Baseball’s Weird Nostalgia

tycobb

Does the guy in this photograph look like one of the best all time players in baseball? Ty Cobb had great numbers, but to say (as ESPN has through both fans and writers) that a guy who played 100 years ago is the 7th best player of all time is absolutely absurd. Besides the massive difference in athleticism, technique, training, and competition from today, Cobb played in a league that banned everyone who wasn’t white.

What kind of messed up nostalgia leads so baseball fans, and many of their writers, to think that Barry Bonds’ numbers deserve an asterisk, but not Ty Cobb’s? Or Babe Ruth’s and Lou Gehrig’s? To many peoples credit, Bonds is getting more support lately–although not from the HOF voters. In this latest poll, he’s ranked 3rd of all time, which is fine I guess. But he’s the only one in the top 10 to have played in the 2000s… and in the 1990s… and in the 1980s. The list is entirely nostalgic. It’s even arguably racist.

Compare that to ESPN’s NBA top ten. 8 of the 10 played in the 1990s or later.

So, why the nostalgia for Ty Cobb in baseball but not Jerry West, George Mikan, or Bob Pettit? Why is Babe Ruth untouchable for a generation of fans who haven’t seen him play, whereas NBA fans can’t be bothered to even think about George Mikan? We’ve all seen Jordan and LeBron, so we know how great they are. And we’ve seen the black and white video of the white guys in short shorts dribbling with their heads down and shooting set shots. But we’ve also seen the pictures of Ty Cobb, the fatness of Babe Ruth, the absurd statistics of guys like Walter Johnson, and the incredible athleticism of modern day players like Bonds, Griffey, Pujols, Trout, and so many others.

It doesn’t make sense to me. I could add the NFL as another league where the modern players are given a lot more preference than the guys who played without helmets. What’s going on with baseball fans and its weird nostalgia for eras that no one can remember?

 

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