June 23, 2006

Timeline

I was in a discussion on a message board about wrestling, and I tried to argue that wrestling's quality is as high as it's ever been for a lot of reasons, and I used two examples to help my point. First, I explained that the typical winning time in the 100 freestyle in a high school girls regional swim meet would have won the men's Olympic gold medal in any year up to 1924, and I also explained why Babe Ruth, who swung a 42 inch bat and had never heard of a slider would struggle in today's major leagues. This ticked some people off, and I'm giving a better explanation here, on day two of my committed seven straight days of blogging.

Here is a partial list of things that have changed since the 1920s and 1930s that might make a difference here: integration, international scouting, modern bullpen usage, slider, split-fingered fastball, cut fastball, modern medical techniques, modern strength and aerobic training, standardization of coaching, organized minor leagues, the internet, video study of pitchers/hitters, bigger players, faster players, stronger players.

And that list just applies to baseball. In other sports, the same thing holds. Watch video of old wrestlers and you will quickly come to the conclusion that these guys would have little chance against today's All-Americans. The world record in the 100m dash continues to go down. Look at the following chart of the progression of the world record in this event:

Why wouldn't this hold true in other sports? It's harder to see in other sports because the enemy is more than just the clock, it's the other athletes against you, and they are improved over their predecessors as well. I might be a better baseball player than every player in 1915 (not likely), but that means nothing if I can't get hits or strike guys out in 2006. It's called the timeline adjustment, and it doesn't result in favorable outcomes for athletes from long ago, but that's ok, the athletes only could compete in the era in which they lived. That's why we can call Ruth the greatest player ever because of what he did in the opportunities given him against the competition available. Saying that Randy Johnson would strike him out on three pitches is neither inaccurate nor a slight to the Babe's talents, it's just the way things go. Maybe 80 years from now, the great grandchilren of today's baseball anaylsts will say the same things about Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, and Manny Ramirez.

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