MLB  > General MLB  > Current Sluggers Way Over-Rated Compared to Old-Timers
December 16, 2009, 11:44 AM
From Delphi Forums Blog: "Entirety of Baseball History Replayed" (or just google all or part of "Entirety of Baseball History Replayed" title). The original article had to be greatly shortened to fit the 4,000 character limit.

A common theme in baseball commentary is how big and strong and fast and generally awesome the modern day baseball player is versus his predecessors.

To some degree, this perception superficially seems to be supported by statistical information. But importantly, some of the 1920's parks had gargantuan dimensions.

For example, it was 424' down the LF line in Washington's Griffith Stadium, and in 1925 Boston's Fenway Park it was 550' to CF!! In Cincinnati's Redland Field (later renamed Crosley Field), it was 384' down the RF line and 420' to CF. Braves' Field featured a 402' down the LF line, over 500' to CF, and 365' down the RF line!! And the Dodgers' Ebbets Field had a 419' LF foul line in 1925!

St. Louis' Sportsmans' Park iof the mid-1920's is a very interesting "laboratory", the one configured most like the new breed of modern day "retro" ballparks. Averaging the two foul lines, we have a 336' distance and a 430' CF.

Sportsmans' Park is also statistically interesting since two teams played there until the 1950's -- the Cardinals and the Browns -- thereby any information from this stadium is more stable and applies to both leagues.

In 1925, there were 107 N.L. homers and 146 A.L. homers hit in Sportsmans', for an average of 127 -- a modern-looking albeit somewhat modest production. Although the Browns' and Cards' HR production was further stifled by playing in road parks where homers might be impossible to attain, the Browns had a modern-looking six of their 8 starters hitting 10+ homers.

The St. Louis Cardinals featured four players with double-digit HR power.

Let's fast forward now to 1966, the last year this stadium was in use. The park dimensions were nearly identical, except that a) the walls were about 5' closer, i.e. easier to reach, than in 1925 from LF to CF to RF and b) the RF to RCF wall (out to the 354' mark) was 37' high rather than 12' high.

In this final 1966 season at Sportsman's (now Busch) park, the Cardinals and their opponents hit 112 homers compared to the average of 127 in 1925 -- no real change from 1925 to 1966.

But maybe the Cards and Browns of 1925 were exceptionally hard-hitting squads, ahead of their time? The evidence clearly says no, as the number of away homers hit by the Cardinals (88) and Browns (63) in 1925 were unexceptional, average for the year.

Starting in 1967, the number of homers hit at the new Busch Stadium was typically far below what was seen in Sportsmans' Park in 1925 (usually less than 100 homers per season) -- until, after a particularly anemic 1991 season, the team decided to move the fences in significantly. In 1991, only 73 homers were hit in Busch Stadium (compared to 127 two-team average in 1925), and the Cards as a team hit only 68 home and away.

Today's players are bigger, faster, stronger?? Bigger, definitely. Faster... that's separate research. Stronger? Where's the real evidence?

Of course, the culmination of the recent power frenzy was Mark McGwire's 70 homers as a Cardinal in 1998. In fact, as many Cards that year had double-figures in homers in 1998 as on the Cards and Browns in 1925 -- five.

With mid-1990's to current home run statistics distorted by the new ultra-bandbox ballparks, moved-in fences, and questions about use of drugs not available in the 1920's, I am betting that a time machine shipment of 1925 ballplayers to modern baseball would include plenty of hard-hitting modern-day-type home run sluggers!!

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