Over a long career in the Major Leagues, Babe Ruth became a legendary figure in America’s pastime. The towering man was large in every sense of the word. He loomed over his teammates and opponents alike, he had a massive appetite, he drank heavily, and he lived out loud. He also put up indisputably incredible numbers during his career.
If you exclude partial seasons, The Babe averaged .345 at the plate and slammed an average of 41 homers each season. Those numbers would put him on any major league team he’d want to play for today. The question, however, is whether he would actually be able to hit those eye-popping numbers in the modern era.
Babe Ruth played in a very different era of baseball. When he was playing, baseball players were encouraged to not build up too much muscle. At the time, it was thought that very muscular men were literally “musclebound,” slowed by their bulk. The game of the 1920s was primarily focused on player speed. Stolen bases and station-to-station baseball were the core of the game, and teams tried to eke out a few runs the old-fashioned way.
Babe was a revelation because he focused almost exclusively on the long ball. He was so good at hitting homers that there were several seasons in his career that he led the American League in homers and more than doubled the number 2 home run hitter. The only person playing at the time who even kept up with the Babe was his teammate, Lou Gehrig.
By playing the way he did, Babe Ruth fundamentally altered the very nature of the game. To ask if he would be good today is a bit of a tricky question. If you simply swooped in and scooped the Babe up during the prime of his career, he might not recognize the game of the modern-day. Pitchers in his era tended to go for the full nine innings, while today that’s almost unheard of. It’s hard to say how the Babe would fare in the era of deep bullpens and extensive scouting reports and defensive shifts.
Another tough adjustment for Babe Ruth in the modern era would be the much less sympathetic press of the modern-day.
Press at the time presented him as a lovable goof who would miss games due to “too many hot dogs and too much soda,” while modern interpretations suggest he would likely miss games due to alcohol poisoning.
After his career ended, those who knew the Babe described him as less of a goofball and more of a hedonistic celebrity. He was notorious for chasing women, he drank to excess, and he was a party animal. While he might fit in just fine with some superstars of today’s game, he’d have to adjust to the glaring lights of fame in the internet age.
The bottom line is that Babe Ruth would likely score an incredible batting average in any era of baseball. He could swing a bat like no other. But as for how he’d handle the culture of the 2020s compared to the 1920s, it’s almost impossible to say.