April 10, 2020

Posnanski's 100 Greatest Baseball Players: Babe Ruth #2

When Joe Posnanski began his project of writing about (and ranking) the 100 greatest baseball players of all-time, he wanted to make something clear: It doesn't much matter whether a player is #48 or #72:
I don't care much about the rankings. Yes, I spent many, many, many hours on them. ... But the point of this for me is not the ranking but the stories. Every one of these players has a fascinating story — about persistence, about confidence, about pure talent, about amazing moments, about the lengths people will go to become quote-unquote "great." The stories are what inspired me to do this bonkers thing. ... [T]here's no significant difference between a player ranked 72 and 48 and 31. I could swap them, for the most part, without it changing much of anything. So if you believe a player ranked 97th should actually be 53rd, well, it might be that way the next time.
Posnanski has Babe Ruth at #2. Looking at his list, Willie Mays has to be #1. (Or maybe it'll be Duane Kuiper.) I was surprised to see my name in his piece on Ruth:
"While Ruth, without question, is the greatest hitter that the game has ever seen," Frazee said, "he is likewise one of the most selfish and inconsiderate men that ever wore a uniform."

Frazee also pointed out that the Red Sox had to suspend Ruth several times for breaking curfew. It was well known by then that Ruth had punched a home-plate umpire after not getting a strike call. He broke his toe when kicking a bench after being intentionally walked. He twice went into the crowd to go after a heckling fan. It was less well known that he was an inveterate gambler who spent virtually every night drinking to near unconsciousness, hooking up with prostitutes and wrecking cars.

So Frazee sold him. He didn't want to sell him. He was, at times, as charmed by Ruth as most. He was entirely blown away by Ruth's talents. Frazee had turned down a $100,000 offer for Ruth before. But with his money situation getting desperate and Ruth's belligerence growing worse and his life going more and more out of control, he really didn't see a choice. And he was hardly the only one who felt that way. As Paul Shannon wrote in The Boston Post, "Popular as Ruth was, on account of his big-heartedness, (his former teammates) nevertheless realize that his faults overshadow his good qualities."

Or, as Allan Wood — author of "Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox" wrote, "It would have surprised no one if, for whatever reason, Ruth was out of baseball in a year or two."

In other words, Ruth was almost impossible to pin down. Was he a big-hearted oaf? Yes. Was he a womanizing drunk? Yes. Was he a friendly soul? Yes. Was he a manipulative son of a gun? Yes. Could he be magnanimous? Could he be cruel? Could he be childish? Could he be cynical? Yes is the answer to everything with the Babe.
There was no real need for Joe to quote me there. He could have made the same point in his own words. I'm thrilled he did not. Thanks for the plug, Joe. ... But, man, you really blew it by not having Ruth #1. Mays is a fine choice, but how many World Series shutouts did he pitch?

1 comment:

GK said...

Speaking of the Babe, I have watched footage of his swing, but I could never pin down his style. Are there any players in the last 30 years whose swing and mechanics are similar? surely, not trying to compare accomplishments. The one left handed hitter I loved watching -John Olerud.