Thomas Sowell

With even the greatest pitchers of our era seldom going the full nine innings, Walter Johnson's 110 shutouts seems to be the baseball record least likely to be broken. In order to compare the pitchers of our time with those of the past, earned run averages may have to be used.

Walter Johnson's lifetime earned run average was 2.17. Christy Mathewson had a lifetime ERA of 2.13, but Mathewson played for better teams. It is hard to think of any other pitcher whose lifetime records top theirs, except for records based on sheer longevity, like Cy Young's 511 victories. Cy Young had a lifetime ERA of 2.63 -- obviously great, but not the greatest.

Hard as it is to narrow down the candidates for the title of greatest batter of all time, or the greatest pitcher of all time, selecting who should be nominated as having the greatest versatility seems a lot easier.

There is only one baseball player who, at various times, led the league in both batting and pitching categories. That one man was Babe Ruth.

The Bambino had a league-leading batting average of .378 in 1924 and hit .393 the previous year, when Harry Heilmann hit .403. When it came to home runs, Ruth was the only man to lead the league in that category in 12 different seasons.

Babe Ruth's records as a pitcher are not nearly as well known. But he led the league in ERA with 1.75 in 1916. His lifetime ERA was 2.28, putting him in the company of the greatest pitchers of all time. The Babe still holds the American League record for the most shutouts in a season by a left-handed pitcher, and holds the record for the longest shutout ever pitched in the World Series -- 14 innings.

Is anyone else even close to leading the league in both of these very different and very fundamental aspects of baseball?


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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