when strikeouts lost their stigma -- 5/02/17

Today's selection -- from The Selling of the Babe by Glenn Stout. Babe Ruth didn't just popularize the home run, he took the stigma out of striking out:

"[By 1919 the major league baseball players] had all noticed [how many more home runs there were] -- it was hard not to. The ball jumped off the bat in ways it never had, or at least in ways they had not noticed until the second half of the 1919 season. Now everyone was starting to realize [the livelier baseball] was a permanent change, and not just due to the vagaries of manufacturing after the war. Once [Babe] Ruth got going, there would be no turning back.

"It wasn't just the home run that Ruth was popularizing. He was also tak­ing the stigma out of the strikeout. Even before the pitching distance set­tled in at 60 feet, 6 inches and pitchers started throwing overhand, the strikeout had been considered the ultimate embarrassment, the batting equivalent of tripping over a base or throwing the ball over the backstop, something to be avoided at almost any cost. Guys like Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb, and others took pride on keeping their strikeouts down to only 20 or 30 a season. It was considered better to ground out, pop out, or fall prostrate over the plate and fake a heart attack than strike out.

Babe Ruth 1934 -- Babe Ruth swings and misses during a 1934 Dodgers-Yankees

"Not anymore. Fans found Ruth's strikeouts exciting -- and he didn't much care if he struck out, either. Ruth figured it was all part of the process, one that might result in a home run the next time. Every swing and miss re­sulted in a correction in the following at bat.

"No one paid closer attention to that than Ruth's Yankee teammates. He was conducting a clinic in a new way of hitting every time he picked up the bat. Not worrying about strikeouts gave them license to swing and swing hard. And they did. As a team, even without Ruth's contribution, their strikeouts would skyrocket in 1920, but so would their power and number of long hits. The same would hold true for almost every other team."

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Glenn Stout


The Selling of the Babe: The Deal That Changed Baseball and Created a Legend


Thomas Dunne Books


Copyright 2016 by Glenn Stout


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