Technology not drugs made home run records

PROF TAKES ONE DEEP: A painting of the author hitting a home run from league photo files.
PROF TAKES ONE DEEP: A painting of the author hitting a home run from league photo files.Courtesy PROFESSOR EMERITUS PETER BAGNOLO'S FILES
I won a Ford Foundation Fellowship in Physical Anthropology and come from a family of scholars and medical people, so I know a bit about human structure and about drugs like steroids. Steroids tend to interfere with eye-hand coordination eyesight and reflexes of many who take them and becoming muscle bound is a detriment to the lightening reflexes needed in hitting a baseball. As Ted Williams proved, eyesight and stellar reflexes along with incredible eye-hand coordination and pitch selectivity, are the secrets of hitting a baseball frequently. Hitting it far depends on one more thing the ability to hit the bottom half of the baseball, as Ruth pointed out. Muscularity and brute strength are neither a necessity nor a prerequisite, and, in fact are sometimes a determent.

There are several factors which caused the phenomenal rise in home run production. But was it really phenomenal? Not according to historical data, which reveals that technological discoveries often lead to an increase in that which is favored among human endeavors. Below are some examples of the gradual and sometimes herky-jerky rise in home run hitting.

In Babe Ruth's era the average distance from home plate to the center field fence was 450 feet, today it is 405 feet. Back then the alleys were, on average 400-415 feet, today they are 368-385 feet. The balls were livelier in 1991 and again in 1998. The mounds are now ten inches high, in Ruth's time and mine, they were 15"-18" (reg's said 15" but most teams cheated to 18"). Ruth’s home production in 1920/1921 was phenomenal, because at the Polo Grounds, which at the time was the Highlander’s/Yankees home park shared with the Giants, the center field fence was 490 feet from home plate . I suggest reading Bill Jenkinson’s book, THE YEAR BABE RUTH HIT 104 HOME RUNS. In it he displays charts showing doubles, triples and sacrifice flies as well as fly outs which today would all have been home runs. I did a similar computer study/chart based on ball park size, which over his career, were it played out in the era from 1986-2009 and played all of it as an outfielder, he would have hit more than 1500-1650 home runs. Bill Jenkinson shows Ruth, if he simply had the same career, pitching included, in the modern era, would have hit about 1150 home runs. My totals give him a few more years in the outfield and exclude the pitching. When I added the pitching as did Jenkinson, I showed Ruth hitting 1250-1400 home runs.

Many great hitters like Ted Williams increased their home run per times at bat as they grew older, as did Ruth in 1927-1928. In Ruth's youth both leagues hit about 400 HR's per year, the average to lead the league by a player was 9.5 HR's from 1901-1918, both leagues gradually increased HR production in starts and jumps and now both leagues hit 13 times that figure or over 5100 HR's per season. That increase has nothing to do with drugs, the people who are ignorant of the realities of such data and the natural evolution of sports records, viciously cling to accusatory slanders. Basketball and Football have seen records expand as well. Human beings are bigger, faster and have better health than they had in 1920. It is the natural evolution of human events.

When Ruth hit 54 in 1920/59 in 1921, he hit more HRs, than 14 of the 16 entire teams. When I was a kid very few guys hit 25 HR's in a season now many do every season. Barry Bonds and others, if they took steroids, hit HR's, in spite of Medicines and drugs containing steroids. By the way, at age 32, in a game, I hit a brand new Spaulding baseball 436 feet. In my prime the farthest I ever hit a ball was 420 feet. I was NOT stronger at age 32 than at age 18/19/20.

Perhaps some senate committee ought to investigate if Baseball executives lied about the increased liveliness of the baseballs and is so put the commissioner on trial. Did they liven the baseballs to avert the strike in 1991/1994 and again in 1998 onward? They wanted to fill the ball parks and make enough money to hold them in a short season. They also hoped that the players hitting so many home runs would deter them from striking, they were wrong and never forgave the union for that. Take a look at the short season stats and the year Bagwell had. Superballs were flying out of ball fields like Geese in a park. If most players took steroids how come they all didn’t hit as many HR’s as Bonds, Sosa, ARod and McGwire? Why did everyone’s HR production gradually rise to 13 times what the leagues hit before 1920?

