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Tilting at Windmills

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April 4, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HALLOWED RECORDS....Matt Yglesias sez:

On SportsCenter just now they're talking about Barry Bonds on the career home runs list and calling Hank Aaron's record "the most hallowed record in all of sports." Most hallowed according to who? No doubt there's some soccer record of some sort that's extremely hallowed outside the USA. The whole thing wreaks of typical MLB arrogance. At any rate, I take it that Bonds stands a good chance of breaking Aaron's record. Wilt's 100 point game is something I think may really never be surpassed.

There are plenty of records less likely to be surpassed than Hank Aaron's home run record. Nobody's going to win 41 games or bat .424 again, nor is anybody going to win eight NBA titles in a row.

But what about "hallowed"? That's a more interesting question since "hallowed" is such an interesting word. What's the most hallowed record in baseball? Basketball? Soccer?

Tennis is my sport, and if I had to guess I'd say the most hallowed records in tennis might be Bjorn Borg's five consecutive Wimbledons or Rod Laver's two grand slams. Or maybe Margaret Court's 24 total grand slam titles. But I'm not really sure. It's a very tricky question, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 10:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (121)

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Gretzky's career points, goals and assists is the most obvious choice for records never to be surpassed.

Posted by: ack ack ack on April 4, 2006 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak won't likely be broken, either.

Posted by: Arbuthnot on April 4, 2006 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

No contest in terms of records least likely to be broken: Cy Young's 511 wins.

Posted by: JMcG on April 4, 2006 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

Baseball: No one's ever gonna hit in 56 consecutive games again.

Bond's record: HR*

Posted by: Satchel on April 4, 2006 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

From Wikipedia on Willie Mosconi:

Willie Mosconi once ran 526 balls in a row in an exhibition of straight pool, a record that may never be beaten.

Now that's hallowed, bitchez!

Posted by: dj moonbat on April 4, 2006 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think anyone has come close to breaking Wilt Chamberlain's "other" well-known record have they?

Posted by: lars on April 4, 2006 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

Or maybe Mark Spitz's medals. But Hank Aaron? All that guy had was a looong career.

Posted by: dj moonbat on April 4, 2006 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

Henry Aaron and Roger Maris will be the home run kings for quite a while. The other guys are tainted.

Posted by: little ole jim from red country on April 4, 2006 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

I'm concerned about the availability of snacks. I heard there will be snacks...

Posted by: IOKIYAR on April 4, 2006 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

Aaron's record probably is the most "hallowed" in baseball, and probably in American sports. But DiMaggio's 56 game hit streak is right there with it. (Aaron's record was an amazing accomplishment requiring a consistently high level of play over a long career. It gets devalued in the current era of steroid doped cheaters who can hit 70 homeruns in a season.) Other sports records are not as hallowed as baseball records because other sports don't make a fetish out of numbers the way baseball does.

Posted by: Houndog on April 4, 2006 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

One of the amazing things about Aaron's record is that he never once hit 50 in a season. Even Mays did that at least once (maybe twice? I'm too lazy to look it up right now).

Posted by: Linkmeister on April 4, 2006 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

Houndog is correct. Other sports don't care so much. Part of it is the slowness of baseball. Without statistics and beer, it can be a wee bit boring.

Soccer isn't that concerned about individual records, more about club and national team achievement. Same with the NFL to a degree. Stars are celebrated, but it's mostly about who gets the ring.

Posted by: trifecta on April 4, 2006 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

I note that Mr. Drum, the Trojan fan, neglected to mention another record unlikely to be broken which was much in the news just yesterday: UCLA's 10 in 12 years (and 7 in a row) NCAA men's basketball titles.

(This notwithstanding the drubbing the Bruins took last night in pursuit of #12.)

Posted by: JRP on April 4, 2006 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

Cy Young's 511-wins record will never be broken because the whole nature of pitching has changed, what with bigger rotations and much greater use of relievers. I consider this a _de facto_ rules change that makes it impossible for the record to be challenged.

Posted by: Peter on April 4, 2006 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

What about eight straight titles for the Celtics?

Posted by: dj moonbat on April 4, 2006 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

Tennis arguably does not have any "hallowed" records, because Open tennis was not played until 1968. Its just not enough time. The one record which is hardly ever mentioned (hence, not really "hallowed") but may well last the longest is Connors' record of 105 pro singles titles.

Basically, Connors won almost 10 tournaments a year for over ten years. All of them after 1972, well into the Open era.

Considering in his prime he battled Borg and McEnroe, and later Lendl and Becker its probably the most amazing accomplishment in tennis.

Basically, if he didn't lose to Mac, or Borg, or some other top 3 player, he didn't lose.

These days, most players, no matter how good, will cut back on their schedules as they age, so that they can focus on the major events.

I believe Sam Snead has a similar record in golf. That one may actually be "hallowed."

Posted by: hank on April 4, 2006 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK


Brazil's five World Cup titles has to be the most hallowed acheivement in sports. Hopefully this year they'll make it six.

Braaaaazil zil zil

Posted by: enozinho on April 4, 2006 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

Home runs, shmome runs. Ted Williams' .406 should be the most hallowed record in baseball.

Posted by: mattS on April 4, 2006 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

The most hollowed event in all of baseball was the pine tar scandal. Oh wait, "hallowed"...

Posted by: mk on April 4, 2006 at 11:01 PM | PERMALINK

I'm suprised no one has mentioned Cal Ripken's (and before that Lou Gehrig) consecutive game streak. Especially what that particular record means in comparison to the Steroid induced Bonds.

