More Cowbell Than You Will Ever Need V -- The Numbers Edition!
What do you mean, only five baseball landmarks still matter? You can't compare this to the NBA because nobody cares about numbers in basketball. How many 3-pointers did Jordan have in his career? Nobody remembers those sorts of details. But ask a baseball fan how many homers Teddy Ballgame hit, and they'll tell you right away -- 521.
-- Joe G., Kansas City, MO
You're nuts if you think there are only five untouchable numbers left in baseball. What are you going to do next, claim there were only five episodes of The Contender that were worth watching, and the rest were useless?
-- Frank A., Tallahasee, FL
I could list 50 baseball landmarks that still matter. Maybe you're the one who no longer matters. Chump.
-- Victor E., Albany, NY
Is it "Kill Yr Idols" week at E$PN? Getting 3000 hits is just as difficult as it ever was. Big Mac never got there. Neither will Bagwell. Or Griffey. Or Sosa. Or Bonds, in all likelihood. Those guys might have the MVP awards and the accolades, but Raffy outhit them all. He'll end his career with more hits than all of the so-called "storied" players you named, including Will Clark and Don Mattingly, who have received zero Hall of Fame respect from the voters, and rightfully so.
-- Theo F., San Diego, CA
I received a few hundred emails yesterday, and most of them were just like these four. It also goes without saying that if my readers write in so enthusiastically about something, then they've usually got a good point.
Admittedly, it was a bit presumptuous to boldly state that only five baseball landmarks have remained untouchable and undamaged by the offensive inflation of the current era. It was also presumptuous for me to write off "Rock Star:INXS" after only one episode. I mean, did you see Kirk Pengilly's facial hair? Who thought it would be a good idea to force that onto unsuspecting viewers without at least a parental advisory warning after each commercial break? Who tranquilized Mark Burnett before taping began, convincing him to put his TV reputation in the hands of a saxophone player with a ugly beard? I'm still not convinced that the show isn't an act of self-sabotage on Burnett's part, much like Mel Brooks' character on the fourth season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm". However, after a couple of weeks of this show, you've got JD's pot-stirring, Jordis' babe-osity (she's two or three episodes away from "Reality Babe Pantheon" status), plus three straight nights that I woke up at 4AM for a glass of water and started wondering which of them would do the best version of "Need You Tonight".
So, upon further reflection, I underestimated this show. I also shortchanged some other baseball landmarks, and here are just a few of those:
Jesse Orosco's Games Pitched Record (1252).
Mike Stanton just reached his 1000th game, but he's only third on the active list behind geriatric heavyweights Mike Jackson and John Franco. Still, none of them are within 150 of Orosco, and things will stay that way, unless any of them pitch to one batter a night until they're 65, like Orosco did. Really, what's a career of excellence like Hank Aaron's home run record next to Orosco's accomplishments? It's not a difficult managerial decision to put Hammerin' Hank in the lineup, particularly when he's out there hitting 40 homers at age 40, back when hitting 40 homers meant something. Orosco is a different story. How do you convince a succession of major league teams to let you pitch for five minutes a night for twenty-five years? That's mediocrity stretched as far as it can go, par excellence. That's up there with stretching the "Friday the 13th" series into an eleven-film mini-empire. Orosco should be teaching "Making the Most Out of What Little You've Got" self-improvement classes at his local community center.
ARod's Salary Record (avg 25.2M over 10 years)
Quick -- how many career home runs does ARod have? What was his batting average in 1996? You don't know, do you?
Here's another one -- what is ARod's salary? Yes, that's an easy one. Tell me that the number 252 isn't more famous than 714 or 4256. The salary record works much like 20-loss seasons for pitchers and the single season strikeout record for hitters (Mike Maroth and Adam Dunn's recent, er, "triumphs" notwithstanding). Those marks tend to stay safe because nobody wants to reach those goals. Managers will remove a guy from the rotation before they'll let him lose 20, and bench an otherwise productive player rather than watch him strike out 190 times. Eventually, we'll see contracts creep up back over $20 million per year, but guys will settle for $25.1 million per season before they suffer the ignomity of overtaking the Rodriguez/Boras plateau of greed. It's a line that nobody will want to cross. Mark my words -- 252 is the new Mendoza line in baseball.
Nomar Garciaparra's Delay of Game Record (3839 minutes)
By my estimation, he's presently 57 minutes behind Mike Hargrove, but he'll surely surpass Hargrove's mark during his first month back for the Cubs so we might as well hand him the record right now. How long does it take one of Barry Bonds' homers to leave the park? What, five seconds? However, before every at-bat, Garciaparra spends about 45 seconds pulling his crotch and his uniform. There's more touching and grabbing in a Nomar at-bat than in a 50 Cent video. Do the math for yourself -- 4200 at-bats, 45 seconds each, vs 703 home runs, 5 seconds each. That means Garciaparra has been on our TV screens 50 times longer than Barry Bonds. How impressive is that? This makes Nomar the Regis Philbin of baseball, doesn't it?
Lou Gehrig's Career Grand Slams Record (23)
Manny Ramirez currently has 20 slams, and he's still in his prime, which puts Gehrig's mark in serious jeopardy. The longevity of the number 23 is remarkable. Why do we care so much about 56 and 406 but easily forget something like 73? Easy -- Bonds broke a record that was only three years old, and before him, McGwire broke a mere 37-year old mark. Joe D and the Splinter set their standards more than sixty years ago, and nobody has seriously approached them since. Rickey's 130 is only twenty-odd years old, but it's looking safe for at least the next several decades. It should be obvious that the exact numbers don't matter, it's the longevity that's important. Long-standing records earn their keep, which is why the numbers associated with them deserve their legendary status. If your life depended on it, which would you rather bet against: somebody passing Hank Aaron's 755 in the next ten years, or somebody having a 57-game hit streak in the next fifty years?
Gehrig's record is even older than 406 and 56. Think about that for a moment. If Manny breaks the record (and my buddy Hench put $500 on 3-1 odds in Vegas that he breaks it by 2008) then he can write his Hall of Fame ticket. On top of the 500+ home runs and 1900+ RBI's that Manny will ring up by the time he's done, the grand slams record will solidify his place as one of the top clutch hitters ever, the guy who you could count on the most to come through with a big home run with runners on base. Plus, it'll be oddly fitting to have a class clown like Manny break the record of a straight-laced, non-beaver shooting player like Lou Gehrig.