Maybe the non-scientific accusatory naysayer’s can understand one thing. It is not news if everyone can do it. When Ruth made his run or 12 home run championships, that was tremendous, that was genius, that was miraculous. When Hank Aaron, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, ARod, Ken Griffy Junior and those who followed were blasting 50 home runs with ease, they were surrounded by a huge number of other hitters who were hitting 25. 30, 35, 40 and 45 home runs. The leader of that parade is not really a very special one because it was not as difficult as it was in 1920/1921, 1927/1928.

In 1920 all of the players in Major League Baseball combined hit a total of 630 home runs, Ruth hit 54 of them, or 8.6% of the total. In the year 2000 all of the players in Major League Baseball combined hit a total of 5,693 home runs or more than nine times as many as were hit in 1920. Jeff Bagwell led the NL with 47 not quite 1% of the total. Was every one on steroids? No, shorter fences, lower mounds, and much livelier baseballs made the records, not drugs.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo's picture

I could not find the information on how to add an image for this post...HELP!

posted on Wed, 01/13/2010 - 11:29am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Hey Prof—

You can add an image while you're creating your post, or afterward, by clicking on the "edit" tab.

To add an image, put your cursor where ever you want the image to show up in the text, and then click on the little little "Image Assist" icon The Image Assist icon
The Image Assist iconCourtesy Drupal?
beneath the field where you entered the body of the post. That will open up the Image Assist window, a tool for uploading images.

Click on the "upload" button at the top of the window that appears, and then fill out all the credit and caption information for the image on the next screen.

Don't worry about it if it sounds complicated—once you find that first Image Assist button, it's pretty straightforward. Remember, though—unless it's an image you personally own, you should use public domain images, or those with "Creative Commons licensing. Government websites, Wikimedia Commons, or Flickr.com searches narrowed to Creative Commons are good sources for these sorts of pictures.

Also, It might be helpful to include links in your posts. This one, for instance, is related to an older post on steroid use and baseball, so you could toss in the URL for that post somewhere in here. Or you could embed it in a word or phrase in the post using this code: < a href="URL of the page you want to link to" >Word or phrase you want to contain the link< /a >

(Just remove the spaces between these guys < and > and the words/letters/symbols they surround, and it should appear as a nice, clean link when you finish the post.)

Hope that's helpful!

posted on Wed, 01/13/2010 - 1:30pm
Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo's picture

Hey, JG Thanks very much. I did a painting of me hitting a home run I wanted to post. I shall try it right now.

Again thanks a lot.

posted on Wed, 01/13/2010 - 2:00pm
Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo's picture

I usually do place links, but this is my first post here and I guess I missed a few things. I write regularly for several news services and I did write a baseball novel several years ago and am working on a three book deal right now and illustrating the covers. You can find some of them at my website.

posted on Wed, 01/13/2010 - 9:22pm
Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo's picture

JGordon: It worked thanks a million. I didn't see it but is there also a place to store images here?

Hey is your avatar Tin Tin? He is my daughter's favorite comic character.

posted on Wed, 01/13/2010 - 2:19pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Yep, Tintin. He's solving the mystery of the Cigars of the Pharaohs there. And your daughter is correct: he is the best.

posted on Thu, 01/14/2010 - 12:21am
Molly P's picture
Molly P says:

Ok, your explanation makes sense, but it leaves me with one big question.

If steroids are detrimental to one's performance, why were so many baseball players taking them?

posted on Wed, 01/13/2010 - 2:32pm
Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo's picture

Well, Molly, I meant detrimental to the art of hitting.

I am not a shrink, however, turning the question about; why do people drink alcohol to excess, take cocaine, heroine or any illicit drug? Why do people do self destructive things, why do they fight, with each other, why do they pierce their bodies.

