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Baseball Returns to the '50s. Thanks.

In what may, in hindsight, be regarded as the beginning of the post-steroid era, baseball's statistics, always the sport's aesthetic touchstone for keeping the game in balance, appear to have returned to one of the sport's healthiest periods -- the '50s.

Look at the league leaders entering the final weekend of the season and their numbers in the glamor categories -- for batting average, homers and RBI to wins, strikeouts and ERA -- might as well be those of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Warren Spahn and Whitety Ford rather than Manny Ramirez, Chipper Jones, Ryan Howard, David Wright, Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Brandon Webb and C.C. Sabathia.

Then glance at the runs scored per game and the homers, too. We're back very close to the norms that made the game so popular for generations -- 9 runs a game and two homers. For example, this season the National League is averaging 9.08 runs per game and 2.03 homers. Back in 1955 (before I knew there was such a thing as baseball), the N.L. averaged 9.06 runs and 2.05 homers.

I won't clutter a blog with a dozen more examples. But check out Baseball Reference for the similarities. It's not identical, but it's close. Baseball is scoring and homering a bit more often than in the 50's, but not enough to annoy any purist. Perhaps more important, the game's individual statistics are looking human -- or maybe just honest -- again.

Fifty years ago, the leading home run hitters in '58 were Ernie Banks (47), Mickey Mantle (42), Rocky Colavito (41), Roy Sievers (39) and Bob Cerv (38). You didn't think I'd pick a season without my first childhood hero (Sievers), did you? With three days left, the current leaders are Howard (47), Adam Dunn (39), Carlos Delgado (38), Ramirez (37) and five others, including Ryan Braun at 36.

Batting averages show us a familiar range that would not have looked out of place in seasons from the '40, '60's or '80's -- Jones (.365), Albert Pujols (.353), Joe Mauer (.330) and Dustin Pedroia (.330) are the top four. In '58, Hank Aaron hit .355, Joe Cnningham .345, Ted Williams .328 and Pete Runnels .322.

For pitchers, back to the future has also been their mantra. In '58, Bob Friend and Spahn won 22 games, Ford 21 and Lou Burdette 20. That's it. Now, we have Cliff Lee and Webb with 22, Halladay with 20 and Mike Mussina going for No. 20 on Sunday. Strikeouts leaders are higher now, more like '60's totals, but still sane with Tim Lincecum on top with a 253 K total worthy of Herb Score. As for ERA's, there were a few more sub-3.00 numbers in the '50's, but not many. At the momet, baseball has eight pitchers under 3.00, led by Lee at 2.54.

The game's gross imbalance of the Bonds-Clemens age seem to have been largely purged. Or maybe it's just one heck of an amazing coincidence.

However it happened, as we watch the last 72 hours of pennant race games this weekend, we can also enjoy looking at the League Leader boards where, once again, the numbers don't look like a computer game gone wild and the individual champions on Sunday night may actually be playing the game on their own natural ability.

By Thomas Boswell  |  September 26, 2008; 11:32 AM ET
 
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Next: March Comes Early

Comments

When I saw the headline, I thought that this might be about the Nats' current radio affiliates and their weak signal... but three cheers for natural ability!

Posted by: natsfan1a | September 26, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse

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