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The Illusion Of Perfection

November 13, 2015

Who was the greatest baseball player of all time? 

Babe Ruth?

Cy Young?

Satchel Paige?

Someone else?

You might as well ask, what’s the best food of all time? Except in baseball, we keep track of statistics to make the comparisons easier. Babe Ruth was the greatest hitter of his generation. He was the first player to hit 60 home runs in a season. He set records that stood for decades. He was also a fantastic pitcher, having one of the lowest ERA of any pitcher in the World Series, 3 games, 17 innings pitched, an ERA of 0.87. 

Many people consider him the greatest to ever play the game. And yet. . .

Many of Ruth’s records were eventually broken. The single season record for homeruns, which Ruth set at 60 in 1927 was broken in 1961 by Roger Maris. And it was broken again by a bunch of guys jacked up on steroids years later. It’s currently at 73. Ruth ranks only 3rd in lifetime homeruns at 714. Hank Aaron went on to hit 755 and someone on steroids hit 762. So, great as he was, Ruth has been surpassed in many areas. (And not just by the steroid users.) 

Cy Young, on the other hand holds a record that will never be broken. Not that might not be broken. But, will never be broken. Cy Young won 511 baseball games. He also lost 316. By comparison, the next highest win total is nearly a hundred less. Walter Johnson won 417. The most an active player has is Bartolo Colon at 218, less than half. If a pitcher gets 300 wins in a career it’s an guaranteed ticket to the Hall of Fame. No one will ever approach Cy Young’s win total. Not even close.

Incidently, Cy Young’s 316 losses is also a record. The most by an active player is Mark Buehrle at 160. 

So what?

It’s hard to compare players from different eras, or players in different positions. 

The baseball Hall of Fame ballots got mailed out this week. Since 1936, 310 people have been inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. Not one of them was ever elected with 100% of the vote.

Hall of Fame voting is kind of weird and kind of fun. Baseball writers get to vote. Five hundred and forty nine reporters and baseball people will vote. They can vote for up to 10 players. If a player gets selected by 75% of the voters, he is elected. If he gets selected by less than 5% of the voters, he is no longer eligible. 

Not everyone is eligible, and a player has to be out of the game for at least 5 years to appear on the ballot. And in 78 years, the voters have never agreed 100% on who should be in. 

I got to thinking about why that is. Or, since I’m not a voter, why it might be. Are there really people back in 1936 who didn’t think Babe Ruth belonged in the Hall of Fame? Were there people who didn’t think that Cy Young, the winningest pitcher in history wasn’t worthy of the Hall? 

Of course not. Those voters knew that that Ruth and Young and Ty Cobb and Randy Johnson, and Tom Seaver, and countless other baseball greats belonged in the Hall of Fame. So, why didn’t they vote for them? 

I think it’s the illusion of perfection. I’m talking about baseball, but it applies to life in general. No one is perfect. I’m not talking in a biblical or religious sense, although that is also true. But, in sports, in life, in our jobs, none of us is perfect at what we do. 

Cy Young won 511 games. That’s amazing. He lost 316.

Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs. That’s incredible. He also e also struck out 1330 times in his career. 

Neither man was a perfect baseball player. I think some of the voters want to remind poeple of that fact. 

As I mentioned, the new ballots are out and leading the list this year is Ken Griffey Jr. Junior, as fans in Seattle call him, is eligible for the first time. He will be elected on the first ballot. Most likely he’ll be wearing a Mariners hat when he is inducted. That will make him the first Mariners player elected to the Hall of Fame. (Dave Niehaus, the Mariners broadcaster for many years was elected a few years before he passed away.) 

There’s a possibility that Griffey could be the first player elected with 100% of the vote. He wasn’t a perfect player but he was the closest many people have ever seen. He carried a horrible Mariners team for many years, and a couple of glory years. He saved baseball in Seattle back in the 1990’s. He was named one of the 50 greatest baseball palyers in the history fo Major League Baseball. 

And he will probably get 98% of the vote

Maybe striving for perfection only means something if you cannot actually achieve it. You can get really close, but we all have areas we can improve. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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