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September 8, 2011

Wezen-Ball

Remembering Ripken and "Unassailable" Records

by Larry Granillo

Wednesday night marked the 16th anniversary of Cal Ripken's 2,131st consecutive game. When the Angels/Orioles game that night reached the fifth inning - thereby making it an official contest - the season-long (or decades-long) chase was finally over and Ripken and his Baltimore fans could celebrate the breaking of a record that, for half a century, everyone thought was unbreakable. Ripken marked the day with a pair of hits, including a fourth-inning home run off of Shawn Boskie, and a lap around Camden Yards. It was a special moment for the damaged sport.

But the moment was far from certain-to-happen, even only a few months before. Sure, Ripken had managed to play in over 2,000 straight games over the last 16 years, but that didn't mean that he would make it through the summer unscathed. A bad ankle twist, an awkward dive - any number of things could have happened to the big shortstop that year to kill the streak before it became immortal. With this uncertainty in mind, and in anticipation of the September event, Orange County Register writer Larry Bortstein wrote a 1995 piece for Baseball Digest wondering what records would never be broken.

The standard answers are given - Cy Young's win total, Ty Cobb's career batting average, Nolan Ryan's strikeout total - but there's a lot more skepticism than you might imagine. Pete Rose, for example, is quoted as saying that most lifetime records will stand because "no teams are going to be willing to pay players big money long enough for them to beat those records". Dodger executive Buzzie Bavasi shared Rose's skepticism, saying that players had no incentive to stay around for 20 years since they were getting paid so much (I guess it never occurred to Bavasi that players would *want* to stick around to make even more money).

Rose had different opinions on single-season records, though. With the "paucity of pitching" in mid-90s baseball, Rose could see Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak fall, as well as Roger Maris's 61 home runs and Hack Wilson's 190 RBIs. Nolan Ryan had similar views regarding his record career strikeout total and his record single-season strikeout total.

The most amazing thing about Bortstein's article is how it seems to marginalize (or worse) Ripken's attempt at the record - in two different parts! Bavasi is quoted as saying that he'd "rather not see Gehrig's record broken" though he does realize that "what Ripken is trying to do may be good for baseball..." The harsher words come from Hall of Famer Joe Morgan:

"I don't think a lot of other players are taking Ripken's consecutive games too seriously. If you can just will yourself to play every day, that's not as big an achievement as Pete's hits or Aaron's homers. Sometimes a player actually helps his team more when he takes a day off here and there."

Morgan's quotes are further strengthened with an anecdote from Bob Lemon. Lemon finishes his story by saying: "Only a horrible disease ended [Gehrig's] streak. If it wasn't for that, he might still be playing today."

Maybe I'm making too big of a deal out of a couple of quotes 15 years later, but those seemed like rather odd remark to include in an article about Ripken's quest for the consecutive games title. It feels like Bortstein is interjecting a personal opinion with those quotes, but, again, it could be nothing.

As for the rest of the piece, I find it hard to argue with any of the "unassailable" records. Cobb, Young, Hornsby, Ryan, Rickey, the Wilsons... they're all safe for a long time to come. Stolen bases, batting average, pitcher wins, triples - they're all parts of the game that have changed too much for modern-day players to really have a chance at competing with decades- (or century-) old players. Are there any other records that Bortstein or I missed? What records are out there just waiting to be broken that we're ignoring? The record-book may have changed a lot over the last 10- or 15-years, but that doesn't mean that every record will be re-written.

Related Content:  Quotes

8 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Pat Folz

I think Ryan's single-season strikeout record is beatable. Randy Johnson came within 11 not long ago and had a few seasons over 350. Just in today's game, I think Verlander, Lincecum and Felix have the stuff and durability to potentially take a run at it (though of course nowhere near the K/9 needed yet), and if Lord Strasburg stays healthy and builds stamina... I wouldn't put it past him.

One guy who has the K/9 to do it is Brandon Morrow. So far, too much suck has limited his IP, but is it impossible that he could keep it together one whole season and whiff 350+? Oliver Perez had that one great year... /dreaming

The unmentioned records that I don't expect to see challenged in my lifetime are Bonds' walks, single-season and career (and by extension his single-season OBP record). The only non-roidy guy with a season in the top 20 in the last 50 years is Jeff Bagwell (non-roidiness debatable, apparently), with 149 to Bonds' 2-freaking-32. Peak-Bonds had a combination of batting eye, contact ability, and power that I don't think we'll ever see again, and without that no one will get the 100+ IBBs needed to challenge it.

Also, a quirky one that won't be challenged without a rule change: Maury Wills' 165 games played in a single 162-game season.
(Actually, it occurs to me that with rain delays and scheduling vagaries a player could be traded early in a season to a team with 4 fewer games played, and if he plays every possible game with each team it could be done...)

Sep 07, 2011 23:06 PM
rating: 0
 
ostrowj1

Re: Maury Wills, it might be easier today to get to 165. Correct me if I am wrong, but a team can feasibly have 164 regular season games, right (two 1-game tie breakers)?

Sep 08, 2011 08:41 AM
rating: 0
 
Jason Wojciechowski

I think career strikeouts are also in reach, especially if the strikeout numbers that hitters are willing to live with stay at their current rate (or even keep increasing?) for a while.

It'll be interesting to see if we're at, or reach soon, a high-water mark for strikeouts that we look back on in 40 years and say "Wow, nobody's ever going to strike out that many guys in a career again -- look at all these contact hitters we have now!"

Sep 08, 2011 16:50 PM
rating: 1
 
Shankweather

One that interests me is single-season complete games. The record holder is Will White with 75 in 1879. (Obviously that's never getting broken.) If you look down that leader board, every line is from 1885 or 1892 or 1901, etc. But then you get to Bob Feller's 36 CGs in 1946. Started 42 games, completed 36. Even if you limit this one to post-WWII, it's still never getting broken. What would his career have looked like if he hadn't lost his 23-26 seasons to the war?

Sep 08, 2011 07:24 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

I think most all profesional statheads agree with Joe Morgan that Ripken's teams would've been better off with Cal playing 155 games a year rather than 162.

Sep 08, 2011 09:12 AM
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CalWhite

I think Johnny van der Meer's record of two consecutive no-hitters is pretty safe... :-)

Sep 08, 2011 11:13 AM
rating: 1
 
Zaxell

If you're willing to go down to inning-resolution, Fernando Tatis's record of 8 RBIs in an inning is probably not going to be broken.

Sep 08, 2011 20:07 PM
rating: 1
 
ostrowj1

If Montero is as bad as a catcher as they say, maybe we will see a 5 strikeout half inning!

On that note, what are "good" records, even on the inning by inning basis, that are considered unassailable for MLB players but happen occasionally in little league?

Sep 09, 2011 09:38 AM
rating: 1
 
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