Is Babe Ruth really the best hitter of all time? Was he even the best hitter on his team? I dont believe that he was upon doing some research. I believe that when it comes down to it, the best hitter of all time is fellow team mate Lou Gehrig.
Overall stats for their careers: Gehrig/ Ruth
Games- 2164/ 2503
Homeruns- 493/ 714
RBI- 1995/ 2213
Runs- 1888/ 2174
Batting Avg.- .340/ .342
The batting average is very close with Ruth having the slight edge. Ruth dominates the homeruns and the RBI and runs totals, when factoring in that Ruth played in 339 more games (a little over 2 full seasons), are also pretty even with Gehrig having a slight edge in RBI with having .922 RBI/game and .872 runs/game to Ruth's .884 RBI/game and .869 runs/game.
Lou Gehrig won 2 MVP awards (1927 and 1936) and played for 6 World Series championship teams (1927, 28, 32, 36, 37 and 38). Ruth has 1 MVP in 1923 and played on 7 World Series teams (3 pitching in 1915, 16, and 18 and 4 as a hitter in 1923, 27, 28 and 32). Both players deserve at least 1 more MVP a piece. Ruth in 1928 and Gehrig in 1934. Both of which went to the highly undeserving, according to his stats, Mickey Cochrane.
Lou Gehrig played 14 seasons from 1925 to 1938 and Babe Ruth played 16 seasons as a hitter from 1919 to 1934. The two of them played together for 10 seasons from 1925 to 1934. In those 10 years both players put up very good numbers, leading the Yankees to 4 AL pennants and 3 World Series titles.
In those 10 seasons the stats look like this: (Gehrig/Ruth)
Homeruns- 347/ 435
RBI- 1436/ 1312
Runs- 1333/ 1236
Batting Avg- .343/ .338
OBP- .465/ .467
Gehrig has more RBI, more runs and a better batting average during the 10 years they played together, while Ruth hit more homeruns than Gehrig and has a slightly higher OBP. The two of them played on a great lineup as part of Murderers Row. Ruth batting 3rd and Gehrig batting 4th. With that being said, lets take a closer look at the RBI and the runs totals for both players.
Throughout the 10 seasons, Earle Combs was the primary leadoff hitter. The #2 hitter from 1925 to 1929 was Mark Koenig and from 1930 to 1934 it was Lyn Lary. The #5 hitter from 1925 to 1929 was Bob Meusel and Bill Dickey from 1930 to 1934. The 6 hitter was primarily Tony Lazzeri throughout the 10 seasons.
The #1 and 2 batters are generally the batters that Babe Ruth would be driving in for his RBI, while the #2 and 3 batters are Lou Gehrig's primary RBI candidates. In order to get an RBI, the hitter needs to have men on base. In those 10 seasons Earl Combs was on base 2343 times (taking hits + walks - homeruns as the indicator). The combined #2 hitters were on base 1420 times (733 Koenig, 687 Lary). Babe Ruth was on base 2334 times. Therefore the #1 and 2 hitters combined for 3763 times on base for Ruth, while the 3 and 4 hitters combined for 3754 times on base for Gehrig. Ruth had 9 more baserunners than Gehrig had, yet Gehrig had 124 more RBI than Ruth in those 10 seasons.
For runs, a base runner needs people behind him to drive them in and get RBI. Subtracting the self run factor of the homerun by subtracting the homerun totals for the RBI producers, ex. Gehrig has 1436 RBI and 347 homeruns, so Gehrig drove in 1089 RBI not including himself. For Ruth the #4 and 5 batters are his primary batters to drive him in, while #5 and 6 are Gehrig's. Gehrig drove in 1089 RBI while the combined #5 hitter drove in 699 RBI (355 Meusel, 344 Dickey). Lazzeri drove in a total of 764 RBI during the 10 years. So the 4 and 5 batters combined for 1788 RBI, while the 5 and 6 hitters combined for 1463 RBI. Again the players hitting behind Ruth had 325 more RBI than Gehrig (plus 88 self runs from homeruns) but Gehrig had 97 more runs than Ruth.
Also during those 10 seasons, the two of them were battling for top on the team in such categories as RBI, Runs, Homeruns and Batting Avg. In the 10 seasons Gehrig beat out Ruth in RBI in 7 seasons while tying in another. Gehrig beat out Ruth in RBI in 6 of the 10 seasons, and in batting average in 7 of the 10 seasons. Ruth beat out Gehrig in homeruns in 8 of the 10 seasons while tying in another.
