Recently I finished reading a biography on Willie Mays. The story of Mays’ life from child hood through his elder years is both fascinating and storybook on several levels. However, the gears in my head didn’t start turning until the end of the epilogue and the brief discussion of the greatest player of all time. Was it Willie Mays or Babe Ruth? I, like many baseball bloggers, sometimes find inspiration to write in unique places. At most I was going to review the book (I’ll provide the book’s information later). After giving it more thought I decided to break down this seemingly never-ending argument about Mays versus Ruth.
Mays’ was the quintessential five-tool player. Ruth was, well Ruth. To do the argument justice will take more than one post. So let this be the first in a series of posts discussing the classic baseball argument: who was the greatest baseball player of all time? Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, or someone else?
Criteria used for this anaylsis does not rely heavily on SABR metrics. The offensive perspective is simple: HRs, Hits, BA. In a later post, a comparison of RBIs, games played, MVP awards will be used.
Let’s start with Babe Ruth from the offensive perspective. Ruth played 22 seasons (1914-1935) with the Boston Braves, the Red Sox, and of course the Yankees. We are familiar with a number of Ruth’s stats, most specifically his home run total of 714. 2,873 hits and a career .342 BA. Ruth’s cultural fame is for his hitting and home runs. Historically, he ranks 1st in slugging (several active players may surpass Ruth; most notably Albert Pujols currently ranks 4th all-time.) Aside from Ruth’s offensive prowess, he was a multi-20 game winner as a pitcher. I must note he was not a regular pitcher after 1920. He pitched in a total of 10 seasons, posting a 2.28 career ERA. Ruth did not pitch from 1921-1929 and only pitched one game in both 1930 and 1933. However, he posted a career 94-46 win-loss record.
The Baseball Writer’s inducted Ruth into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
Next week: The Babe’s defense
All statistical data from baseball-reference.com