Where Hank once was king, Jack rules
Time to rethink sports’ most hallowed numbers.
Barry Bonds has ruined the majesty of the all- time home run record.
It doesn’t matter whether you think he cheated â€“ don’t forget he never failed a steroids test â€“ or whether you choose to believe his bulked-up body and boulder-sized head are the result of countless hours in the weight room.
Maybe you believe that so many players have cheated in this era that it’s impossible to single out one player and make him the face of the problem. After all, none of the other alleged cheaters hit 73 home runs in this era of bloated records and bodies.
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Survey: What is sports’ most impressive number?
The reality is that 760 home runs or whatever his final total ends up being is no longer the most magical number in sports. It’s one of them, but the debate regarding its merit means it can no longer be at the top of the list.
Too many questions surround it, so it’s time to find a new magic number in sports.
I’ve been kicking this around with friends and colleagues for the last few weeks. I even took an informal poll of some athletes to get their take.
I’m not interested in team records like UCLA’s 88-game winning streak in basketball or Oklahoma’s 47-game football winning streak. While I respect the greatness of certain teams, what I love about sports is the individual greatness some athletes demonstrate.
This next sentence will anger some of you, but it is what it is. I’m partial to athletes of the last 50 to 60 years because they have generally played against all of the best athletes in the United States and the world.
Babe Ruth was phenomenal. So was Joe DiMaggio. It wasn’t their fault they couldn’t play against Negro League stars such as Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell, but the reality is they didn’t.
While I’m impressed with players such as receiver Don Hutson and George Mikan, the first great big man in the NBA, who dominated their eras, I’m more impressed by today’s athlete because he doesn’t have to get a job to support his family. He can train year-round.
Athletes have never been better than they are today, especially with improvements to nutrition, training and coaching, particularly in the last quarter-century.
I’m sure 30 years from now, I’ll be arguing with my son, A.J., about how none of the stars of his generation belong in the same sentence with Emmitt Smith, Michael Jordan and Roger Clemens.
Of course, that’s the beauty of sports. The arguments cross generations and last a lifetime.
The excitement that Tiger Woods has brought to golf in the last 10 years makes this the most magical number in sports.
Is Jack Nicklaus’ total of 18 golf majors sports’ most magical number? These days everyone from toddlers to senior citizens play golf. The sport has never been more popular, and there have never been this many quality golfers. No doubt Jack Nicklaus had tougher competition in players like Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson, but there are more golfers capable of winning a tournament than ever before.
Three of the four majors this year were won by players capturing their first major. When Nicklaus won his final major â€“ the 1986 Masters â€“ his record was considered untouchable.
Then along came a prodigy, who has changed the entire way we view the sport and those who play it.
Woods, who is 31, already has won 13 majors, and he’s just about to enter his prime.
By the time he’s through playing, his record might last a century.
As an 11-year-old, I spent the summer of 1978 in Cincinnati with my father. I listened to almost every game of Pete Rose’ 44-game hitting streak on a small, black radio in my dad’s guest room.
At the time, I didn’t realize how special the feat was. After all, no one has come close to matching Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak since.
Baseball lends itself to numbers more than any sport, which is part of the reason those numbers dominate this list. With the validity of Bonds’ record debated daily, DiMaggio’s hitting streak moves to the top of the list of magical baseball numbers.
The game has changed so much with more athletic players and specialized relievers that you have to wonder if anyone will ever break it.
Even though quarterback is the glory position, the rushing record is the NFL’s most hallowed mark, and Emmitt Smith owns it. There’s a reason most running backs only last four years in the NFL, and let’s not even talk about how many guys fall off a ledge when they turn 30.
Smith gained 5,789 yards in the six seasons after he turned 30.
But the game is so physical and the collisions so violent that it eventually robs the runners of the speed and quickness that made them special.
LaDainian Tomlinson, 28, could threaten Smith’s record one day because he’s halfway there after only six seasons, but there’s no guarantee. Don’t forget he’s also catching about 66 passes a year.
The hits add up.
This should’ve been the most magical number in sports, just as 714 and 755 were, but the allegations about Bonds and steroids have affected its place in history.
That said, it’s still going to wind up being an important number because Alex Rodriguez is going to spend the rest of his career chasing it.
It’s just no longer the number.
Last week while scanning channels, I came across Kobe Bryant’s 81-point performance against Toronto two years ago.
He was sensational and mesmerizing. You could feel the excitement in the crowd every time he launched a shot. Yet he still came up 19 points shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s magical night in 1962.
Wilt made 36 of 63 shots from the field and 28 of 32 free throws, which was the most amazing part of the night considering he was a career 51.1-percent free throw shooter.
Still, you might not be shocked the night someone breaks Wilt’s record because so many great offensive players have come through the NBA. Then again, if Michael Jordan didn’t get it and Kobe hasn’t gotten it yet, maybe no one will.
Wayne Gretzky is the only NHL player to score 200 points in a season. He did it four times.
No wonder they called him The Great One.
He never had a better season than the 215-point campaign he turned in during the 80-game 1985-86 season.
The NHL has had some great offensive players in the last 20 years such as Mario Lemieux, who maxed out with 199 points in the 1988-89 season. Sidney Crosby, the 19-year-old star who earned the league’s MVP award last season, scored a league-high 120 points last season.
He’ll spend the rest of his career chasing Gretzky.
George Brett. Rod Carew. Tony Gwynn.
Some of the game’s greatest hitters have made runs at Ted Williams’ magical single-season batting average, but none had the staying power.
Perhaps no one ever will again.
Williams, in 1941, was the last player to finish a season with a batting average above .400.
Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports. It’s even more difficult today because the fielders are more athletic and situational specialists have made it even harder to consistently get base hits.
Baseball is a game built on failure. The best players only succeed 30 percent of the time, making Williams’ season even more remarkable.
This is easily the most underrated record on the list.
Quarterbacks have never thrown the ball more than they do in today’s NFL, but only Brett Favre has sniffed Johnny Unitas’ record of 47 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass established from 1956 to 1960.
Favre finished 11 games short, tossing a TD pass in 36 consecutive games from 2002 through 2004.
Think about it. John Elway. Joe Montana. Peyton Manning. None of them have even come close to Unitas’ record.
Dan Marino ranks third on the list with a streak of 30 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass.
You would think Manning would make a run at it one day, but there are a lot of reasons why no one is going to throw a TD pass in 48 straight games, the equivalent of three full seasons.
Pete Rose may not be in the Hall of Fame, though he should be given the other scoundrels in Cooperstown, but no one was a more consistent hitter.
During his 21-year career, Rose had 10 seasons with 200 or more hits and five others with at least 185 hits. Only 27 players have even reached the 3,000-hit plateau.
As great a hitter as Tony Gwynn was, he finished more than 1,000 hits behind Rose’s career record of 4,256. So did Cal Ripken. Paul Molitor was more than 900 behind.
That gives the record perspective.
The most dominant power pitcher of his era, Nolan Ryan had the potential to throw a no-hitter every time he stepped on the mound because of an overpowering fastball and a knee-buckling curve.
When his off-speed pitch was working well, the Ryan Express was, well, unhittable.
No one recorded more strikeouts, an indication of his dominance. But it’s doubtful anyone else will ever throw seven no-hitters.
He threw his first in 1973 and his last in 1991, when he was 44, making him the oldest player to throw a no-hitter.
*****We credit Jean-Jaques Taylor for this fine work at The Dallas Morning News and I’m glad I lucked and up came across it while doing research at the www.dallasnews.com web site. This article really does make you stop and think.*****