Some may say that age is a factor in those 10 seasons, since Ruth was 30 to 39 years old while Gehrig was much younger at 22 to 31. So lets look at the numbers when they were in the same age range. Gehrig and Ruth have a common 12 year range of play from age 24 to 35. For Ruth this range is from 1919 to 1930 and for Gehrig it is from 1927 to 1938. Comparing season stats relative to age, ex Ruth's 1919 season to Gehrig's 1927 season when both were 24 years old. Gehrig had more RBI in 9 of the 12 seasons, fewer strikeouts in 10 of the 12 seasons. The two of them tied in runs scored both beating out the other in 6 of the seasons. Ruth had more homeruns, better batting average and better OBP in 7 of the 12 seasons while leading in slugging in 9 of the 12 seasons. Gehrig beats out Ruth in 43 of the 41 categories.
The overall stats from those 12 seasons look like this: (Gehrig/ Ruth)
Games- 1697/ 1674
Runs- 1532/ 1618
Homeruns- 456/ 545
RBI- 1800/ 1598
Batting Avg.- .346/ .353
Strikeouts- 659/ 914
Ruth had more runs, homeruns and a higher batting average than Gehrig during the 12 years, while Gehrig had more RBI and fewer strikeouts.
Both players have played in numerous World Series and have both been phenomenal hitters in the post season.
Postseason stats: Gehrig/ Ruth
Games- 34/ 41
Runs- 30/ 37
Homeruns- 10/ 15
RBI- 35/ 33
Strikeouts- 17/ 30
Batting Avg.- .361/ .326
OBP- .477/ .467
Slugging- .731/ .744
Gehrig is the better postseason hitter with the better average, better OBP, nearly half the strikeouts and more RBI in fewer games. Ruth has more homeruns and a higher slugging along with 7 more runs.
So overall, Gehrig is the better RBI man while Ruth is the better homerun hitter. The batting averages are very even for their careers, the 10 seasons together and the 12 seasons of similar ages. But Gehrig has a much higher post season batting average, so I have to give him the point here. Runs go to Ruth and the strikeouts go to Gehrig.
The final category of comparison comes with consistency. Gehrig is by far the more consistent batter, hitting major batting milestones year after year. Gehrig has batted over .350 in 6 of his 14 seasons, 1 other being .349 and batted under .300 only twice in his 1st and his last seasons. He has 200+ hits in 8 of 14 seasons and 1 other with 198 hits, while never having under 166 hits after his 1st season when he had 129 hits. He has 150+ RBI in 7 seasons and 13 over 100 with his 1st season being the only exception. He's got 100+ runs in 13 of his 14 seasons, again his 1st season being the only exception. Gehrig has never struck out more than 84 times and struck out under 50 times in 7 seasons while walking 100+ times in 11 seasons. 30+ homeruns in 10 seasons with 5 over 40. 8 seasons with an OBP over .450 and 13 over .400, while also having 9 seasons with a slugging percentage over .600.
Babe Ruth on the other hand can be a bit inconsistent on a year to year basis. Ruth batted over .350 in 8 of 16 seasons and batted under .300 twice as well. He has had 200+ hits in 3 times and had under 150 hits in 5 seasons. He has 150+ RBI in only 5 of 16 seasons and under 100 RBI in 3 seasons. 100+ runs in 12 of his 16 seasons. Ruth hasn't stuck out more than 93 times in a season and never struck out fewer than 51 times in a season while walking 100+ times in 13 seasons. He has 13 30+ homerun seasons, 11 of which were 40+ seasons. 11 seasons with an OBP over .450 and over .400 in 15 seasons, while also slugging over .600 in 13 seasons.
Ruth was a pitcher for the beginning of his career before becoming a fulltime hitter in 1919 at the age of 24. Gehrig began playing in 1925 at the age of 22. Gehrig was forced into retirement at the relatively young age of 36 due to having ALS disease. Ruth retired at 40 years old. Gehrig was diagnosed with the disease in 1939 after suffering the affects starting in the middle of the 1938 season. In his final season before being affected by the disease (1937) Gehrig had a .351 batting average, 37 homeruns and 159 RBI. Which shows that he still had a few more strong years left in him had he not been diagnosed with ALS.
So I would have to say Lou Gehrig was the better overall hitter, because career stats are similar with Ruth's clear cut advantage in Homeruns and Gehrig's advantage in RBI being the only real standout points. And since Gehrig is the better postseason performer and more consistent on a year to year basis, he gets my nod for the best hitter of all time.
In terms of best player, it is Ruth because he was a great pitcher. But strictly speaking hitting, Gehrig is the slightly better hitter.