Baseball: The Babe and the Browns

Did you know that a major league team once drew an incredible 80,922 fans? Now, here’s the catch—that figure would be a large (although NOT a record) crowd for a single game, BUT the 80,922 spectators was for an entire season! The hapless St. Louis Browns of 1935 played 75 home games; due to double headers, though, they had just 57 home dates. Doing the calculations, this team drew an average of a mere 1,419 people to each home date!

The Browns were pathetic for many years and, as can be expected, drew horribly for many years as well. That fact spawned a joke told by Bill Veeck who owned the club at one point. He said someone called his office one morning and asked, “When does today’s game begin?” As if to indicate he was so overwhelmed that someone was interested in attending, Veeck replied, “When can you make it?”

The ’35 Browns had what would seem to us today to be an unbelievable schedule. They played 35 double headers in all, and 10 came in the month of September, including twin bills on the 2nd, 6th, 7th, and 8th. Further, they were on the road for that entire month and they concluded the season by playing five double headers over the final dozen games.

When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record by swatting 61 HR in 1961 to eclipse the Bambino’s mark by one, he played a 162-game schedule versus the 154-game schedule which was in existence when Ruth played. Basically an extra eight games translates to a good 32 or more extra plate appearances which, of course, can make a huge difference to a player trying to break a record. So, unofficially, an asterisk was added to the Maris record to denote the fact that, yes, he broke the record, but did so under extenuating circumstances. I can see that, even though some people say, “A single season record is a season record regardless of the schedule.”

My solution is this: the official record books should have back then, and to this day, have two columns of records–one for the 154-game schedule and one for the way things are now. I thought of that again when Ichiro broke George Sisler’s record for the most hits in a season (257, still #2 all-time). What’s the harm of recognizing the old mark while also paying tribute to men such as Maris and Ichiro?

Along the same basic lines, I wish baseball had two entries for career records set in postseason play. It is ridiculous to compare the postseason accomplishments and records established by men such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Ruth to today’s players who get tons more chances to set records. When Mantle and company played the game, the only postseason play was, of course, the World Series. Therefore, at most, those men had seven games (times as many years as their team managed to get into the Series) to achieve their stats and records.

Nowadays, there are so many tiers of playoffs, a man could conceivably play in more postseason games in one year than many old timers did for a career. Example: the 2019 Nats made the playoffs as a wild card team. They went on to win it all, requiring 17 games in all to do so. One quick example by way of contrast: Eddie Mathews played 17 big league seasons (and with some very good clubs) and he appeared in just 16 postseason games.

Therefore, once again, wouldn’t it make sense to have a record book which shows records held by men such as Mantle with his old record of 18 postseason homers along side the names of players who set marks but benefited from playing during seasons which had multiple layers of playoffs?

The (tainted) all-time home run leader in postseason play is Manny Ramirez with 29 over 493 plate appearances. Mantle now ranks only in a fifth place tie. If I did the math correctly, if you give Mantle as many PA as Ramirez, his HR total shoots up to 33, #1 all-time.

Forgetting Mantle for a moment, what about the men who dropped out of the top 10 only because men such as Bernie Williams, Nelson Cruz, Derek Jeter replaced them? Sure, give them credit for what they did, but don’t shove the greats from another era aside.


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