thinking managers, unless they bat .260.

            8) My dad could kick my butt and my grandpa could kick his butt.
            Last edited by brett; 03-25-2008, 07:10 AM.

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            • #7
              From: Games, Asterisks, and People - Memoirs of a Lucky Fan
              By Ford Frick

              Speaking of Ruth's records, maybe this would be the time and place to set the record straight as concerns the Roger Maris mark of 61 homers in the 1961 season. A lot of my newspaper friends have enjoyed kidding me about the "Asterisk" incident. As a matter of fact no asterisk has ever appeared in the official record in connection with the Maris feat. Roger his 61 home runs that season to set an all-time record and he is given full recognition for that accomplishment. But his record was set in a 162 game season. The Ruth record of 60 home runs was set in 1927 in a 154 game schedule.

              Late in the 1961 season when it became apparent that Maris had a great chance to tie or better the Ruth mark, newspapermen raised a question as to how any new record would be handled. The commissioner was asked to make a ruling. That ruling was a simple one. In case the record was broken in 154 games the Maris mark would be recognized, and the Ruth record dropped. If the Ruth mark still stood at the end of the 154 games but was subsequently broken in the eight additional games of the 1961 season, then both records would be recognized as official and given equal billing in the record book.

              That is what happened. At the end of the 154 games Maris had 59 home runs to 60 for the Babe. During the additional eight games of the 1961 season Maris hit two homers to bring his total to 61. The 1962 official Red Book carried two notations.

              Most home runs in a season, 162 game schedule, Roger Maris, 61. Most home runs in a season, 154 game schedule, George Ruth, 60.

              Detailed information on each record was carried side by side. They still are. Page 311 of the 1972 Red Book carries a complete record of the 61 home runs hit by Roger Maris. Page 312 carries the same full report of the 60 home runs hit by Babe Ruth. No asterisks! No apologies! Just two official records of two great baseball accomplishments that fans will never forget. I still think it was the right decision.

              Oh, yes, during the conference the word "asterisk" was mentioned; not by the commissioner but by Dick Young, one of the outstanding baseball writers of his time. Dick remarked kiddingly, "Maybe you should use an asterisk on the new record. Everybody does that when there's a difference of opinion."

              Dick and other writers have had a lot of fun with "asterisk" stories through the years. But the honor is not mine. To Dick a low obeisance for a clever line, with or without an asterisk."


              --------------------------------------------------------------

              But getting back to fan questions.

              Whatever the occasion, and wherever the meeting, one question was sure to be asked: "Do you think modern ballplayers are better than their counterparts of a past generation?"
              My answer has got to be a qualified "yes!"

              Old-timers, I know, will argue that point till the cows come home. They have great pride in their own accomplishments. They have lasting respect for the men who played with and against them in the days that were; and with justification. These were giants in the old days, men whose accomplishments still stand unchallenged in the record books, men whose performance will remain forever green in the memories of the fans who thrilled to their play. However, my answer to the fans is based on the game as an entity, not on a comparison of individuals.

              All sports have improved. It was only a few years ago that the world's polo-vaulting record stood at 14 feet, and the four-minute mile was but a figment of an optimist's imagination. Remember the days when the forward pass was a scatter-gun operation to be used only in sheerest deperation? Or the not-far-distant past when the most astute quarterback's repertoire consisted of a few power plays and end sweeps, and teh Statue-of-Liberty play was the acme of strategic deception? Remember baseball in the days of the dead ball, when ten home runs a season was a great accomplishment for even the greatest slugger?

              Times have changed, and so has baseball.

              I hope fans will continue to argue and battle for their heroes. If they ever lose that interest baseball will suffer. The old-timer talks pridefully today of the swashbuckling tactics of a Cobb or a Ruth or a Frisch or a Wagner; he boasts of the pitching prowess of Johnson and Alexander; of Hubbell and Grove and Walsh and Feller - and rightfully so. But he conveniently forgets that those heroes were exceptions, that along with these superstars were some 400 unsung, mine-run players who are never mentioned once the argument gets under way. I suppose the same thing will be repeated in that future time when today's youngsters become old-timers who will recall the Mays, the Mantles, the Koufaxes, the Aarons, and the Brooks Robinsons as rebuttal to the arguments of yet unborn fans of a future generation. I hope they do. If so it will mean that baseball's banner still flies high in the sports skies. But that is only matching memory against reality, and memory is a conveniently tricky witness.

