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Are ballplayers today better than previous eras?

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Postby stevekahuda » Thu Jul 13, 2006 1:17 am

Going from the mid-80s (I don't think there are any ball players born later), you're talking roughly 100 million extra people. That's really not that many when you consider you've doubled the number of teams and added in competition from other sports. So, you've had the population increase by 1.66 and the number of teams increase by 1.875, so there was still more talent available in America then, since the number of starting major leaguers is fixed.

That's not even taking into account the loss of players to more culturally relevant sports. You can see this in the number of black players in the majors. There used to be an enormous amount of African American talent - where is it now? African Americans didn't lose baseball talent in a generation.

Nearly 60 years after Jackie Robinson burst through baseball's color barrier, U.S.-born African-American players are virtually vanishing from the game. Three decades after blacks made up nearly 30 percent of major league rosters, they now make up about 8 percent - less than half the 17.25 percent of 1959, the first year every team was integrated.
from http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincitie ... 938574.htm

I think this is probably pretty representative of the talent loss in America. Also, I'm in my late 20s and I have never seen a pickup game of baseball. Just because you make them play when they're kids doesn't mean you're exposing more people to it. Kids were outside a lot more back then. Most likely the next Hank Aaron is a starting linebacker for you college football team.
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Postby bellings » Thu Jul 13, 2006 1:33 am

The decline of African Americans in baseball is unfortunate, but I think that the increase in hispanic talent needs to be taken into account. How many hispanics played baseball back in the day? The talent pool has definitely increased, even accounting for expansion, if we include all of the latin-american players.
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Postby noseeum » Thu Jul 13, 2006 4:00 am

bellings wrote:The decline of African Americans in baseball is unfortunate, but I think that the increase in hispanic talent needs to be taken into account. How many hispanics played baseball back in the day? The talent pool has definitely increased, even accounting for expansion, if we include all of the latin-american players.


And Japanese. And Cuban. And Canadian. And Australian. And Korean. You know all those kids winning little league world series for other countries? They're coming here to play.

Sure, there's more African American players playing other sports, but recruiting/scouting is worldwide now. The talent pool is much larger than its ever been.
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Postby noseeum » Thu Jul 13, 2006 4:01 am

I'm in my early 30s, and I've played in dozens of pickup baseball games. Wiffle ball, baseball, softball. All of them many many times. Must depend on where you live.
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Postby johnsamo » Thu Jul 13, 2006 4:38 am

Yeah, watching an ESPN baseball classic, the first thing you think is, why is the video quality so bad on this high school game. The guys in the 70's were small, especially middle infielders. There were exceptions, but for most of baseballs past, spring training really was about getting into shape for baseball. Pre-free agency, a lot of players had jobs in the offseason. Now the average player can have hs own home gym, a nutritionist and work out trainer. .... I'd bet $ though if Babe Ruth was 35 right now, the competitive instinct that made him great then would make him great now. He'd have taken better care of himself, adjusted his swing, and be a David Ortiz kind of hitter. Or he might've stuck with pitching, the pay is better considering you only work every 5th day.
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Postby stevekahuda » Thu Jul 13, 2006 8:49 am

bellings wrote:The decline of African Americans in baseball is unfortunate, but I think that the increase in hispanic talent needs to be taken into account. How many hispanics played baseball back in the day? The talent pool has definitely increased, even accounting for expansion, if we include all of the latin-american players.


My point is that its not just the loss of African American talent. You can most likely extend the overall decrease in AA talent to the general baseball population. Its just easier to quantify the loss of a minority to begin with. If even half of the other racial groups in baseball are also playing other sports, thats an enormous loss of talent that is probably not being offset by foreign development. In addition, baseball is losing the true athletes to football and basketball. You really can't play either of those without being a true athlete.

As an aside, Japanese talent is still largely off limits to MLB. A select few are able to make the transition after many years of Japanese service, but that is not the majority.
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Re: Are ballplayers today better than previous eras?

Postby WhiteHot » Thu Jul 13, 2006 9:17 am

PlayingWithFire wrote:Maybe Ruth is a .250 hitter against modern pitching and if Bonds goes way back in the day and play with Ruth's era's talent, he'd hit .450?


Actually, I came up with a formula to calculate stuff like this. The variables I need: Player, Control Year (year he played), Experimental Year (year forecasted), League (AL/NL for experimental), Interleague Play (Yes/No), HGH Use (Yes/No), Steroid Use (Yes/No).

With those variables, I can calculate performance both ways...either an old-timer playing now or a current player playing in old-timey land.
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Postby mak1277 » Thu Jul 13, 2006 9:24 am

Today's players are better athletes, with better access to medicine, workouts, science, etc. If you were to literally drop them into the game from 20, 50, 100 years ago (without any other changes) they would probably dominate. I don't think that can be disputed.

But this is a societal difference....without starting a different arguement, it's evolution. At every level of baseball (little league on up) the physical abilities of the players are greater than they were even 20 years ago. But the results aren't substantially different because everyone is proportionally better. Therefore, you can still compare the relative "greatness" of Babe Ruth to that of Ted Williams to that of Barry Bonds. The comparisons are relevant, and that's all that really matters. Who cares if Carl Crawford is a better athelete than Ted Williams...he'll never be a proportionally better baseball player in a historical context.
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Postby chadlincoln » Thu Jul 13, 2006 9:42 am

wkelly91 wrote:A few thoughts:

1) Prior to the Ruth era the whole strategy for the game was different...slapping hits rather than slugging.

2) The parks were much, much larger back in the Ruth era.

3) The mound was lowered.

4) The equipment is much better today. How many balls were hits with the small gloves back then versus todays gloves? The bats are much lighter and easier to whip today than the old ones.

5) Players had much rougher schedules back then riding trains for days rather then flights.

6) Players had to work in the off season rather than workout.

7) Much smaller foul space in parks equates to more chances for hitters today.

8) Pitchers won't throw at batters today who crowd the plate for fear of reprisal from the league or the player....versus the old days when they laid them flat.

Just a few thoughts....
Great list. ;-D
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Postby noseeum » Thu Jul 13, 2006 11:55 am

stevekahuda wrote:
bellings wrote:The decline of African Americans in baseball is unfortunate, but I think that the increase in hispanic talent needs to be taken into account. How many hispanics played baseball back in the day? The talent pool has definitely increased, even accounting for expansion, if we include all of the latin-american players.


My point is that its not just the loss of African American talent. You can most likely extend the overall decrease in AA talent to the general baseball population. Its just easier to quantify the loss of a minority to begin with. If even half of the other racial groups in baseball are also playing other sports, thats an enormous loss of talent that is probably not being offset by foreign development. In addition, baseball is losing the true athletes to football and basketball. You really can't play either of those without being a true athlete.

As an aside, Japanese talent is still largely off limits to MLB. A select few are able to make the transition after many years of Japanese service, but that is not the majority.


That's just the United States, though, and it's not across the board. Many players who have the option to go pro in NFL, NBA, or MLB choose baseball. I'd choose baseball over football any day if I wanted to walk when I was 40.

But there are still many countries where baseball rules, and all of those players are coming here. It's at the very least a wash. Sure, you can lament the decline in the percentage of American players in MLB if you want, but you can't say the level of talent has declined.
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