More on Babe vs Josh
Do you know William Jenkinson’s book about Babe Ruth, The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs? He went to the black press and recorded every at bat by Ruth against Negro League pitching. He found 55 at bats by Ruth, some against Hall of Fame pitchers. Against them, Ruth got 25 hits and 12 home runs. In a 550-at bat season, Ruth would, by these stats, have hit 120 home runs. On this very limited data base, if Ruth had played in the Negro Leagues, he would probably have been the best hitter there, probably by a wider margin than in the Major Leagues.
Jenkinson (in another book, about long home runs) studied all of Ruth’s home runs. He carefully measured all of Ruth’s homers on aerial photographs of the ballparks at the time- in 1921 Ruth hit at least one home run of 500+ feet in all eight American League ball parks. Ruth hit the longest home run in Major League history, about 570 feet in Navin Field, Detroit in 1921 (apparently much farther in reality than Mickey Mantle’s famous longs shots). Also according to Jenkinson, Babe hit the longest home run, according to him, that any human has ever hit – in an exhibition game in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. just after the 1926 World Series, Ruth hit a blast that went 650 feet! Jenkinson found two eyewitnesses, who pointed to where the ball landed, which was exactly what was reported in the local press at the time.
Thanks for a thoughtful and provocative letter. I enjoyed reading it. I agree that Babe was a heck of a hitter, and Bill is a heck of a researcher. He once told me that it’s impossible for a human to hit a ball 600 feet, but he has apparently uncovered new data since then.
Perhaps you or another reader would like to check Bill’s first book and see how many home runs he hit between 297 and 408 feet (252 feet in the Polo Grounds, the distance to the rightfield over-hang there.)
You are right that if Babe had played in the Negro leagues, he would have hit more home runs.
But if he had played in an integrated league, he would have hit less. That’s because he would have faced the best pitchers of both races, as the strongest blacks replaced the weakest whites. Of course Josh would have been penalized even more. He would certainly not have hit 108 homers. But he might have hit 61, just as Babe would almost surely not have hit 60.
I should point out that Gibson’s batting averages of .466 etc were not against big league pitching. Monte Irvin hit .385 one year in the black leagues, Larry Doby hit .400 twice, Jackie Robinson batted .365. They never came close to that in the Bigs. I should have made that clear in my first essay. But I was surprised to learn – and maybe readers are too – that Josh had the highest average in the black leagues, as well as the most home runs.
Why, then, did Negro Leaguers play the biggest white stars on even terms? I believe it’s because the best whites and blacks were evenly matched. But the weakest Negro Leaguers were not as good as the weakest whites, so Gibson, Oscar Charleston etc feasted on them. If anyone else has a better theory, I’m ready to listen.
A word about Ruth vs black pitchers. I dealt with this is in last week’s reply to another reader. In inter-racial games, the blacks played to win as a matter of pride. But in games against Ruth, they wanted Babe to hit homers. The more he hit, the more the customers paid to come back to see him do it again next week, and the more money they all made. So they threw him lollypops. Everybody made money, Including Babe. I’m sure Bill Jenkinson wasn’t aware of this, but I wouldn’t take those stats seriously.
Bottom line: Everybody got cheated – the white fans, the black players, and even Ruth. We’ll never know if he could have been the home run king mano a mano against Gibson. And that’s sad for everyone, including Babe.
Thanks again for writing.
New Hall of Fame Committee
It’s the Pre-Integration Era Committee, which has just considered its first ten candidates.
All of them were white!
What’s going on here?
The Hall has refused to consider any more blacks from that era. It made a welcome effort in 2006 by naming 17. Then it firmly closed its doors again. It has now opened a door – but it’s still got a large “WHITES ONLY” sign on it.
The first ten nominees included such Immortals as Doc Adams (!?), Bill Dahlen, and Harry Stovey.
Not nominated and still banned were Negro leaguers:
William Bell, #3 on the life-time victories list.
Ed Bolden, founder of the Eastern Colored League, built the Philadelphia Hilldales into one of the game’s great dynasties.
Nip Winters – best Negro league record of all time in a 100-game season – 28-5 – plus 3-1 in the World Series, in 1924.
Dick Lundy – one of the three top Negro league shortstops.
Some say the top.
