Legends On Deck

The Best of All-Time? Part 1

Many time, during discussion on baseball the subject arises as to who the best players are, or who the best teams are.  It would seem like this is a subject that is easily discussed with no arguments with regards to the best players or teams.  Babe Ruth is arguably the best player and the 1927 New York Yankees are the best team of all-time, or are they?

To name the best players and the best teams of all-time, the subjects need to be divided into specific eras.  The first era would be the deadball era running from 1901 until 1919.  The next era is the pre-integration era which ran from 1920 until 1946.  Then from 1947 until 1960 as baseball expanded the schedule from 154 games to 162 games.  From 1961 until 1994 is the next period that takes you right up to when the playoffs were expanded to include wild card teams.  The last period would of course be from 1995 until the present time frame.

While in baseball it is still 60 feet 6 inches between the pitchers mound and home plate and 90 feet between the bases, the game has changed considerably over the years.  From 1901 to 1919, the “Deadball Era” of baseball, the game was all about manufacturing runs, ala John McGraw.  It would be a hit or a walk, a stolen base, a sacrifice, and then a run would score.

That all chanced in 1920, when a man by the name of Babe Ruth burst upon the scene as the games preeminent power hitter and player.  The early greats of the game like Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson were coming to the end of their storied careers and other greats like Cy Young and Honus Wagner had retired.  Ruth arose like a meteor setting slugging records never thought to be attainable.  Not to disregard Ruth’s many accomplishments but baseball was entering a new era and Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other superstars did not have to travel farther west then St. Louis.  they did not travel farther south than Washington D.C. and they only played day games.

James “Cool Papa” Bell

However most significantly, players in both the Deadball Era and the time from 1920 to 1946, never played against a balck or Negro League player in a regulation major league baseball game.  Men like Josh Gibson, Frank Grant, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Willie Wells, and scores of others never, other than in exhibitions got to show the true measure of their greatness because of the so-called color line in baseball.

Then from 1947 until 1960 it almost seemed like everything was getting more on an even keel when it came to playing conditions.  In 1961, because of the expansion and the move of baseball to the west coast, teams began playing 162 games.  They then, in 1995 added two wild card teams to each league for the playoffs, expanding the total number of games a team could play before they could claim a World Series title.

Stars like Ruth and Cobb from the early days, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams from baseball’s “Golden Era”, Mickey Mantle and Bob Gibson, as well as players from the current era like Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter would undoubtedly be stars in whatever era they played in.  Babe Ruth may be the only player who could transcend eras and be great due to both his hitting prowess as well as his pitching prowess.  Let us remember that early in the “Bambino’s” career, he was through to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.  He had a series of epic battles with the great Walter Johnson and in fact had six victories over the pitcher known as “The Big Train”.

In the coming days and weeks, I will compare different teams from an era and give my opinion as to who is the better of the two.  I have been making notes over time and I hope that you will enjoy this series of articles.  Best wishes, God bless, and of course LET’S PLAY BALL!!!

Kevin Larkin

Kevin Larkin has been going to minor league and major league baseball games since 1967. He has been to numerous major league and minor league parks and describes himself as a "baseball fan" who likes the Yankees. He enjoys researching, writing and reading about about baseball and will talk for hours on end about his favorite sport.
He is in love with the history of the game, having written three books about his beloved sport. They are "Baseball in the Bay State" a history of baseball in the state of Massachusetts. Then he wrote Gehrig:Game by Game, a history of all of the major league ballgames including All Star games and World Series games as well as regular season that the "Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig played in. The third book "Baseball in the Berkshires" a history of baseball in Berkshire County co written with three others, Tom Daley, Jim Overmyer and Larry Moore. As a result of this book Larkin and the other three gentlemen have put together a museum exhibit that is now permanently housed at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesboro Massachusetts.
Larkin also does fact checking and writing for the Society for American Baseball Research or SABR and has had numerous articles published there as well.
He lives in Great Barrington Massachusetts, in the heart of Red Sox country and is involved in a number of projects. He also is a security guard at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington after having been a police officer for 24 years in his home town

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