              To me there's no question. Baseball is an improved game today. It's played better, it's speedier, and it's more scientific. Modern ballplayers, as a group, are bigger, stronger, and better conditioned than their predecessors. They are better educated and better coached; they have better equipment and better tools. They operate on truer infields and smoother, better-manicured outfields. Clubhouses are more comfortable and better equipped; training quarters compare favorably with the best hospital emergency rooms, and are supervised by trainers versed in the latest therapy procedures and have the last word in theraputic equipment with which to work.

              All these things are good. All these things favor the players. Off the field conditions are better today too. Salaries have reached phenomenal heights. Bonuses to youngsters for signing their first contract, minimum salary guarantees, and a pension plan that carries with it a family health plan and guaranteed insurance up to the time the pension starts, alleviate the financial worries that beset the old-timers. Never before have players and operators had more reason to take pride in their profession. Never before have youngsters of ability faced greater opportunity for a glamourous and worthwhile baseball career than is offered today.

              Players have changed too, and not all the changes are good. That the modern players have every physical advantage, both as to individual training and working conditions, is self-evident. Whether or not they are making full use of those advantages is a moot question. Maybe I'm a prejudiced witness, swayed by sentiment and memory, but it seems to me that modern players lack the enthusiasm and zest for the game that marked the performance of the old-timers. To the old-timer every game was a battle, with no holds barred. Every play was a challenge, every rookie a potential enemy trying for the job that the veteran cherished and defended.

              I'm not a bloodthirsty person looking for murder and mayhem as part of my daily baseball diet. But I do recall with nostalgic pleasure those days when base runners went into each base with spikes high and infielders responded with swinging tags that left a calling card of bruises as warning that they were on the job. I remember, too, the infield play of the Frisches and the Martins and their ilk, making scrambling stops with their chests or jaws to cut off base hits and get their man. The "dust-off" of hitters was common practice too, an accepted part of the game. Hitters expected to "hit the dirt" frequently and were seldom disappointed. Today's players, protected by helmets and ear covers, squawk loudly at any inside pitch and call an impirical council of war every time a batsman his hit above the waist or is forced to hit the dirt to avoid a high fast one.

              The change that bothers me most, however, is the attitude of players toward the game itself. Old-timers played the game because they loved it. They talked, and read, and dreamed baseball twenty-four hours a day and 365 days a year. "If they want me to quit, they'll have to cut the uniform off me" was a common expression, even for superstars like Cobb and Ruth and Wagner, for to those old-timers baseball was a way of life. They asked for nothing more.

              Today the attitude is different. Modern players are more blase. Their interests are broader and more cosmopolitan. They play the game and play it exceedingly well, but without any particular dedication. I do not imply that they do not try to win, or that victory is less sweet or the rewards of victory less appealing to them than to their predecessors. I do think their concept of the game is different. To the modern player baseball no longer is the alpha and omega of existence, as it was to the old-timer. "Cutting off the uniform" is no longer a necessary requisite to ending a career. Qualifying for a pension to ensure future security is - and that's they way they play the game.

              Don't misunderstand me. I still stand by my original statment. Modern baseball and modern players are basically better than their predecessors of a past generation. Nor do I intend to criticize or belittle today's performance. What I am trying to point out is that we are living in a different age, with different economic and social pressures. Today's ballplayer is the product of that new environment. If it were possible, through some magic alchemy, to transpose the generations I am convinced the net result would be the same. The modern players would, under such circumstances, perform according to the rules, the mores, and the attitudes of that bygone period. And the old-timers, translated to the modern era, would follow the pattern of today and profit by it. For that is the story of time and human progress, and baseball and all sports are simply mirrors reflecting the spirit of the times in which they operate.

              But to get back to the questions fans commonly ask.

              Babe Ruth has been gone more than a quarter of a century, but his memory is still green and many of his records still stand in the golden book of baseball accomplishment. Which I guess really answers the question, even before it is asked.

              Anyhow, here is the question inevitably asked by youngsters who know him only as a legendary figure out of the past: "Was Babe Ruth as great as my Dad claims? Do you think he would hit as well against modern pitchers and under present-day rules and conditions?

              The answer is a loud and unqualified "yes."

