Sunday, July 20, 2008

Baseball's Unbreakable Records

In a recent ESPN program entitled Unbreakable Records, Ozzie Smith, who won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves for masterfully manning the shortstop position for St. Louis (a feat that has not been accomplished by any position player), discussed the importance of ten remarkable feats achieved in baseball history by both team (the Yankees' accumulation of five consecutive World Series from 1949 - 1953) and individual (Eric Gagne's 84 save streak for the Los Angeles Dodgers). Prior to the show's airing, 160+ managers, players, and coaches in Major League Baseball were polled to determine the five most arduous records to reach in all of baseball. Brought to you here is this V-List contributor's re-working of this esteemed list.

5. Joe DiMaggio's 56 Game Hitting Streak
Pete Rose came the closest to DiMaggio's impressive mark, stringing together 44 consecutive games in which he was able to reach base via a hit (quite fitting, when you consider Joltin' Joe beat out Wee Willie Keeler's one-time record of 44-game streak of hitting safely). Upon going hitless in the 57th game of the streak, DiMaggio went on another 16-game hitting streak, which calculates to hitting safely in 72 of 73 games in 1941. During this season, perhaps DiMaggio's best, the one-time Mr. Coffee would not win the MVP; that distinction was instead held by Ted Williams, holder of another outstanding record for the ages.

4. Ted Williams's .406 Season
Arguably the game's greatest hitter (and the anti-thesis of quitting), the Splendid Splinter was going into the final day of the season having amassed a batting average of .3995, which would have effectively rounded up to .400, the first time the feat would be accomplished since 1930, when Bill Terry did so. Williams, as recommended by many Red Sox personnel, could have sat out the the doubleheader slated for that day in order to achieve this aforementioned exploit. Instead, Williams played both games, going 6 for 8, raising his collective batting average for the 1941 season to .406. Although George Brett and Tony Gwynn came awfully close, nobody has hit .400 since Williams accomplished the astounding deed in a year that would later live in infamy (the Pearl Harbor bombing would occur months after Williams's greatest summer). As his career average would suggest (.344), Williams was the master of the art of stroking the baseball, a testament to his poise and uncanny sense for dominating opposing pitching like nobody else could.

3. Nolan Ryan's Tandem: 5,714 Career Strikeouts and 7 No-Hitters
Ryan's efforts are ahead of DiMaggio's and Teddy Ballgame's for the sole reason that, in the modern era (post Bob Gibson, who compiled a a record 1.12 ERA in 1968), the game favors the hitters. When you consider (1) the mound has been lowered and (2) the fences have been pulled in through the construction/renovation of many contemporary ballparks, what Ryan did was extremely unfathomable. Randy Johnson most recently passed Roger Clemens on the all-time strikeout list, hoarding an upwards of 4,600 K's. In order for the 44 year old Johnson to pass Ryan, he would have to average 300 strikeouts per season for the next three years (something he hasn't done since 2002). What's more impressive are the seven occasions in which opponents could not register a single hit off of Ryan, the latest of which came in 1991, his 25th season in the bigs. His 292 losses (to his 324 wins) are not indicative of his prowess; for instance, in 1987, Ryan led the league in ERA (2.76), but compiled a win-loss record of 8 - 16, suggesting that Ryan was often the victim of poor run-support. At times, Ryan has been criticized for being erratic (he once walked over 200 batters in his season; in fact, his wild ways earned him a one-way ticket out of New York and California), but his ability to embarrass hitters was truly tremendous.

2. Cal Ripken's 2,632 Consecutive Games Played Streak
Consider this for a moment: the most recent player to come close to Ripken's streak since Cal broke Lou Gehrig's old record was Miguel Tejada, who played in 1,151 games consecutively, some 1,500 games shy of the mark Cal ended up setting. For Ripken to shatter the Iron Horse's record by some 500 games is a testament to Cal's immense capacity to play through bangs and bruises that have made mortals of lesser players. Perhaps the game's greatest shortstop of all-time, Ripken played the game with the ultimate sense of grit and determination that defined the outstanding ballplayer he was. For many, Cal was Mr. Baseball in Baltimore and beyond, the game's truest ambassador whose place in Cooperstown was well-deserved (an honor held in the same year, 2006, by San Diego Padres great Tony Gwynn, the modern-day equivalent of Ted Williams, minus the power numbers).

1. Cy Young's 511 Career Wins
During a time when homeruns were as rare as blue moons in the night sky, Cy Young (for whom the award for the annual best pitcher in the National and American Leagues is named) did things as a pitcher that will NEVER be accomplished, namingly his 749 complete games (Roger Clemens's 118 is nowhere near Young's mark) and 815 starts in a career. Through the use of five-man rotations, bullpens, specialist pitchers, and closers, and the restriction of starts made by pitchers (hurlers may reach 35 starts tops in an injury-free season), Young's feats have truly become a thing of the past, especially his career win total (guys like Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens, the best pitchers of the past twenty years, have only won 350 and 354 games respectively). Despite losing the most games in baseball history (316), Young's standard for winning ballgames is the most unbreakable record in baseball. PERIOD.

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