“Babe Ruth is the biggest runner-up in history.”
That’s what the man said, Babe Ruth, a runner-up.
Words from the mouth of sport opinionator Stephen A. Smith last Monday co-hosting with Skip Bayless on ESPN’s hip-hoppin’ morning show “First Take.”
I don’t take-in “First Take” but rarely these days, having been a regular until producers decided the popular show needed fixing and pulled in the welcome-mat for anyone over 35. Then there’s bombastic Stephen, your morning cup of arrogance whose shtick can only be taken in small doses, otherwise PVCs, BP spike and the migraine all set in.
Don’t know if it was chance, old habit or just gluttony for punishment, but I dropped in briefly on FT and Steve was on his soapbox about Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, a man many still consider the career home run champ, now with the dark cloud of PEDs hanging heavy over Bud Selig’s official title-holder, Barry Bonds.
But calling Ruth a “runner-up” to Hank Aaron is like calling Charles Lindbergh “runner-up” to Chuck Yeager or Vincent Van Gogh “runner-up“ to Pablo Picasso. Pure goofball histrionics, or at least, putting too fine a point on Hank‘s accomplishment.
Having fewer career home runs does not a “runner-up” make, any more than Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax are “runner-up” to Bert Blyleven and Gaylord Perry.
Dead for well over 60 years, Babe Ruth’s name recognition stays strong while other stars like Thorpe, Howe, Unitas and Wilt understandably fad a little more with each passing generation. And here’s why the Babe still resonates:
Babe Ruth is holder of the best non-PED enhanced season in MLB batting history (‘21);
The man who when asked why he believed he should make more money than the President (Hoover), answered back: “Because I had a better year than he did.” I wonder how the Bambino and Rosanne would’ve gotten along?
Is credited with saving baseball after the ‘19 Black Sox and A. Rothstein nearly killed it;
Once described as “a parade all by himself (J. Cannon),“ the multi-talented George H. was fast becoming a HOF caliber pitcher with Boston when Ed Barrow and Col. Ruppert put him in pinstripes (‘20) where he single-handedly ushered in the modern era of baseball with his persona, ravenous appetite for all things tasty and his Ruthian clouts;
Head-to-head with Hank in HR-related stats: career HRs (Aaron / 755 (2) - Ruth / 714 (3)); AB per HR (A / 16.38 (38) - R / 11.76 (2)); career AB (A / 12,363 - R / 8,399); SLG% (A / .554 (23) - R / .689 (1)); BA (A / .305 (T147) - R / .342 (T9)); OB% (A / .373 (T222) - R / .473 (2));
The player who, yes Bob Costas, called his home run shot in the ‘32 Series (Cubs);
And the man whose accomplishments on the field of play, and play on the field of pop culture, gave him a such an immense stature worldwide that it’s never been surpassed and debatably been equaled only twice in persons of The Beatles and boxer Muhammad Ali.
Henry Aaron was a tremendous ball-player, arguably top-ten all-time. But had Ruth had a figure at which he could’ve taken aim and hung-on as did Hank, the Babe just might’ve put the homer, RBI and run marks beyond the reach of everyone, Aaron and Bonds included. God knows he still had pop in his bat with the show he put on at Forbes field in farewell (3 HR / ‘35). He just lost the zeal, holding most marks and nothing left to prove.
Why me so sensitive to SAS remarks? Ruth and other old-timers get kicked around pretty good these days by people claiming to be baseball fans. The pre-WW2 era was a different time (segregation), but the challenges faced by way of equipment, medicine, travel, the reserve clause, were incomparable to Barry’s and to some degree, even Hank’s easier time, though he and others (J. Robinson) bore a burden unlike any other class in breaking the color barrier.
Greats like Ruth, Aaron, Josh Gibson, “Three Finger” Brown, all transcend time and serve as “runner(s)-up” to nobody. Such talk fills time on First Take but also puts a “one-way ticket to Palookaville” in hand of the speaker. That’s a place for losers in case you missed On the Waterfront (‘54).
Stephen’s a fan of Henry Aaron and has reasonable basis in ranking him greatest home run man. I too am a fan of Hank's, cheering him on as a Brewer at wide-open County Stadium in the mid-70s and feel no less so because I recognize instead Babe Ruth to be the best slugger in MLB history.
Tell me who's the greatest, okay. Tell me who ain't and we've got a problem, Mr. Senator.
Can o’ Corn