How does El Hombre match up against the Sultan of Swat?
This spring, Washington University scientists, at the request of GQ magazine, put Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols through a series of tests similar to those given to Babe Ruth 85 years ago — tests ranging from finger-tapping to visual responses to bat speed.
The results? Both men aced the tests, and their results were strikingly similar.
In 1921, psychologists at Columbia University put Ruth through scientific tests to try to determine what made him great. He had faster-than-average reflexes, steady nerves, and superior sight and hearing.
The same holds true for Pujols. At Washington University, clinical neuropsychologist Desiree White and cognitive psychologist Richard Abrams and their colleagues gave Pujols tests resembling the ones Ruth took. Both men were 26 and top hitters when they were tested.
GQ features some of the results of the Pujols tests in its September issue.
For one test, White put a piece of paper in front of Pujols. Capital letters were strewn about the page. White told Pujols to locate and cross out all of the As.
White realized she'd never seen anyone scan the page the way Pujols did. Most people scan a page left to right, the way they do when they read. Pujols visually divided the page into sectors and searched each one briefly for the letters before moving on to the next sector.
When he'd searched all sectors, he returned to the first and started over. It took him four rounds and a minute to complete the task.
"I've never seen anyone scan that way, but it would be important on the baseball field," White said, noting the skill would allow Pujols to scan the field and know where everyone is without missing any action.
In another test, Pujols replicated 133 symbols in a minute — a testament to Pujols' hand-eye coordination. The test makers don't even list a score that high.
In a test of finger-tapping speed, Pujols tapped at 2.4 standard deviations faster than average — placing him in the 99th percentile.
"It just doesn't get any better than that," White said.
In fact, Pujols popped the screw right out of the finger tapper. He was contrite, even fixed the machine, tightening the screw with a fingernail.
White said Pujols' performance on any one test doesn't explain his abilities; it's the whole package that probably counts.
"My hypothesis would be that there's something special about how he puts it all together" on the field, she said.