Joe Posnanski's 10 Best Hitters Ever
In 1960, Mantle struck out 100 times for the fifth time in his career. That was a record and a very recent development. Up until the end of World War II, striking out 100 times in a season was an enormous embarrassment, and it had only happened 13 times. The strikeout pioneer was probably Dolph Camili, who first struck out 100 times in 1935 and then did it three more times before the World War II began.
I love that in 1922, at the age of 35, Cobb hit .401... and didn't even come CLOSE to winning the batting title. That was the year George Sisler hit .420.
You might know that Foxx won the Triple Crown in 1933. He hit .356, hit 48 homers and drove in 163 runs. Yeah, a pretty nice year.<br>But here's an interesting tidbit: Foxx TWICE had near Triple Crowns. In 1932 he hit .364 with 58 homers and 169 RBIs -- he had the most homers and RBIs, but lost the batting title to the much-forgotten Dale Alexander, who hit .367. What's interesting is that Alexander had only 454 plate appearances that year -- if they had the rule then that a hitter needed 3.1 plate appearances per team games played, he would not have qualified for the title. So, we should give Foxx the Triple Crown retroactively that year.<br>In 1938 Foxx led the league with a .349 average and 175 RBIs. But he finished second with 50 home runs. This time it was legit though... Hank Greenberg hit 58.
I tried all I could to push Albert down because he only just crossed that 6,000 plate appearance limit. But no matter how many points I penalized him, he kept popping into the Top 10. He's that good.
Bernie Miklasz, my good friend at the St. Louis Post Dispatch, tells a great story about Stan the Man. Pujols' very first game was April 2, 2001, in Colorado. And on that day, Musial just showed up at the park. He was in town for a card show or something, and for some reason he just decided to go to the ballpark. He did not call ahead or anything... he just showed up and said, "Hi, I'm Stan Musial. I was hoping I might get in to see the game." Of course, they treated Stan like the royalty he is -- asked him to throw out the first pitch and so on -- and he was happy to do it. And then he settled into his seat and watched the game.<br>Now what inspired Stan Musial to go out to the game? It could have been anything, of course. Maybe he just wanted to relax and watch a baseball game -- one of those things to do in Denver. But yeah, as much as I love the numbers and as much I try to stay based in reality, sure, I have a little Field of Dreams in me. And, sure, I can feel that maybe Stan the Man was meant to be there to see Albert Pujols start his career.
You might recall he was the one who called Tom Hanks a "talking pile of pig [bleep]" when his parents had come all the way down from Michigan to see him play. From what I can tell about Hornsby's personality, that sounds about right. But, he was one amazing hitter. And he also might be a distant relative of Bruce Hornsby. The stuff you learn on Wikipedia.
According to the official Lou Gehrig Web site, the Yankees offered to trade Gehrig to the Red Sox in 1925 for the unforgettable Phil Todt. The site says that this was, at least in part, to make up for the Babe Ruth trade. I fear this is something I should have already known, something everyone knows, but I don't recall ever hearing this. Seriously, isn't this in some ways WORSE than the Babe Ruth trade? Shouldn't it be the curse of Lou Gehrig?
In case you're wondering, Barry Bonds from 1986 to 1999, before he, er, "bulked up," would have ranked somewhere around 14 -- on either side of Frank Thomas. And remember, that's just as a hitter. That Bonds was a great base stealer and perennial Gold Glove winner. When Bonds comes up for the Hall of Fame vote, I'm sure we'll try to break this down better, but I would say he was pretty close to a Top 10 player before 1999.
I do think there's a strong argument to be made for Ted Williams over Babe Ruth. He had the better on-base percentage. He missed three prime seasons because of World War II and most of two seasons in his young 30s when he went to Korea -- there seems little doubt that with those years his numbers would have been even better. He walked more than Ruth and struck out a lot less. The main thing that Ruth could do better than Williams was hit home runs. That's not a bad advantage to have -- especially because Ruth was so good at the things that Williams was good at (hitting for average, drawing walks, consistently putting up jaw-dropping numbers).
You have heard the various rumors about Babe Ruth corking his bat. Well, what would happen if tomorrow someone wrote a book proving that Ruth absolutely used a primitive form of steroids? I'm just wondering -- I remember that Leigh Montville, the author of the excellent Babe Ruth book The Big Bam. told me once that he thinks Ruth would have taken steroids in a heartbeat. Let's be honest: The Babe was not a man known for restraint or any romantic notions about fair play.I'm pretty sure there were no steroids for Ruth to take. But my question is: If we found out that he did, would that change the way baseball fans everywhere view Babe Ruth's career? Would everyone say: Well, NO WONDER he put up those ridiculous numbers? I mean the guy hit more home runs than ENTIRE TEAMS for crying out loud. We should have known.<br>Or would a discovery like that just spark yawns of disinterest? Who cares? It was a long time ago. It was a different era.