Monday, October 2, 2017

Would Rube Have Struck Out 800?

In doing the research for "Babe Ruth & the 1927 Yankees Have the Best Summer Ever" (you can watch a preview of the book on Youtube at ) I reread Bill Jenkinson's excellent study "The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs" which chronicles the number of 375+ foot shots the Babe belted that were caught, but would have reached the stands if he'd been batting in modern parks.

Rube before his all night prowling took its toll.
Which brings me to just how many batters Rube Waddell, the subject of "King of the Hall of Flakes", would have fanned if he'd pitched this year. Rube had blinding speed and, because he was incredibly strong and could grip the laces so tightly, had the sharpest breaking ball (a slider though the term didn't yet exist - fastballs were still 'shoots') in the game. In school he threw too hard for any other kid to catch him, so he taught himself to throw a wobbler, i.e., a knuckleball. And he threw a screwball on occasion.

Waddell was virtually unhittable. Cub reporter Grantland Rice once watched in amusement and amazement as Rube purposely loaded the bases in a close game even though he knew that the heart of Cleveland's order would be coming to the plate. Rube strolled to the stands, flirted with a couple of lovely ladies, and then returned to the rubber and blazed nine straight strikes past Nap Lajoie, Bill Bradley, and Elmer Flick - three of the best hitters in the game.

In 1903 Rube struck out 302 batters. The mark seemed to defy belief. Flame throwers Cyclone Young and Addie Joss hadn't COMBINED for that many. In 1904 Rube registered 349 strikeouts, still the AL record for lefties. This year 140 major leaguers struck out 100 times or more - some A LOT more. In 1904 one batter did. Only four others struck out as many as 80 times. Wee Willie Keeler fanned twelve times in '04. He was getting old. In his prime he struck out ten times in 1,850 at bats.

Big Ed Delahanty, who once homered
four times in a game, hated to strike out.
Hitters weren't trying to reach the fences then. Because cranks who couldn't be seated needed to stand in the outfield, parks were far bigger. There wasn't much chance you could hit a tobacco juice drenched ball that had been in the game for five innings (rooters were expected to return foul balls) 490 feet after all. Batters choked up and swung for base hits. Even powerful Nap Lajoie (pronounced Lajaway) fanned just 19 times in '04. In '02 three-time .400 hitter Ed Delahanty, the subject of my latest book, "The Only Del", struck out nine times.

In 1904 major leaguers struck out in 11.3% of their at bats. This year, batters struck out in 24.2% percent of their at bats. If you do the math, at that rate Rube would have racked up 747 K's this season. More remarkable is the fact that Rube missed his last five starts in '04 with a separated shoulder. Hell, he might have struck out 400. That'd translate to more than 800 in today's game.

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