Oh my goodness, of course they didn't. Certainly not with the frequency they do today. Walter Johnson may have thrown in the mid-90s at times. Maybe. But almost every pitcher from Ruth's era paced themselves to go nine innings or more. For most of the game they threw at maybe 75% or 80% effort. I'd guess an average fastball in the 1910s or 1920s was 75-80 mph. Relievers of that era were almost exclusively broken down starters, guys who simply couldn't stand up to throwing 100+ pitches every few days, even pacing themselves. The concept of someone who'd come in and throw gas for an inning was totally foreign. Now every team has 4-5 relievers who throw 95+ mph for an inning, and the MLB average fastball is probably 92 mph.
I clearly remember people in my youth (circa 1980-85) referring to an 85-88 mph fastball as being a "Major League fastball." Now that's called "Jamie Moyer".
Just in the last 10 years there's documented evidence that the average fastball velocity and number of pitchers who throw in the high-90s has gone up rather dramatically.
Prior to the 1970s and the advent of modern radar technology the techniques for measuring speed were suspect, at best. I'd take anything prior 1970ish with a huge grain of salt. With Walter Johnson and Bob Feller they were often trying to measure with some kind of weighted pendulum devices and eyeballing how far they'd deflect after being impacted with the ball, then hand-calculating a velocity. They were probably doing well to get within +/- 10 mph.
And then you get the aprocyphal stories of Steve Dalkowski or other minor/Negro leaguers throwing 110 or 115 mph... totally unverifable and almost certainly exaggerated.
I also think that today's pitchers actually have the physical capability to throw harder than those of the past. Absolutely on average, even if there were a handful of outliers in the past who could occasionally approach 100 mph. Better training, knowledge of biomechanics, nutrition, workouts, etc. There are a lot more players today who can throw 95 mph on a regular basis than there were in the past. A lot. The farther back in time you go the more true that is. In 1890 there probaby weren't many pitchers who could even hit 90 mph. When the NL started in the 1870s everyone had to, by rule, throw underhanded from a flat surface and there was a lot of carry-over from the old cricket rules about not snapping your wrist or bending your elbow. And an average adult male was probably 5' 5", 140 pounds. It would be amazing if anyone from that era threw 85.
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