The Steroids are supposed to help people heal faster, but why didn’t they, then go to physician for treatment? When I messed up my back playing football, the doctor wanted me to take a steroid shot, but I refused. It was legal, but I do not like drugs of any kind so I said no. Maybe I made a mistake but one look at the possible side effects, gave me pause for thought.

posted on Wed, 01/13/2010 - 9:16pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Because he is not a doctor and does not know what he is talking about ....Taking anabolic steroids in combination with HGH sustains youthful function of the body as a whole allowing a person to maintain good eyesight if he already has good eyesight until an advanced age..or until he or she stops taking the drugs. Take in consideration female body builders , do you really think that those ladies can maintain those bodies and abilities without the drugs? By the way I have never seen one of them wearing glasses... The confidence one feels from being stronger and faster than ever before added to the shorter parks and better equipment translates to better performance... This does not take a rocket scientist....lol

posted on Fri, 09/10/2010 - 7:29pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Very good post, with lots of interesting information. I do have a couple of comments.

The comparison of interest isn't between 1920 and 2010; rather, it's between the mid-'90s and the late '90s. You are absolutely correct: home runs have risen gradually over the past 100 years or more. Much of that is due to the factors you mention: larger parks, taller pitcher's mounds, less physical training. Some is also due simply to strategy: before Ruth, no one believed the home run was a reliable offensive weapon. And trying to hit homers increased strike outs. Managers preferred to play it safe, playing for one run at a time. Certainly there were players before Ruth's time who could hit home runs; they simply didn't focus on it.

However, the sudden, pronounced rise in home run production from certain players beginning around 1997/98, and ending just as abruptly around 2001/02, cannot be explained by such factors.

Also, short seasons do not make good statistical comparisons. There's almost always somebody who hits a dozen home runs in April, or who's hitting .400 in late May/early June, or has a dozen wins by the All Star game -- but, over the course of 162 games, falls back to more expected levels of performance.

posted on Wed, 01/13/2010 - 10:49pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

"However, the sudden, pronounced rise in home run production from certain players beginning around 1997/98, and ending just as abruptly around 2001/02, cannot be explained by such factors."

With all do respect, Yes, Gene they can. In 1930 exactly the same thing happened. Take a look at the stats there. A storm of criticism and the Superball of 1930, was gone. Also check out 1961, which I call the "Dave Cash Superball season." We started using MLB baseballs, Reach and Spaulding in the mid fifties rather than the Wilson Balls and my home run production sparked. In 1961 it went wild. That year, people who never hit 25 hr's hit 30, people who never hit, 40 did, and people who never hit 40 before or after hit 61.Then it was over in a flash.

1987 was another spark year, Andre Dawson, who usually hit 20's to low 30's hit his sole 40 year with 49 and would have hit more but missed 10-days to two weeks after being hit in the face with a pitch.

The juice the ball because it brings crowds. I have interview a half dozen physicians, who say NO to the connection at the MLB level of hr hitting. Also check this out, Gene:Steroids and Home Runs
Professor Emeritus Arthur De Vany
Department of Economics
Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences
University of California, Irvine
[email protected]
Thanks very much for writing.

posted on Sat, 01/16/2010 - 7:19am
Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo's picture

“However, the sudden, pronounced rise in home run production from certain players beginning around 1997/98, and ending just as abruptly around 2001/02, cannot be explained by such factors.”

With all due respect, Gene, yes they can. In 1930 the ball was Rabbited up and records were smashed and everyone became a high average and high home run hitter, which dropped by 500 the next year. See year stats below, Stats, the small figures are each league for the year, the large bold are the two leagues combined:

424 439 863 1926, 439 483 922 1927, 483 610 1,093 1928, 595 754 1,349 1929, 673 892 1,565 1930, 576 493 1,069 1931

Then there was the Dave Cash Superball Year, 1961, when it took a leap of 600 home runs, stayed up, even increased for a year, and then slowly receded. I saw the same home run production beginning in 1960-1961 when we started also using Reach/Spaulding baseballs, our home run production leaped. In 1961 Maris who never hit 40 hrs before or after hit 61 and Dave Cash, Jim Gentile and many others were one year wonders.

1,024 1,178 2,202 1957, 1,057 1,183 2,240 1958 1,091 1,159 2,250 1959 1,086 1,042 2,128 1960, 1,534 1,196 2,730 1961, 1,552 1,449 3,001 1962, 1,489 1,215 2,704 1963, 1,551 1,211 2,762 1964, 1,370 1,318 2,688 1965, 1,365 1,378 2,743 1966, 1,197 1,102 2,299 1967.

