We talk about stats a lot here at Getting Blanked. I recognize this might rub some people the wrong way, but stats are the language of the modern game; both on the internet and beyond. They inform the way we value players and give us valuable context for bar room debates and blog posts alike. Important as they, nobody would argue stats tell the entire story.

During our football/baseball debate last week, Goal Line Stand’s Brad Gagnon noted that the baseball record book is “a joke” as steroids fueled a never before seen offensive influx. I, respectfully, disagree. There are so many more factors at play that to simplify it down to “drugs” is lazy and inaccurate. Many, many changes revolutionized the way the game is played over time.

Consider the image above, courtesy of the Sports Illustrated archives via the irrepressible Might Flynn tumblr. The man in this photo is Al Rosen, trailblazing Jewish ballplayer and slugger of note during the 1950s. Rosen won the American League Most Valuable Player for the 1953 season after slugging 43 home runs and posted an impressive 1.034 OPS. Small guy, hit for power, good stuff.

Look at the photo again. Think about the positioning of his hands and feet. Compare it to the slow motion breakdown of Chase Utley’s swing below. Watch the video, look at the photo, compare in your mind. Seriously, go ahead. I’ll wait.

The number one thing the old-timey photo at the top of this post conveys to me is motion. Rosen shifts his weight in an exaggerated manner, striding into to the ball as he loads his hands. Very, very few modern players — if any — move at all in the batter’s box (Being an arsenic-based lifeform precludes Ichiro from this conversation). Most players now use tiny step, more of a toe touch, as timing mechanisms. Just like Utley above or the pinnacle of manliness Albert Pujols. Power is derived from rotation – rotating/opening the hips with the shoulders pulling the hands through at high speed.

Add a more balanced, powerful, repeatable swing to smaller ballparks, more tightly wound balls, and the de-stigmatization of strikeouts and the inevitable product is more offense. It is all about efficiency – hitting home runs is a lot better way to score than lunging around with two strikes, desperately trying not to strike out.

It isn’t that modern baseball is better or the older eras of baseball are worse, it is just the way the game evolved. Home runs are the natural bi-product of the ways the game changed, for better or worse. Hopefully we can take this, among other changes, into mind before we indict an entire generation of baseball for vague moral grandstanding. Remember, the chance that Al Rosen is high on greenies (a.k.a AMPHETAMINES a.k.a. illegal drugs!) in the above photo is just about equal to the chance Chase Utley is on steroids. Both help their performance, neither is the whole story.

Comments (7)

  1. And while you are comparing: Look at the Captain Caveman club in Rosen’s hands.

    I remember when Jack Clark first started to take a bat with a fat barrel and super-thin handle to the plate, and how the broadcasters in the 1985 playoffs couldn’t get over it. How does that bat not break every time he makes contact?

    Pretty much every bat wielded by a major leaguer these days resembles Clark’s, which helps to explain some of the offensive advances, as well as the incredible number of broken bats.

  2. Double checking my work: It may have been the 1987 playoffs, as that was also the year that Clark’s offensive numbers went to the next level, and he became (clearing throat)…ahem…The Most Feared Hitter In Baseball!

  3. Jack Clark’s 1987 >>>>>>>> George Bell’s 1987.

  4. Check out that OBP: .459! Almost .100 more than Bell’s! If only people gave a fadoo about OBP back then.

  5. byproducts, unless it’s a a pun.

    As for the gist…drugs are just a footnote. Do we asterisk Perry’s 300 wins because he used an emery board? Do we asterisk Rose’s hit record because of gambling? (Yeah, he’s not in the Hall, but he should be, and the hits still count.) The baseball season has added more games, new rules, differently constructed pitching staffs. Everyone’s always using something to get an edge – stealing signs, hidden ball, whatever the case may be – and it’s up to the rules to keep the rules of the game fair.

    Example: in the 1890s, Germany Schafer checked into a game from the dugout on a pop foul and made the catch. Afterwards, they changed the rule so that changes could only be made while the ball was dead. If anything, the onus is on the players to challenge the rules.

  6. Yup, this is why, for the first 127 years of the history of Major League Baseball, there were two 60-home run seasons. In the next four years, there were six. All six were accomplished by players linked to steroids.

    Yup, chalk that up to a gradual change in the mechanics of hitters.

    Ignorant baseball fans….

    Your most storied record has been tarnished by performance-enhancing drugs. Accept it.

  7. Oh come on.. From 1900-1918 the Home Run record was 16. In 1920, Ruth hit 54. It’s not like the 90s were the first time the game changed drastically.

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