This is a little thought experiment: How would an MLB player do if he was transported back to the 1870s or 1880s and told to suit up for the local pro baseball team? How would an MLB manager/coach do, handling that team’s players? How would a reporter/columnist do if dispatched to one of the local papers to cover that team? How would a sabermetrician do if asked to analyze that team? Which would be the harder adjustment from 2013 to those years: the physical one, to a different kind of game played by a different type of player (I don’t mean racially different so much as athletically different), or the mental one, to a different culture with unfamiliar technologies and a very different way of living?
The point I’m making here is to wonder whether the physical circumstances of baseball have changed more in the last 130-odd years-that is, the rules of the game and the physical abilities of the players; or do the cultural and technological changes surrounding baseball in that time exceed the physical changes? Common wisdom has it that athletes today are in much better condition than athletes of the long-ago past, and I suppose that’s true. But if you took Miguel Cabrera back to 1885 and deprived him of his air travel, his millions of dollars, his entourage and most of the attention he gets, and the other trappings of being a modern MLB star, how would he respond?