Bill Byrd – one of the all-time top winners
George Scales – played three infield positions; among the leaders in batting and homers.
Leroy Matlock – won 21 straight games, 18-0 in one year.
Webster McDonald – boasted a 14-2 record vs white big leaguers.
Bill Holland – won 100 games (equivalent to 300 in the short Negro league season) though pitching ten years with a last-place team.
Sammy T Hughes – the best of the black second basemen.
Cecil Travis (right). Out-hit DiMag the year Joe hit in 56 games. Without a war, he’d be up there with Honus Wagner.
Johnny Pesky. Also gave up three prime years to the Navy or he’d join Cece and Honus as the three best-hitting shortstops in history.
Dom DiMaggio. The greatest outfielder I ever saw, and that includes Joe. Give him his three war-time years back, and he has Richie Ashburn numbers.
The Nats Weren’t Listening
The Nationals have traded away their second-best clutch-hitter, Yunel Escobar. They obviously didn’t read our post that only Bryce Harper scored or batted in more tying or go-ahead runs (TOGARs).
They also let Denard Spann go to San Francisco. Again, I doubt if they knew that if Spann had played a full season with Washington, he’d have had an estimated 61 TOGARs, compared to Harper’s 48.
The Broken Bat
By John B Holway
In 1990 the Red Sox were making a gallant run against the defending division champs, Toronto. Picked to finish fourth or fifth in the spring, the Sox suffered several key injuries. DH Dwight Evans injured his back in spring training and played hurt all year. Relief ace Jeff Reardon had a ruptured disk and was out two months. Outfielder Mike Greenwell hurt his ankle, and his average fell to .238 through June, though he pulled it up to .297 by the end.
The worst blow fell September 4, when Roger Clemens (20-6) was disabled with tendonitis and fluid in his pitching shoulder. The pain was so great he couldn’t even play catch.
And the team was in revolt against manager Joe Morgan.
In May the Sox had traded for Tom Brunansky, a right-handed power hitter, with 20 or more homers for eight straight years. But Bruno hurt his shoulder in June, went 34 at bats without a hit in July, and was benched briefly in September. Bruno was batting .267 with only ten home runs.
September 28. Still, Boston was tied with Toronto when the Blue Jays arrived for a three-game series. Boston station WZLX decided that the “Curse of the Bambino” was afflicting the Red Sox. It put in a call to the Crystal Chamber in Salem, and asked to speak to Shawn Poirier (pronounced PAW-re-er), a male Witch. “The curse has to be lifted,” the caller pleader.
“Let’s try,” Shawn said.
Poirier was a tall man in his late 20s. He wore a black purple-lined cape and gave psychic readings in his shop. A Cape Codder, Poirier claimed to be a third-generation Witch (he says “Witch,” not “Wizard”). “I’ve always been trained as a psychic,” he told me. “As a child I felt centuries old in a young body.” When he watched Walt Disney programs, he could tell how they would turn out.
Poirier said he followed the “old” religion. “To me, a Witch is just a wise person, who takes others to see their places in the diverse scheme of the universe.”
Police had just asked him about the murder of a girl in Rhode Island. He described a basement where the body could be found and described the killer: “a little man, bald, heavy around the belly, with glasses,” who was later arrested.
“Right now,” Shawn told me, “we’re sending out thoughts of world peace, a nightly thing we do, covering the whole world with a healing web.”
The evening before the Red Sox game, he did his regular radio broadcast from his apartment. He and two female Witches, Lupe Mannon and Rachel Cody, lit candles and went into the alpha state. They did some incantations, “and visualized, or sent the Red Sox positive energy.” They said things like, “I see them pulling together as a team, flying ahead full force. I see their bats striking like the thunder of Thor,” the Viking god. They wanted the players to be “quick as deer and fast as light.”
Meanwhile, across the street from the Green Monster, at the “Twins” (sic) souvenir store, a fire suddenly broke out next to a poster of Babe Ruth. Fire fighters extinguished the blaze, but there was no sign of how it started.
Boston won and went into Saturday’s game one game ahead of Toronto; they had four games left, two against To the Blue Jays and two against the third-place White Sox.
Saturday’s game would be on national TV, and fans across New England crossed their fingers that Clemens, who hadn’t pitched in over three weeks, would be able to go. While fans lined up for tickets, Tom went out to his backyard to toss some pitches “just to see where I stood.”
