I’m not usually a fan of TED talks — and this one from David Epstein doesn’t mention baseball once — but I found it fascinating and quite relevant to some of the things we talk about around here from time to time.
Specifically, the arguments about eras and comparing players across them. And, by extension, a lot of the arguments which get made about performance-enhancement and the notion that one can look at the accomplishments of Player X at age Y in year Z, compare it to what Player A did at age B in year C and claim — somehow — that one of those players is unnatural or some such thing.
But the fact is that changing technology, changing gene pools and the changing mindset of athletes make what the athletes of today accomplish fundamentally different than that which the athletes of yesterday accomplished. It’s apples and oranges, dudes, and your claim that what a guy did decades ago is somehow better than what a guy has done today is up against some pretty hard evidence.
Now, of course, you can normalize, or at least attempt to, across eras. Epstein does this with track and field records and shows that Usain Bolt is, actually, much closer in skill and speed to Jesse Owens than the stopwatch alone would lead us to believe. But it’s much more difficult to do with multi-variable pursuits than it is when it’s basically man vs. clock.
Anyway, some illuminating facts here about the human body and athletic achievement. And about how much the human body and athletic achievement have been aided by what one could generically call “performance enhancement” over the years.