Sunday, April 6, 2008

Who Was the Greatest Hitter?

What's going on in this space? See the introductory remarks at:

Dear Abner,
Ted Williams is often called the greatest hitter who ever lived. Was he?

Dear Howard,
Thanks for throwing this curve my way. It’s a question better addressed by you folks down there, because you may be looking at statistics, even the new-fangled ones that purport to reach across the eras to revivify dead worthies of distant times. We don't have to worry about access to them, but we're perhaps not in an ideal position to judge Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, or Albert Pujols.

Now as to poor Ted, whose remains are beyond cold: he is up here with me and Babe (and he doesn’t much fancy coming back into baseball’s version of an Ichabod Crane tale), and between the two of them there isn't much to choose; one or the other is certainly the answer to your question.

For such a cantankerous sort in life, Ted is now a model of modesty and deference, simply thrilled still to be talking hitting but now not only with gents like Ruth and Cobb and Hornsby, whom he brushed up against in life, but also Dan Brouthers and Willie Keeler. And when they all get together (we have a regular gathering of the .400 hitters), Ted seems is most often looking for advice from little Ross Barnes, who made his entry into the club by mastering a form of batting not seen in baseball since 1877 — the fair-foul hit, whereby he’d spin the ball off his bat to bounce once fair and then off into foul territory. Sometimes, I'm told, this would even yield a double! It was to guard against this impish sort of stroke that the first and third basemen back then played on the bag.

Right now Ted may be learning the art from Ross with a purpose in mind, as we are planning a match of the 1946 Boston club (those players that are available, of course) against those of 1874. And this time Ted will wish to have a ready answer in case of a Williams Shift.

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