If you were to poll miscellaneous fans, you would probably hear a lot of Babe Ruths, because that is what we were told despite most of us never seeing him play.
The same could be said about Ty Cobb, a legend of the game that also played before the leagues were even integrated. Willie Mays and Hank Aaron should be right up there in the non-existent conversation, but they seem to be underappreciated despite their numbers deserving a spot. And now, we are witnessing Mike Trout put his hat in the ring, despite his team failing to even bring him to the postseason.
And of course, this debate is missing one more candidate, who many leave off their list intentionally, despite his numbers making him not only a finalist but a heavy favorite.
The reason the greatest of all time debate seems to never come off the ground is because of the dark cloud that surrounds Barry Bonds and all the other sluggers from this era. Feel whichever way you may on the issue but ignoring the production of one of the game’s biggest stars due to the league’s noted mishandling of the situation is detrimental to the growth of the game.
After 2,986 games, Bonds was able to tie the Great Bambino for career WAR with exactly 162.7, which is not discussed enough.
So, although balancing each player to the same era may not take the steroids out of the league in the ‘90s, let’s see who the presumed GOAT would be if each player played in the same span.
Even though home runs are not everything when it comes to being the best player of all time, inflating by 58% certainly helps your argument. And this is practically the entire reason that Ruth separates himself in the WAR rankings while the rest of the pack fall. WAR itself is difficult to utilize properly in inflation since there are several avoidable factors that players in a pre-analytics world could have avoided if there was an emphasis on the topics at the time.
For one, legendary centerfielders like Cobb, Mays and Aaron would have much better defensive metrics if they shifted from their primary position by the end of their careers, instead their decreased production hurts how numerically they would help with the team, even though it is safe to assume they by far the best available players for the position at the time.
And when the metrics are considered, Ruth takes a sizeable lead in most of the power numbers due to this spike in homers. It is tough to assume that Ruth would surpass 1,000 career bombs in a career, but that goes to show how unique of a hitter he was at the time, pioneering the traditional slugger for decades to come. But in the current era of pitching we see today, the season totals he produced in the early ’20s may not have been able to hold up with his career K% of 12.5%, which is 4.5 percentage points higher than the league average at the time, a metric that has inflated 144.4% in the current era.
For Barry Bonds, he stays in the conversation with Ruth’s post-inflation numbers due not only to his homerun totals (even after losing 176 homers due to a 23% deflation), but his eye at the plate as well. After inflation, Bonds increases his all-time lead in walks by 31, which gives him the greatest differential between batting average and on-base percentage.
Everyone has heard the crazy examples that put Bond’s numbers in perspective (i.e. having more intentional walks than the entire Tampa Bay Rays franchise/ if a player went 2-5 with a homer and single every game, they’d still have a lower OPS than Bonds did in 2004, etc.) and even though he falls behind in the homerun and WAR categories, the fact that he is able to float in the proximity of Ruth after adding a second career worth of homeruns to his name is impressive enough.
But, looking towards the future, Mike Trout is clearly in a key position to rank amongst the top of the group in WAR once it’s all said and done. In this league, Trout is roughly obtaining over 7.6 WAR per season. This has unfortunately taken a hit, considering over the past two years he has played just 89 games, thus making it an uphill battle to take the throne. However, if he does go on to play at least Ruth’s total in games, he would be able to surpass the all-time WAR with an average of 10.6 per year, a total he has surpassed just twice.
Who else do you think should be considered in this debate? Leave a comment to see how that player would compare!