In 1987 Andre Dawson whose hr production was in the 20’s and 30’s leaped to 49 and would have been greater but he was hit in the face and missed 10-14 days. MLB Hr production leaped again by 600 to 4,458 hrs, then dropped the next year to 3,180 hrs. Stats:
1,980 1,278 3,258 1984, 2,178 1,424 3,602 1985, 2,290 1,523 3,813 1986, 2,634 1,824 4,458 1987, 1,901 1,279 3,180 1988, 1,718 1,365 3,083 1989

Steroids and Home Runs
Professor Emeritus Arthur De Vany
Department of Economics
Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences
University of California, Irvine
[email protected]

Thanks for writing,

posted on Sat, 01/16/2010 - 7:59am
Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo's picture

Gene, I apologize for my presumption that my charts would reproduce as I copied them in this comment:
"See year stats below, Stats, the small figures are each league for the year, the large bold are the two leagues combined:."

The colors and Bold did not come through and when I finally found the html it was too late and would have taken too much time, so sorry. However, you can see in the above comment that the 1st two figures in each case are each league, the next both leagues and the last the year. Again, I apologize, Gene

posted on Sat, 01/16/2010 - 8:24am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Yes, I have had trouble with charts in the past as well.

The change in 1930 can, I believe, be attributed to a change in tactics. Certainly players were able to hit home runs in previous years; it simply took the likes of Ruth, Foxx, Gehrig, etc. to show that the home run could be a reliable offensive weapon.

The burst in 1961-62 is no doubt attributable to the dilution of talent due to expansion in those years.

I've often heard claims that the ball was "juiced" in certain years. But every time someone actually tests the balls themselves, no significant difference is found.

posted on Sun, 01/24/2010 - 12:05pm
Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo's picture

Well, they don't send the "Rabbit balls out to those who want to test them. However, even taking the "real" balls is no test. What are they testing it against?

I can sum up my point in the home run I hit at age 32, 436 feet using a Spaulding MLB baseball. In my prime I never hit a ball more than 425 feet, as I said before.

posted on Mon, 01/25/2010 - 7:35pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

In all fairness, it's going to take more than one home run to convince me all balls are juiced.

posted on Sun, 01/31/2010 - 8:01pm
Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo's picture

Gene, if the charts showing that home runs have risen from 400 per year in the Babe's era, and from time to time with herky jerky spurts, among the steady rises to 5653 per year in our era and the scientific essays by many scientists, the fact that everyone's home runs totals rose between 1996 and 2004, and then dropped off except for a very few truly good hitters and some guys who hit 40 in that era haven't since, the fact that baseball admitted in the past that they souped up the balls and you trust the owners more than the scientists, and the above records displaying what every professor I know recognizes as a progressive trend aided and abetted by the liveliness of the baseballs, and physicians and the MSDS sheets they publish about anabolic steroids showing that they alter vision, slow eye hand coordination, create muscle bound physiology, which causes a stereo typical clumsiness, then you have made up your mind about a thing and no evidence will convince you. If you ignore the doctors, the drug companies and their MSDS sheets, the nature of steroids, that everyone who has ever taken them shows as symptoms, the professors who do studies that illuminate students and other professors, then I cannot help you. Good luck with that approach to education and science, and God Bless.

posted on Mon, 02/01/2010 - 7:01pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

A dramatic increase in home runs from 1996 to 2004, and a subsequent drop-off, corresponds pretty well to the "steroid era."

I am curious -- if steroids are so universally detrimental, then why did so many players use them? And why did so many of these players suddenly have career years in slugging?

I am not aware of MLB admitting the ball has been juiced, though I admit I may have missed something. I have read studies which found no difference in the balls between eras.

I do not claim that steroid use automatically leads to increased home runs. Not do I deny the terrible side-effects of long-term steroid use. Still, the facts remain: steroids were used for a period; home runs increased across the board during that period; many of the most prominent sluggers of the period have either admitted steroid use, tested positive, or have other evidence indicating possible use.