At 12:30 Poirier arrived at Twins, where several hundred people were gathered near the pillar still dark from the flames of the fire. They brought various charms – a Babe Ruth doll, a Red Sox uniform, an African voodoo belt. Someone brought a three-foot rabbit’s foot.
One of those in the crowd was Bill “Spaceman” Lee, who had pitched for the Sox in the fateful 1978 season, when they lost the playoff to Bucky Dent and the Yankees.
Poirier says he sent out healing to “the guy with the shoulder problem.” (Shawn obviously was not a baseball fan.) Then he took a Red Sox shirt as a symbol of the team, put the curse, or negative energy, into the shirt, tore it in half, and tossed the tatters to the crowd, who “totally destroyed it.” Shawn picked up another shirt and invested it with “energy and good luck.”
Next he held aloft a broken bat and intoned: “This is a symbol of victory. May the powers of the universe and the love of the fans and the energy of the players come together so that the Red Sox may fly again.” Then he handed it to Lee.
Meanwhile, Morgan was pacing the dugout, still uncertain whether Clemens could start or not. At last Morgan, Clemens, and pitching coach Bill Fischer gathered to take the long walk to the bullpen, where Roger would warm up. The crowd stood as one person and roared.
“When the crowd gets behind you like that,” Tom said, “it almost makes you feel you’re invincible.”
“Roger was positive, 100 percent, that there was nothing wrong with him,” Morgan reported.
Clemens ran a few sprints in the outfield, then doffed his jacket and wound up for his first pitch. It sailed over the catcher’s head. The rest we’re right on target.
“How do you feel?” Morgan asked nervously.
“I can’t believe this,” Roger exclaimed. “I feel great!”
Catcher Tony Pena was impressed. “He hadn’t pitched in a month, and he had control like that!”
“It doesn’t matter how many innings I pitch,” Roger said; “I’m going to shut them out.” They walked back to the infield as more cheers swelled from the stands.
The first batter was Mookie Wilson (.265), the former Met who had hit the fateful ball that Bill Buckner fumbled in the ‘86 World Series. Roger’s fastball cracked into Pena’s mitt like a shot, which was heard throughout the park. Wilson grounded out. Tony Fernandez walked, but Clemens struck out Kelly Gruber (.274) and McGriff (.300).
Lee watched a couple of innings, then went to his car, tossed the bat in the trunk, and drove home to Vermont. He was on I-93, listening on the radio, when Brunansky smacked a home run to give Clemens a 1-0 lead.
Roger left the game after six innings. He had given up four hits, two walks, with five strikeouts. And no runs.
“I never believed he could do what he did today,” Fischer marveled. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. If he told me he could walk on water, he could walk on water.”
In the bottom of the inning, Brunansky came up with two men on and smashed another shot over the Monster, his 13th homer of the year.
In the eighth Bruno came up again. “Throw him a low fastball,” Lee prayed under his breath. A moment later he heard the announcer cry: “A fastball… a drive deep to center…” It was Tom’s third homer of the day, the first man to hit three in one game at Fenway since Jim Rice 13 years earlier.
The Red Sox won 7-5.
Did Shawn’s witchcraft give the team a psychological lift? I asked both Fischer and third baseman Wade Boggs. Both said they never even heard about the ceremony.
Toronto won 10-5 on Sunday, despite another homer by Bruno. They remained one game ahead.
Next Chicago came to town. Boston beat them 4-3 as Bruno made a fine catch.
Tuesday Brunansky hit a double off the wall and scored the run that tied the game 2-2, though Boston lost in the 11th.
If the Red Sox could win the last game, it would mean the pennant, no matter what Toronto did.
Brunansky’s triple knocked in a run for a 2-0 lead. He tried to score on a passed ball but was caught in a run-down, then scored on an error.
In the ninth the White Sox put two men on with two out, and Ozzie Guillen slashed a low, twisting drive into the rightfield corner. Bruno raced, dove, gloved the ball, slid into the grandstand wall, and held on.
The Red Sox had won the title.
Lee, meanwhile, remembered the broken bat in his trunk. He went out to the car, lifted the lid, and took out the bat.
It was a Tom Brunansky model.
(From the book, “Amazing Baseball,” in manuscript.)