In Parts I and II of this series, I selected 25-man rosters representing the best players of each 30-year era in baseball history. Tonight, they play. Using the baseball simulator at WhatIfSports, I’ll first pit the Pre-Babe Era against the Post-Babe Era for a best of seven series, and then the Golden Era team will play the Modern Era squad.
A few unforeseen shortcomings in the simulator:
1. I gave each team a designated hitter, both because I prefer baseball with the DH and because it gave players like Jimmie Foxx and Frank Thomas spots in their respective eras’ starting lineups. The simulator didn’t give me such an option, so instead you’ll see Bob Feller and Randy Johnson taking their hacks against legendary pitchers.
2. While I added ten pitchers per team, the simulator limited me to six options for starting pitchers, based on the values the program assigns to each season. Somehow, Walter Johnson wasn’t an option to start for the Pre-Babe team, so I had to start Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Kid Nichols, and Old Hoss Radbourn.
3. The simulator did not allow me to differentiate between starters and bench players, set lineups, or determine outfield positioning. I set my Post-Babe roster as indicated here and the sim instead went with:
1. Paul Waner, rf
2. Arky Vaughan, ss
3. Babe Ruth, cf
4. Ted Williams, lf
5. Lou Gehrig, 1b
6. Mel Ott, 3b
7. Rogers Hornsby, 2b
8. Bill Dickey, c
9. Bob Feller, p
In the first game, no pinch hitters were used, which means Joe DiMaggio and Jimmie Foxx never got into the game, and only one pitching change was made, when Dazzy Vance replaced Bob Feller with two outs in the ninth, after Feller had given up 11 runs on 16 hits and six walks.
A series recap:
Game 1: Pre-Babe 11, Post-Babe 3
W- Cy Young, L- Bob Feller
Honus Wagner went two-for-five with a homer and two RBI. Tris Speaker had three hits, including a double, and drove in three, and Ty Cobb had three singles and four RBI. Ruth, Williams, and Hornsby went hitless for the Post-Babe team.
Game 2: Pre-Babe 11, Post-Babe 5
W- Christy Mathewson, L- Dizzy Dean
Speaker dominated from the leadoff spot again, going four-for-six with a double and a triple, while Cobb and Nap Lajoie each drove in two runs with three hits. Ruth homered in this one, and Williams went three-for-three with two walks, but the Post-Babe team stranded 14 runners in the loss. Walter Johnson threw two shutout innings in relief of Mathewson, while Red Ruffing was “ruffed up” for five runs in the last two innings for the Post-Babes.
Game 3: Post-Babe 2, Pre-Babe 0
W- Carl Hubbell, L- Kid Nichols
The Post-Babe team called on Carl Hubbell to bail them out after two blowouts, and the Meal Ticket delivered with a complete game four-hitter. Williams drove in Ruth with a single to break a scoreless tie in the sixth, and Arky Vaughan’s triple scored Bill Dickey for an insurance run in the seventh.
Game 4: Post-Babe 3, Pre-Babe 2
W- Red Ruffing, L- Walter Johnson
The Big Train couldn’t get an out in the ninth, giving up consecutive singles to Waner, Vaughan, and Ruth, whose blooper to right center brought in the winning run. Hal Newhouser gave up just six hits, all singles, in eight innings for the Post-Babes. Old Hoss Radbourn was equally good except for five walks. Vaughan tripled for the second straight game, the game’s only extra base hit.
Game 5: Pre-Babe 6, Post-Babe 4
W- Cy Young, L- Bob Feller
Feller took a second drubbing, giving up six runs on ten hits and three walks, but was oddly left in to complete the game. Dan Brouthers singled, doubled, and tripled for the old-timers, and Tris Speaker added a two-run double. Vaughan stayed hot with a homer in the loss.
Game 6: Post-Babe 16, Pre-Babe 4
W-Carl Hubbell, L-Christy Mathewson
Dizzy Dean was skipped in the rotation, with Hubbell given another chance to save the Post-Babe team. He came through again, throwing a complete game ten-hitter with no walks. Lou Gehrig homered and drove in four runs, Ruth homered and drove in three, and Williams drove in three with three singles. Frank Baker doubled and tripled in the loss.
Game 7: Post-Babe 6, Pre-Babe 3
W- Hal Newhouser, L- Kid Nichols
Newhouser and the Post-Babe Era completed their comeback by building a 4-1 lead early and holding on. Vaughan hit his third triple of the series and scored a run, while Ruth drove in three with a triple and a single. Kid Nichols was roughed up to the tune of 14 hits and three walks in eight innings.
Next up: the Golden Era team plays the Modern Era team.
Again, the simulator went its own way, hitting Craig Biggio and Wade Boggs, players I’d chosen as reserves, first and second, while Albert Pujols hit seventh. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, and Johnny Bench start on the bench for the Golden Era team.
Pedro Martinez was not an option to start for the Modern Era team, which means a pitcher who may have been
the best in each era (Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Bob Gibson, and Pedro) was be used in limited relief action in these simulations. I settled for Koufax vs. Maddux in Game 1.
Game 1: Modern 3, Golden 0
W- Greg Maddux, L- Sandy Koufax
Maddux threw a complete game, five-hit shutout with ten strikeouts. Wade Boggs and Mike Piazza each hit solo home runs for the Moderns. Carl Yastrzemski had three of the Golden Era’s five hits.
Game 2: Modern 9, Golden 4
W- Roger Clemens, L- Steve Carlton
The Modern Era team trailed 4-0 against Steve Carlton until Barry Bonds hit two-run homers in the eighth and ninth innings off Carlton and Tom Seaver, respectively. Boggs had two singles and a walk and drove in three runs, while Biggio added a two-run triple. Joe Morgan had two doubles and a single for the Goldens.