The fact that some non-users also hit home runs does nothing to undermine these facts.

posted on Sun, 02/28/2010 - 10:14pm
jonah's picture
jonah says:

Stronger evidence supporting that steroid use increased home-run output is the fall in hr production after steroid testing was implemented, not the rise in production. Same baseballs, same bats, same mound, same parks, yet nobody's hitting 70 or even 60 hrs per season.

posted on Tue, 07/20/2010 - 7:02pm
TheBigDog's picture
TheBigDog says:

There is so much wrong with this I don't even know where to begin. First off your whole argument is based off of the conspiracy theory that the MLB intermittently livens the balls. Now it is true that the ball probably did gain 'juice' from the 1920's to the 1950's or 1960's due to better methods of production, but the ball has stayed the same since. Let me ask you something, if more home runs are good for the game, why wouldn't the MLB keep the ball 'juiced' all the time instead of doing it now and then. Also, you keep referencing a spaulding (I think you mean spalding) baseball when the official MLB baseball is a made by Rawlings.

Even though some scientists have said that taking steroids does not improve ones ability to hit a baseball, I haven't seen any of those scientists playing major league baseball lately. It is funny that 7 out of the 10 players who have hit 500 home runs that played in that era have been linked to steroids. Also if you watched McGwire and Sosa in 1998 or Bonds in 2001 you would have seen that very few of their home runs just cleared the fences.

The one valid point that you have made is about fences being farther back then. Center field and the alleys were definitely farther, but anything pole side of that was little league dimensions. Right field at Yankee stadium was under 300 feet for Ruth's entire career. Ruth and Williams played in a day and age when pitchers were considerably slower and both utilized this with their notorious dead pull swings. Accurate hitting charts you will likely never get from the times, but if you move the line out to a more modest 335 and the alley in to something like 380 I would be willing to bet that his home run total would not even increase.

posted on Tue, 07/20/2010 - 11:00pm
Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo's picture

Now, a year later a number of scientists from major univercities have tested baseballs from several eras as well as a few made in the same formula of the 1920's and the mounting liveliness of the baseballs was tremendous.

Add to that the book "The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs" and the latest By Frederick E. Taylor, whose scientific, mathematical studies in the book, "The Runmakers" though it is not the sole purpose of it, show that steroids have little to nothing to do with HR production and clearly displays the 8 eras in which the ball was most enlivened with the era from 1996-2006. He does show how the balls were enlivened over the years and then reduced when the suspicions grew.

Excellent book which I am, as an Official Vine Reviewer for Amazon, in the process of reviewing now.

"There was never not a single complex thing that ever occurred that was not carefully planed. Everything of complexity that has ever happened was a conspiracy" L. O. Iuzzallini.

It is simple mathematical logic as I said over the years. The increases followed my theories almost perfectly.

posted on Tue, 06/07/2011 - 7:57pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

"There was never not a single complex thing that ever occurred that was not carefully planed. Everything of complexity that has ever happened was a conspiracy" L. O. Iuzzallini.

And thus is Occam's razor blunted...

posted on Wed, 06/08/2011 - 4:19pm
Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo's picture

The entire Steroids cause home runs, idea is similar to the "earth is square" idea and the idea that Green house gasses are not causing glaciers to melt . They deny that the side effects cause vision problems, reflex problems, muscle bound slowness, nervous tics, all of which are a detriment to hitting 100 mph fastball.

The world gets itself into a mess because people won't spend the time doing the laborious studying and think that if they blow off in their ignorance anything that frightens them or which they, for envious reasons don't want to admit that someone else was right and they were wrong and they think that a smart ass remark is going to change the inevitable, and then reality will run away and hide under a rock, is not only foolish it is weird, but I guess it always has been the job of scientists to burst bubbles of those who are too lazy to do the heavy, time consuming research.

