For the Babe Ruth poll, I thought I’d using the “plucked out of 1927” line made clear — he DOES NOT get to grow up and train today. You are literally taking him from 1927 — around his peak — and putting him in the big leagues.
— Joe Posnanski (@JPosnanski) January 28, 2019
Babe Ruth was baseball’s most important revolutionary — he went against all the conventional wisdom of his day — that the best hitter put his bat squarely on the ball the most, hitting the most line drives to strikeouts. Ruth chose instead to up his chance of striking out considerably to increase his chance of hitting a homer dramatically. This also increased his chance of getting a walk, which is quite useful to scoring runs.
Ty Cobb pointed out that the only reason Ruth was allowed to teach himself how to do this from 1914-1919, learning to upper cut the ball to hit more fly balls, was that he started out in MLB as a pitcher and nobody in authority cared about how pitchers hit enough to make him stop, like they would have done if he had come up as a hitter.
Ruth made the most significant adjustment of any player in 20th Century baseball history, and he did it all by himself, so if anybody could adjust to being time traveled to a different era, it would be Ruth.
On the other hand, obviously, time travel would be discombobulating for anybody. Consider current day New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton. He hit 59 homers in Miami in 2017, one shy of Ruth’s 60 in 1927. But when he was traded to the Yankees just before the 2018 season, he initially appeared frazzled by the stress of living in New York City. He played okay on the road, but his first couple of months at his new home in Yankee Stadium saw him strike out a huge amount. Eventually he stabilized and hit a decent 40 homers, but it was a stressful adjustment for all concerned.
Still, Ruth’s personality would likely make him better suited for showing up and thriving in a new environment.
In general, there aren’t that many instances in pro sports of a player becoming outmoded before his natural career was up. Bill Simmons points to a 1950s NBA player named Neil Johnston who a 6 time All Star using his side arm hook shot. Then he ran into the Celtic great black defender Bill Russell and Johnston found that he could shoot unblocked sidearm hookshots over Bill Russell. And that was pretty much the end of Johnston’s career.
In baseball, Maury Will’s 104 stolen bases in 1962 ended the career of several national league catchers who could hit well but not throw well enough to get Wills and Lou Brock out.
But in general, ballplayers careers didn’t decline too much as baseball advanced. Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 and .388 in 1958
Wilt Chamberlain suffered that his 1960 scoring average of 50 ppg couldn’t stand up to improved defences, so by 1972 he was only scoring 14 points due to his lack of small motor finesse sills, but averaging 19 rebounds per game, plus who knows how many blocks per game.