Do Players of the Past Receive Too Much Credit?
I have a feeling that could potentially catch some heat for this post, but let’s give it a shot anyways. Please be gentle with your criticism.
It seems to me that retired players sometimes receive too much credit. When I say that, I mean that I have heard countless times, “If [insert very good retired player’s name here] were playing today, he would hit 80 home runs,”…or average 40 points per game, or whatever it may be. You get the idea.
The same thing goes for teams. Apparently, today’s teams just aren’t that good. Even if the Dallas Mavericks finish the regular season with 72 wins and take home the title, they won’t be viewed as equivalent to the record setting 95-96 Chicago Bulls team. Is it just our nature to assume that things in the past were better?
I thought of a couple of reasons why this might be the case. First of all, maybe it’s true. Maybe teams and players of the past were simply better. Maybe Babe Ruth transported into our era would dominate like no other. I don’t believe it, but I guess it’s possible.
Longevity is a key factor that I think could explain some of the disparity. Some of the retired greats earned being called that by playing at a high level for 15 years. With current players, we are always skeptical of whether or not they can keep it up. Sometimes I think we are too skeptical. Like with A-Rod right now, I have heard a lot of talk about how he’s slowing down and whatnot. Slowing down after a .290/35/121 season?
I can hardly imagine that the competition 30 years ago was as good as it is today. By that, I mean that the gap has narrowed between the “good” players and the “bad” players. You are forced to bring your best every game today because there is not one unworthy player in professional sports. Except for maybe Ron Artest and Pacman Jones, but that’s another story. Since there are all good players in the league now, it’s going to be harder for today’s players to put up the kind of numbers that were put up back then. I really have no evidence to back that up, but I just feel that the overall level of play in sports is higher right now.
Another reason might be that when we look back on players, we tend to think of their primes. We might overlook struggles in player’s careers and make them seem like they are better than they were.
The more I write, the more I feel like there is no logical way to compare players of different generations. You can only judge a player or a team by what they did against who they played. However, I still think that those who believe a player from the past could dominate today is crazy. Could an all-time great be successful today? Absolutely. But I know that I wouldn’t pay Mickey Mantle $100 million per season to play for me today (a little play off of joeyballgame’s blog :)).