Thursday, August 9, 2007


He finally did it. He chased down one of baseball's most hallowed records. Amid controversy he accomplished what he set out to do. On September 20, 1998, Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played.

Who did you think I was talking about? Maybe Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth's record of 60 single season home runs on October 1, 1961? Or Mark McGwire breaking Roger's record of 61 on September 8, 1998?

Baseball has been around far longer than any other major professional sport in this country and, due to its nature, has more statistics than them all. As a result, baseball records are the most revered of all major sports. We, as baseball fandom, get very upset when the numbers we hold most dear may have been beaten through ill-gotten means. But, really, what record is truly "pure"?

Cal Ripken, Jr. managed to break Lou Gehrig's mark during a period that saw 4 work stoppages, including the 1994 strike which shortened the season to 112 games and cancelled the World Series. During the last couple years of his run up to Gehrig's record, Cal had to play 3rd base because he wasn't agile enough to play SS any longer. Gehrig, on the other hand, saw no work stoppages during his run, and was dying of ALS during the last couple years of his career. Let's not forget, though, that Gehrig's streak was extended by a few pinch-hitting appearances.

Roger Maris passed Babe Ruth after playing 8 more games than the Babe. After 154 games, Roger only had 59 home runs. Mark McGwire has since admitted to taking androstenedione during the season when he passed Maris' 61 home runs, a substance legal at the time but has since been banned from MLB.

While we're pointing out potential asterisks, let's bring up the fact that until April 15, 1945, hundreds of the best baseball players were prevented from playing in the MLB because of their skin color. One has to wonder what records Satchel Paige, Joe Williams, and "Cool Papa" Bell and others could have set.

At the end of the day, what really matters is what the number, and the player who owns it, means to us. Lou Gehrig's 2,130 will always be greater in my eyes than Cal's number. Roger Maris' 61 means more to me than McGwire's number, or now Barry Bonds' number. And Hank Aaron's 755 means more than whatever Barry may finish with. For baseball fans who love the game's history, it's always been more about that affection than some number.

As a side note, 61, 755 and 2,130 I know off the top of my head. As I wrote this, I had to look up what McGwire's number is. I also have no idea where Cal finished off.

And it's those three numbers (61, 755, 2130) will always mean more to me than whatever the respective record actually is.

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