For years I have been wondering if players like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb would be able to keep up with modern day baseball. For years I couldn’t tell as I didn’t know how hard pitchers threw back then. Until today. Today I watched the documentary “Fastball.” And in that documentary featured a story about the first officially measured pitch of Walter Johnson, who was regarded the fastest pitcher ever in those days.
Just like “Knuckleball,” “Fastball” is a great baseball documentary about a specific pitch in baseball. The film concentrates around so many more than the movie “Knuckleball” did. Not strange as there have been only 80 knuckleballers through the history of baseball and a lot more pitchers that could throw a good fastball.
It starts with Walter “Big Train” Johnson, who, back then, was considered the hardest throwing pitcher ever. Hitters like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb claimed they had never seen a pitcher throw that hard. For a long time, people could only guess for the speed of Johnson’s pitches. But at one point, Johnson went to a shooting range where the speed of bullets was measured. Johnson had to throw through a frame with thin copper wires that could measure his speed. This method was used by the US Army. When he did, the equipment measured, what would become a mythical number, 122 feet per second. Recalculating that to MPH will give you 83.182 miles per hour. “Only” 83 MPH. But modern scientists have made a correction. Johnson’s pitch was measured halfway the traject at 7.5 feet. Putting that back towards the point a pitch is released when the pitcher is on the mound, the speed of that pitch would be a staggering 107 MPH!!!.
The next one to have his pitches measured was Bob Feller. The “Heater from Van Meter” threw a measured pitch of 93 miles per hour in 1946. Feller never faced Babe Ruth as the latter retired in 1935 and Feller broke into the Majors in 1936. But Feller threw about 10 miles faster than Walter Johnson ever did.
Through the years, pitchers have been throwing harder and harder. Right now the fastest pitch recorded is a pitch of Aroldis Chapman who threw 105.1 MPH. Can you even imagine how fast that is? Nowadays there are so many pitchers who throw 90+ MPH, a speed that wasn’t seen back in Babe Ruth’s days. Nowadays, 83 MPH is rather common in Major League baseball. The game of baseball has developed so much when it comes to speed and athleticism.
So, when players, back in the days of Walter Johnson’s prime, said they had never seen someone throw as hard before, I dare to say that the players of that time could not compete in modern day baseball. Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth included. And these two were considered the best hitters of their era.