What kind of pitching did Babe Ruth face?

Which pitcher threw the hardest back then and at what velocity? Were the breaking pitches as nasty as they are in the modern game? Were there any variations on the split-finger fastball or the cutter?

Ruth used an absurdly heavy bat. If he was connecting on mid-90’s fastballs, he must have been extremely strong and quick.

Walter Johnson was known as a hard thrower, dunno about his breaking stuff.

As I read somewhere, he didn’t have anything but his fastball for most of his career. The curve ball he developed later was described as a wrinkle.

Pitchers in those days tended to pace themselves and were expected to finish what they started. There’s also the hitter’s advantage of facing a tiring pitcher for the third or fourth at-bat.

They were also much more likely to throw at batters back in the day,

Also remember that Ruth should be judged about how he did relative to his contemporaries. He was arguably the most dominate athlete of all time.

Tell that to Drysdale and Gibson. They’ll stick one in your ear. :smiley:

I seem to recall that Bob Feller’s fastball (after Ruth’s time, I recognize) was clocked at 98.something mph by racing the pitch against a motorcycle. I doubt that Johnson et al. were ever clocked very reliably.

For the most part, the Babe faced fast balls, curve balls, and changeups. There were a few sinkerballers. As always there were some pitchers who mastered unusual pitches. Joe Bush threw a forkball that was pretty close to a modern splitter. Carl Hubbell threw a screwball. Ed Rommel threw a knuckleball. But these were exceptions. The spitter had been outlawed (save for a few pitchers that were grandfathered in) in 1920, and other doctored-ball pitches were all but eliminated by more frequent replacement of scuffed baseballs.

Naturally it’s hard to compare the effectiveness of any of these pitches to today. There were no radar guns or center-field cameras. It seems logical that the fastest fastballers were throwing about as hard as today–maximum pitch speed has been about 100 mph for as long as people have been measuring. But, 1920’s pitchers almost certainly didn’t throw as hard as often, or they would have been unable to pitch 300-400 innings per year.

The biggest difference, I believe, is that in the Babe’s day pitches were either fast balls or breaking balls, but seldom hybrids. Now we have fastballs (splitters and cutters) that are thrown with movement, and hard breaking pitches like hard sliders. These wear out arms but also wear out hitters. You can’t swing a 48-ounce bat against that arsenal.

One point in the Babe’s favor, though–he did have a defend a larger strike zone. It went up to the shoulders.

The slider was a relatively new pitch in the 1920s, introduced by George Uhle or Ray Blaeholder, depending on the source. I’ve seen quotes from the late 1950s from pitching coaches damning it
as ruinous to pitcher’s arms.

Bill James once commented that in the 1900-1920 “Deadball era” teams offensive strategies were pretty complex-lots of bunts, sacrifices, hit and runs, stolen bases. Since there wasn’t much offense, spitballs were legal and balls seldom replaced like they are today, a pitcher’s arsenal was pretty limited. When the ball was made livelier in the 1920s and defacing the ball was illegal, pitchers had to come up with new weapons, especially as more hitters and teams followed Ruth’s example and swung for the fences instead of making contact (choking up on bat, hands spread several inches apart).
Ruth was a great hitter and today would be at least Pujols-Cabrera type of numbers. But he did come at the right time to put up great numbers (although he did change the way baseball is played immensely).

I would think that fastballs were generally slower in Ruth’s day; coaches didn’t understand pitching mechanics, and players did not get the conditioning they do today (it was considered a bad thing to do exercises that built up your muscles too much). Anecdotally, one coach complained that he never heard the ball smack the catcher’s glove as loud as Walter Johnson’s fastball did up until he heard Bob Feller, implying that that sort of speed was unusual.

And pitchers would “pace” themselves to complete a game. No one was expected to throw full blast all game, so the fastballs Ruth saw were probably slower than those routinely pitched today. Facing Johnson, he would not see his best stuff unless the situation depended on it.

The very hardest-throwing pitchers, like Walter Johnson, probably threw as hard as the hardest throwing pitchers today. The upper limit of how fast a human being can throw a baseball is basically fixed, and will always be the same. Our anatomy is what it is. While it’s true they did not have the understanding of training and mechanics they do today, one must assume that SOME guys had good motions and that Walter Johnson had to be one of them.

Whether that means that Ruth faced quality fastballs as often as a player does today is a matter one can debate. On one hand you’d have to assume that while the odd pitcher like Walter Johnson could bring it at 98-100, the lack of thorough understanding of pitching mechanics meant a lot of talent was going untapped.

But then on the other hand, back in the day, the lack of sliders and forkballs meant pitchers tended to be more dependent upon fastballs than is the case now.

Palmballs were also coming into use.

A few guys, like Smoky Joe Wood and Herb Pennock, could throw two different curve balls. Pennock also had a screwball.

White ones.

While I am very impressed with Babe Ruth, and I think he’s the best baseball player to ever play the game, the fact is he played during segregation, which, to my mind, will always work against him.

But that’s saying that the quality of athletes and the quality of play in the Negro Leagues was, on average, higher than that of the AL and NL.
I don’t think the pitching would have been all that different if baseball was integrated.

We won’t ever know. And that’s the shame of it.

It’s not an average thing. It’s that segregation kept some of the best pitchers out of the major leagues.

If blacks had full equality in the major leagues in Ruth’s day, Ruth would probably have had the same kind of career.

*He might have had to share some of the limelight with Josh Gibson.

Sadly this is true. But Ted Williams and Stan Musial started in segregated baseball but still had long and successful careers, even into their early 40s, when baseball was integrated. Although it is interesting that Black baseball players tend to be more prominent as outfielders than pitchers. Obviously there are Black stars like Gibson, Marichal, Rivera and Martinez…just not as numerous.

Although there was virtually no weight training, people were more physically active back then. There was little in the way of labor saving devices. I remember my grandmother in her 80s had pretty strong wrists from a lifetime of kneading bread dough, washing dishes, caning fruits and vegetables for winter, etc. You may not have been strong but you were spry.

These guys also had to support themselves during the off season, often doing manual labor of some sort.

Ruth never had to face Satchel Paige.

In my mind, Paige would have struck Ruth out every time.

SFC Schwartz

Were spitballs any more common back then?