Time after time scientists predict things like Tsunami's, the market crash of 2008, a year in advance, the reality a year ahead of time that there were no WMD's in Iraq and that oil prices are a fraud, and so on.

posted on Tue, 06/07/2011 - 8:21pm
B's picture
B says:

In a vacuum, I don't doubt the analysis regarding Ruth hitting 104 HRs today in season or over 1000 today in his career. Unfortunately, we can’t look at the data in a vacuum because it is not. Admittedly, I am a little skeptical of HR charts from era, and at the Polo Grounds the right field line had a ridiculously short porch at 258 Ft (an average junior high baseball player has enough strength to homer down the line with a wood bat), but I am willing to accept this premise and layout the problem with not necessarily with the analysis, but its interpretation. It is very difficult to compare eras, especially ones so far apart in time. The game is, oh so, very different. Pitching has changed significantly – the pitchers themselves and pitching customs of today.

POINT 1 and probably the weakest point but with real merit) I will readily admit that I do not know the average speed pitched during Ruth's era nor today, but I can tell you pitchers are throwing a lot harder just in the last 10 years. Nearly every team in MLB has 2-4 pitchers that can routinely hit 97-98mph on the radar gun (there is at least a dozen who hit 100). I won't name them all (nor could I, probably like 30 of them), none of which throw harder than Chapman (CIN). If you have played baseball at any descent competitive level, it will be known that is significantly harder to hit a pitched ball at 86 mph compared with 82 mph. It may not seem like much of a different, but it is night and day.

POINT 2) Pitchers routinely threw 150+ pitches per game and over 300 innings per year during Ruth’s time. The arm eventually gets exhausted, and the pitcher becomes less effective. In 1920, there were 10 pitchers who threw at least 25 complete games. Today, if you throw 3 complete games, one will end up in the top 10 of the league, yet there are nearly twice as many teams. In addition, mention there are many more starting pitchers today because of the standard 5-man rotation which helps keep pitchers fresh.

POINT 3) In today’s game, Ruth is going to see left-handed pitching a whole lot more. The league today has about 23% left-handed pitching. In Ruth’s time, (no way for me to verify), but I would imagine left-handed pitchers were much more likely closer to norm of the general population which is 12% of men. Today left-handed specialists are certainly sought after like never before, and even left-handed starting pitching. My point is that Ruth would not be seeing some exhausted right-handed starting pitcher from the 6th inning to the end of the game a large percentage of the time unlike during his time. Left-handed specialists would be used throughout the game to diminish he chances of getting on base let alone hitting a home run.

POINT 4) In the 1920’s the best hitters routinely batted over .350 and 8 players hit .400 or better. Nobody has hit .400 since 1941. In fact, only qualified player is even hitting .350 today with only 22 games to go in the 2013 season – Miguel Cabrera. The hitters as a whole today are certainly not worse than in the 1920s. The game is different. Pitching is much tougher. It is a lot harder to be as successful hitter today when compared with other eras, period. Of course, Ruth was more dominant in his era than any player ever in their respective era. It is very evident that below average talent and mediocre talent in pro sports leagues increase over time, making it more difficult for the best players to be as exceptionally dominant as Ruth was. Expansion of teams cannot be cited as a logical counter argument either. There are roughly twice the teams today (30 vs. 16), yet the population is nearly exactly 3 times what was in 1920. Black players are allowed to play today too, and baseball has become a global game with a huge influx of Hispanics and Asians on top everything else. Speculation, but most likely a higher percentage of youth play the game today in the U.S. than they did in 1920 not to mention in other countries (if for no other reasons than the natural proliferation of the game and the potential to make a lot of money which one couldn’t make during Ruth’s time). In essence, the effect of the aforementioned reasons has made the league much stronger than it was in Ruth’s day even with the additional teams because the pool of talent has increased more than by the proportion of additional teams today. I get it. Everybody playing today is chasing a legend, a ghost, and a mythological player who was supremely dominant for the ultimate comparison. It is a losing battle in some ways to fight it, but I try. Everyone must be compared in their respective era for perspective, yet understand that dominance of one’s era is even skewed itself within the very era itself relative to another due to a multitude of external factors that will allow for such dominance. Ruth was great, perhaps even the best of all time, but that cannot be truly be determined. If anything Ruth would hit less home runs today, not more.

posted on Fri, 09/06/2013 - 3:30am

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