              I have seen most of the great baseball figures in action. And in my opinion the Babe was the greatest player of all time. He could do everything. He was, as everyone knows, a great hitter. He also was the best left-handed pitcher in the American League during his pitching days. He had one of the strongest and most accurate throwing arms in baseball, and, in his prime, he had enough speed to be a threat on the bases.

              He was a born hitter, and born hitters are not affected by rules or conditions. To be a great hitter you have to have keen eyes, quick reflexes, perfect timing, power and confidence. Babe had them all, and with that equipment, opposing pitching becomes a minor factor. Whether Babe could hit more home runs, if he were playing today, than he hit in his career, I would not attempt to say. He hit 714 during his career, and most of those against a deader ball, over a shorter season. No one has yet tied that record, and there have been some great challengers through the years. As hitters, men like Cobb, and Hornsby, and Williams, and Foxx, and Greenberg, and Mantle and DiMaggio rated among the best, past and present. All had their chances, none came close.

              If he were playing today Babe would lead the pack, as he did before. In his day he hit home runs off Johnson, and Grove, and Alexander. With all due respect to modern pitchers, I think he would perform equally well against the Seavers, the McNallys, the Lolichs and the Blues of the present generation.

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              • #8
                The Day That Changed Baseball Forever
                http://www.irishamericannews.com/ind...dup&Itemid=187

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by AstrosFan View Post
                  In his book The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs, Bill Jenkinson tackles the tricky subject of comparative difficulty. He concludes that Babe Ruth had it tougher than the modern athlete in almost every way. There is something that Jenkinson introduces called the Babe Ruth Factor, which stipulates that Ruth had it harder than other ballplayers of his time, because of his status as the game's biggest star. This may cause Jenkinson to rate the early days as more difficult as it pertains to Babe Ruth, but not as it pertains to the rest of Major League Baseball. However, my best guess is that Jenkinson still views the conditions of the game in the early days as worse for all players, as compared to the modern game.
                  When we analyze statistics, we note a significant tilt toward the old-timers as being the greatest players. If we were to set the modern game at a factor of 1.00, and we acknowledge that the conditions made it more difficult for the old-timers, which is certainly reasonable, we must set the early days at a positive factor. That factor probably experienced a steady decline over the years from Ruth's time to the present. So, for those of us who like a balanced list across the eras, we must introduce a league quality factor, in which we suggest the caliber of competition has gotten stronger over the years. Jenkinson states that it hasn't.
                  Jenkinson writes, "Today's player's are bigger and stronger than the players of the past, but they are not as skilled. They can't be. By the time they arrive in the Major Leagues, they have played thousands fewer hours of baseball than their earlier counterparts. In Babe Ruth's day, baseball was at the zenith of its popularity relating to participation, and ballplayers were generally more skilled than at any other time." (Jenkinson, p. 225) He goes on to say that "It is the great body of average Major Leaguers that lack the skill level of the older guys. It's not their fault. They grew up with video games, personal computers, DVDs, and so forth. They may be smarter and more sophisticated, but they don't play baseball with the same finesse as their predecessors. How could they? They simply don't play as much. They are definitely bigger and stronger, but, if my belief about declining skill is correct, they probably can't play baseball any better. I don't think anyone knows for sure."
                  Jenkinson does say he thinks the best players of today are as skilled as those of the past, but the problem is, they can't be. If the average player is better in the early days, and the early day top players are putting up better relative stats, and the relative stats are based on comparisons with the average player, the early day players must be more skilled. Jenkinson's conclusion about the caliber of competition is that it's about the same for Babe Ruth. This may seem like a contradiction of what he was saying, but I believe it reflects his acknowledgement of the expansion of the number of available athletes to be distributed among the major league rosters. If Jenkinson is right, and the caliber of competition was about the same in Ruth's time, then we should ultimately be multiplying the statistics from the early days by a positive factor, because the conditions were so prohibitive, and the caliber of competition wasn't any lower. I have no idea how the multiplicative factor would work throughout baseball history, but I suspect it would be at its peak in the 1920s.
                  Is Jenkinson off his rocker? Our lists already have a leaning toward the early days. The lists would have an extreme early days skew with the idea that it was harder to put up great numbers in the early days. Is the reason the players of the early days look better by numbers is because they were simply better players, and in fact, even better than that?
                  of course Bill Jenkinson will say this . He is the chief priest of the Babe Ruth cult. This is utter nonsense of course. I guess his argument applies to Wilt Chamberlain and Wayne Gretzky as well?
                  Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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