Game 3: Golden 3, Modern 0
W- Gaylord Perry, L- Randy Johnson
Like Carl Hubbell in the previous series, Perry was called upon to bail out the desperate Golden Era team and delivered in spades. Perry threw a complete game, six hitter with nine strikeouts and was backed by Eddie Mathews’s homer and Rod Carew’s three-hit night. Piazza had two hits in the loss.
Game 4: Modern 9, Golden 3
W- Curt Schilling, L- Bert Blyleven
Albert Pujols hit a two-run homer, Piazza drove in three runs, and Ichiro had two doubles and a single to back Schilling’s eight-inning, nine-strikeout effort. Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect inning for the third straight night. Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson homered for the Golden team.
Game 5: Modern 8, Golden 2
W- Greg Maddux, L- Sandy Koufax
Maddux threw his second complete game to clinch the series for the Modern Era. Bonds and Pujols each homered and drove in three home runs, while Boggs walked, singled, doubled, and tripled. Mickey Mantle doubled and tripled in the Golden Era’s losing effort.
Onto the championship series, where the Modern Era will play the Post-Babe Era.
The lineups and rotations are the same as in these teams’ respective first round matchups, so the title will be decided with The Big Train, The Big Hurt, Joltin’ Joe, Pudge, Pedro, and Mike Schmidt on the bench. All prior games have been played at Tropicana Field. We’ll move this one to the Polo Grounds.
Game 1: Modern 9, Post-Babe 3
W- Greg Maddux, L- Bob Feller
Maddux seems unbeatable in this simulation. Despite ten hits, three walks, and 156 pitches, Maddux threw a complete game and picked up his third win, backed by Barry Bonds’ three-run homer and Alex Rodriguez’s four hits. Feller walked ten and threw 171 pitches, but Rogers Hornsby and Jimmie Foxx each homered for the Post-Babes.
Game 2: Post-Babe 9, Modern 8
W- Carl Hubbell, L- Roger Clemens
Hubbell and closer Lefty Grove survived a five-run, ninth-inning rally, winning despite giving up 12 hits. The Babe homered and singled, while Ted Williams had three hits and two RBI. Pujols hit a grand slam off Hubbell in the ninth, and ARod had two hits, two walks, and three RBI in the loss.
Game 3: Post-Babe 10, Modern 1
W- Hal Newhouser, L-Randy Johnson
Hal Newhouser worked around seven walks in a complete-game four-hitter. Ruth homered twice and drove in four runs. Gehrig doubled, tripled, and homered to back Newhouser. Bonds’s double was the Modern team’s only extra-base hit.
Game 4: Post-Babe 6, Modern 5, 11 innings
W- Dazzy Vance, L- Roy Halladay
The Babe walked off again, his 11th-inning double scoring Arky Vaughan, who also homered and drove in four runs for the Post-Babe team. Mel Ott added a go-ahead, three-run homer in the seventh. Ted Lyons filled in for the previously ineffective Dizzy Dean, throwing seven innings of four-run ball. Ken Griffey, Jr., hit a two-run home run for the Modern team.
Game 5: Modern 10, Post-Babe 1
W- Greg Maddux, L- Bob Feller
Maddux scattered eight hits, but walked no one this time out and took a shutout into the ninth inning. He also helped himself with a two-run double. Pujols hit a three-run double, while Biggio drove in two runs with three singles and Ichiro added four hits for the Modern team. Ruth, Williams, and Gehrig each had two singles in the loss.
Game 6: Modern 6, Post-Babe 3
W- Mariano Rivera, L- Carl Hubbell
Leading 3-1, Hubbell gave up back-to-back home runs to Alex Rodriguez and Mike Piazza in the eighth inning, then put two on before Red Ruffing relieved and gave up Mike Schmidt’s two-run double. Craig Biggio had three hits, including a triple. Bill Dickey homered for the Post-Babes in the loss.
Game 7: Post-Babe 9, Modern 5
W- Hal Newhouser, L- Curt Schilling
The Post-Babe Era team won the championship behind Hal Newhouser, who went 3-0 including two Game 7 wins. Newhouser was barely adequate in this one, giving up five runs on 11 hits and three walks in 8 2/3 innings, but his offense bailed him out. Paul Waner homered, doubled, drove in two runs, and scored three, while Arky Vaughan had a homer and two singles. Ruth and Williams also homered for the champs.
If we can learn anything from this exercise, it’s that Babe Ruth was a force of nature, but we knew that already. That Arky Vaughan was just as dominant for 14 games may illuminate his excellence as well. Greg Maddux was predictably impressive, but Hal Newhouser was a bit of a surprise. To be fair, the 1.81 ERA that drove his success was earned against war replacements in 1945.
I think that speaks to the primary flaw in this exercise. The simulator bases each player’s results on his actual results from a specific season, but those results are accumulated in various contexts. The 441 innings Old Hoss Radbourn threw in 1884 can’t be compared to the 217 innings Pedro Martinez pitched in 2000 without major adjustments for talent of opposition, ballpark factors, rule changes, and myriad other factors.
It’s true that the Post-Babe lineup was devastating, even with Waner filling in for DiMaggio. Ruth, Williams, and Gehrig hitting back-to-back-to-back would make even Greg Maddux look like Scott Proctor. On the other hand, I’d argue that no pitcher from Babe’s era could navigate a lineup with Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, and Ken Griffey, Jr. We can’t know who would really win a series like this, but we can speculate that the Pre-Babe pitchers would have been effective against anyone, or that Mantle and Mays patrolling the same outfield would never let a ball drop.
The simulator tells us that players from the Post-Babe Era were definitively better than any other era’s players. And that’s at least as definitive as Ryan Braun’s claim to this year’s NL MVP Award, right?