The Root Causes of Power Hitting

Galveston Daily News June 26, 1921 Submitted by Darrell Pittman

Galveston Daily News
June 26, 1921
Submitted by Darrell Pittman

It wasn’t the baseball world’s imagination. Hitting really did change back in the 1920s from the small-ball, pitching and defense game it always had been prior to Babe Ruth’s 1919 29 HR breakout year while he was still with Boston and not yet totally clean of his original identity as a pitcher.

It is still interesting to read a piece from 1921 in which some of the most prominent baseball of their day, including two of the greatest hitters of all time, collectively pick away at nailing all or most of the major factors behind this change – while also – offering a few thoughts that had nothing or little to do with it.

Hopefully, you are able to read the article from the above included scan of its contents.

Going down the column, we are able to see that Tris Speaker jumped upon one of the big contributions to higher, more powerful batting stats by 1921. Prior to the 1920 season, MLB’s elimination of the spitball by all but the 17 grandfathered pitchers whose careers were built around that moist delivery, plus new rules against other substance additive and ball scuffing approaches to pitching had been banned. Advantage: Hitters.

Ty Cobb may have been the world’s greatest hitter for average, but his mistaken application of life’s cyclical patterns to hitting in baseball was – well, way off base. Cobb thought that “heavy hitting” was simply another cycle, like superior base running, that would recede in time. Boy, was Tyrus wrong this time. “Once Hitters Learn to Attack – They Never Go Back!” New superior hitting with power? It was here to stay. Advantage: Hitters.

Former Cubs infield star Johnny Evers blamed the new lively ball as the big culprit. In effect, he saw the ball as too hot and quick to handle as it tore through the infield. From a second baseman’s perspective, it’s easy to see why Evers got stuck on the ball itself. He was right, of course, it simply wasn’t the ball alone, as Mr. Speaker already has pointed out. And Evers was unable to see one of life’s big variables that always figures into the introduction of any new factor that requires adaptation by us humans. Younger infielders would grow up with a game that included baseballs that moved much faster than the old dead ball from the “Tinker-to_Evers-to-Chance”  era of the century’s first decade. The young ones would perceive the ball as moving at a “normal” speed. They would also have better gloves and fields to play upon as the whole game adapted to a faster pace. Nevertheless, faster ball speed also belongs in the same column. Advantage: Hitters. And that’s taking nothing away from the fact that a contemporary club like the Houston Astros don’t start a rookie like Carlos Correa at shortstop in the hopes of him becoming another Joe Tinker or Honus Wagner. – Defensively, they expect him to be far better – and he probably already is.

1921 National President John Heydler nailed the two-word answer which most people probably jump upon like a frog on a June Bug when he threw out the name “Babe Ruth” and, in so doing, he would have been right, but simply incomplete. The elimination of trick pitches and the introduction of the lively ball were all Ruth needed to almost personally make power ball the name of the game. If the 1920’s were the Emerald City birthplace of power hitting in the Ozville of baseball, then Babe Ruth was the wizard himself. The Arrival of Babe Ruth? Advantage: Hitters.

Detroit Tigers President Frank Navin, the last of our visible commentators from the 1921 article, spoke in support of Tris Speaker’s diagnosis that the recent serious restrictions upon what pitchers could do to a baseball before they threw it as a pitch was big. In fact, it may have been the biggest factor in that first season of change. With pitchers scrambling for new ways to ply their trade in 1921, that first season had to be pretty rough upon them. Navin apparently was standing in the owner’s party line of denial, however, when he offered the opinion that there was no such thing as the “live ball” and he obviously had yet to see his Tigers sufficiently bludgeoned enough by Babe Ruth and the Yankees nearing mid-season in 1921 to get the point that his man Cobb no longer represented the future of baseball. Again, the pitching rules change? Advantage: Hitters.

The Uncovered Big Factor

This one’s been written about ad nauseum. To no one’s surprise today, it wasn’t covered in this article from the 1921 era itself. In 1921, the eight banned Chicago Black Sox were in their first season of lifetime excommunications from the game of baseball. Baseball people weren’t exactly prone to open discussion of what the 1919 World Series Fix Scandal might do to the American public’s support of the game, but there wasn’t much question that owners wanted to move away from the event as quickly as possible and that Commissioner Landis’s pre-1921 season suspension and August 21, 1921 eternal banning of the eight Black Sox players had as much or more to do with proving to the fans that “good had triumphed over evil” as it did that all of these men were equally deserving of that same death knell upon their baseball careers. As McGwire and Sosa would do again with power to help baseball fog fan memories of the disgusting 1994 season, it now had become Babe Ruth’s role in 1921 to blast his way into the hearts and minds of all fans as the greatest hero of the new power game.

And Back to the Future of Our Fondest Astros Wishes

Now, if we can only get our 2015 Astros to grow as a few great hitting for average, base-running fools setting the table for our several “hit-or-sit” power guys, maybe we can have the kind of club that every franchise publicly says they hope to be: The 2015 World Series Champions of Major league Baseball. Oh, yeah, as we also wrote the other day. we also still will need two guys to either step up or move into the starting rotation as superior starters and quality inning burners.

Have a nice day!


Prior to the 1920 season


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