By Tony Vahl, DailySkew Co-Founder
The other day I was listening to sports talk show hosts reminisce about the night 50 years ago when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points. It got me thinking about a notion that I constantly hear on sports talk radio: that you can’t judge players that you haven’t seen play. For example, Mike Greenberg on Mike and Mike in the Morning will leave Sammy Baugh out of the discussion of great quarterbacks because he never saw him. It doesn’t matter if his dad saw him and loved him, or if the stats indicate greatness: Greenberg leaves him out.
Can you imagine if we applied this, “You have to see him to judge him” standard to other areas? For example, what if I said, “I can’t judge Abraham Lincoln because I never saw him. We have his speeches and the historical record, but I can’t judge him because I wasn’t there.”
Who else can we apply this logic to? How about Galileo. “I can’t judge Galileo because his scientific work was done before my time.”
Let’s keep going: “I can’t really judge Newton because I wasn’t there to see the apple fall from the tree and hit him in the head. So, therefore, I can’t really appreciate Newtonian Physics.”
Socrates: “I can’t compare Socrates to modern philosophers like Jay-Z because, you know, Socrates gave his raps back in Greece. It happened so long ago. I didn’t see him speak, so I can’t judge him. I can only judge Tupac.”
Do you understand the point I’m making?
My real point is this: you can talk about players you’ve never seen. Just like we talk about Abraham Lincoln. Just like we make judgements on the works of Newton and Socrates. We can talk about them even though we did not see them with our own two eyes.
Why? We have documentation of their works. We know the impact of their works.
Let’s take a sports figure that Mike and Mike never saw: Babe Ruth. I know that the Bambino existed. I know that he 60 home runs in 1927. I know he hit 714 home runs for his career. I know he was a great hitter from footage, articles, pictures, books, songs, etc.
I know who Babe Ruth is. I don’t need to have seen Babe Ruth to know that he was, arguably, the greatest baseball player to ever play the game. Certainly, he had a great impact, introducing the home-run era to the sport. Plus, he was a successful pitcher before becoming a full-time right fielder, and revolutionized baseball.
But, hey, I never saw Babe Ruth. I really can’t talk about him, right?
Let me take it a step further: here, in 2012, I have access to more footage and more information about Babe Ruth than someone who lived in New York City in the 1920′s! Unless you had season tickets to the Yankees and you were watching Ruth everyday, what kind of information did you have about Babe Ruth? Newspapers? I have that. Video? Nope. There were no TV’s in households in the 1920′s. There was no ESPN.
We have access to clips of Ruth hitting a ball on MLB.com. I have more access to footage of Ruth now than someone in the 1920′s. Therefore, I have more information about Ruth, unless you were season ticket holder. And how many season ticket holders were there? How many people actually saw him play every day, for most of his career? 50,000? 20,000? Less?
It’s not just Mike and Mike. It’s all sports guys. It’s ridiculous that I, in 2012, cannot comment on a player who played before I was born. If I ever hosted a sports talk show, I would announce that we would talk about historical athletes. We would talk Jack Dempsey. We would talk Joe Louis. We would talk Sammy Baugh. We would talk Babe Ruth. And more. We would fight the tendency to become like the novel 1984, where history is completely forgotten and ignored, and acknowledge the great athletes of the past, and compare modern athletes to them.
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