If I were on a deserted island and could choose to have only one book it would be the latest incarnation of the Baseball Encyclopedia. And I think I could be pretty happy for quite a long time. I love baseball statistics and old box scores. I cherish baseball records and awards. When I can't sleep I go through the MVP award winners in my head, beginning with Dick Groat and Roger Maris in 1960 (although I don't get as far as I used to). In many ways the game has stayed the same over time — the bases are still 90 feet apart, and the pitcher stands 60 feet, 6 inches from the hitter — so there is a perception that we can meaningful compare players across eras. And it is fun to try. But each era has had its own unique issues and so much about the game has changed over time that it is folly to hold out statistics and records as something sacred. Key changes include the bats, gloves and balls have changed, night baseball, expansion from 16 teams to 30, going from 154 games to 163 per season, ballpark dimensions, medical advances, and the big one — that no African Americans played in the majors until Jackie Robinson in 1947, and it took at least another decade until all teams were fully integrated. And don't get me started (again) on the designated hitter rule, which was added by the American League in 1972, which has allowed players to prolong their careers and add to their statistics when they would otherwise be forced to retire because they could no longer play effectively in the field. And, finally, performance enhancers have helped to inflate offensive numbers in the last couple of decades.. It is fun and worthy of discussion to debate the merit of players from different eras. Who was better Babe Ruth or Willie Mays? Christy Mathewson or Tom Seaver? Honus Wagner or Alex Rodriguez? Jim Thome or . . . . Jim Thome hit his 600th home run last week. 600. That being said, some of the gaudier offensive statistics need to be considered in the context of the times. Hitting 500 career home runs and amassing 3000 hits was a far more impressive feat in the 1950s-1970s than it was in 1990s and early 2000s. So, for example, I don't think Rafael Palmiero should be in the Hall of Fame; not because he was a steroid user (or flagrantly lied to Congress about it) but because despite what are traditionally Hall of Fame numbers (over 500 homers and 3000 hits), he was not one of the dominant players of his generation.
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