Posted by: b.d. on April 4, 2006 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's inherent in the nature of baseball to be preoccupied with individual records and numbers, in general. Much more so than in any other sport. In other sports, the fans really only care about the money shot (i.e., the championship), but in baseball, you can't really be a fan if you think that way. The records in football, for instance, are merely cumulative in a way that inspires no more drama than watching an odometer, so they fail to make hallowed.

Therefore, in terms of individual records, we should only consider baseball. And, of those, I don't think there's any question that DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak is the most revered and romanticized. Aaron's home run record is probably second, but, ironically, Bonds' pursuit of it is going to sully that great achievement. Which sucks, certainly.

Posted by: Toby Petzold on April 4, 2006 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

Houndog said it better than me.

Posted by: Toby Petzold on April 4, 2006 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

b.d., I'm an O's fan, but even I think Ripken's streak is overrated. Still, I was proud to see it and I think it did (a little) for baseball what Ruth did for the game in the aftermath of the Black Sox Scandal.

Posted by: Toby Petzold on April 4, 2006 at 11:10 PM | PERMALINK

I agree the most hallowed record in baseball has to be the single season 56 game hitting streak. I also like Don Larson's World Series perfect game.

Other sport records? Maybe Richard Petty's 200 wins in NASCAR, for example.

Posted by: Me2d on April 4, 2006 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

"Oscar Robertson, the "Big O," is the player against whom all others labeled "all-around" are judged, and he may remain the standard forever. Statistically, one need look no further than the numbers Robertson put up in 1961-62, just his second year in the league: 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game-an average of a triple-double for an entire season."
courtesy NBA History webpage
It's not talked about but this is one I can't ever see happening again. Think about it for a second, basketball fans. This is SICK! Take that Nash, Magic, Bird, Shaq, Kidd, "King" James and all the rest of you. A triple dozen for an entire season ever going to happen again? Never.....

Posted by: steve duncan on April 4, 2006 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

Byron Nelson -- 1945 -- 11 STRAIGHT golf tournament wins. Even Tiger Woods will never come close to that. Of course, this was in the days when only 10 guys on tour could win...

Posted by: drprocter on April 4, 2006 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

It's not talked about but this is one I can't ever see happening again. Think about it for a second, basketball fans. This is SICK! Take that Nash, Magic, Bird, Shaq, Kidd, "King" James and all the rest of you. A triple dozen for an entire season ever going to happen again? Never.

Probably never will happen, I agree. Though if I'm not mistaken, Wilt averaged 50ppg for a whole season. I could see someobody (Wade, say, or King James, or some future star) average a triple double again before somebody averages 50ppg again.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida on April 4, 2006 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

I second Petty's 200 wins, but only because the "sport" has changed so much. This is also the same reason nobody will match Cy Young's wins or likely bat .400. I too think DiMaggio's consecutive hit streak is a bigger deal, but reachable.

How about Eddy Merckx taking the Green, spotted and yellow jersey in the 1969 Tour De France (plus 3 Monument wins in the same year)? On a related note, I doubt anybody ever wins 7 TDF's in a row once the drug testing catches up.

Posted by: Doug-E-Fresh on April 4, 2006 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

1) The word is 'reeks,' goddamnit.

2) The most hallowed record in sports isn't Hank Aaron's. It's Eddie Gaedel's.

Posted by: student on April 4, 2006 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

As there appear to be plenty of baseball fans here, a question. I read an intersting article that the bio-mechanics of pitching have not changed, and will not change, and hence, pitchers can now throw the ball as fast as they are ever going to throw it.

Given that, why, exactly, do you not have the occasional .400 hitter? How come through a combination of luck and skill we so rarely see anyone top that mark?

Posted by: hank on April 4, 2006 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

I think it would have to be DiMaggio's hitting streak. It's only been seriously challenged twice (by Rose and Molitor, though Jimmy Rollins is creeping closer). It's a remarkable athletic achievement, it took place in a relatively short period of time, and anyone trying to match it has to produce EVERY SINGlE GAME. You can't have an off week and then get hot the next.

Posted by: Mean Gene on April 4, 2006 at 11:35 PM | PERMALINK

The most hallowed record in baseball was broken. I'm old enough to remember. When I was a kid in the early 70s we all knew & revered it:


Maybe back further -- before 1961 -- 60 was also a hallowed record. I don't know; I wasn't yet born. But 61? Lots of us didn't even know that number, and even for those who did know it, it just didn't have the status of 714.

Perhaps it's unjust, but 755 seems no more hallowed -- and probably is less hallowed -- now than 61 was when I was a kid.

I know: The question before us is best interpreted as which of the current records is most hallowed. But it might be worth pointing out that no current records seem to be as hallowed as was Ruth's record. Now, that was a hallowed record. (Throughout, by "hallowed," I take myself to be remarking on the common attitude toward the record. I don't mean to be endorsing the attitudes. For my part, I don't see why 755 shouldn't be as revered now as 714 was.)

Posted by: KDR on April 4, 2006 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

Houndog said it well about the quality of Aaron's accomplishments. Add in the idea that the HR record held by a loved, historically significant player for a long time was then, finally, beaten by a great African American player, adding to the aura of signifcance, the kind of thing that sportswriters love. Maybe "hallowed" isn't really a bad word for this at all.

Posted by: URK on April 4, 2006 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

I follow the international football (i.e. soccer) scene fairly regularly, and I will definitely back up trifecta in that people don't just talk about records as much. If someone breaks the team record for most goals scored or most games played for a big team, that will get notice, but nothing anywhere near approaches baseball.

Posted by: Chris O. on April 4, 2006 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

11 straight golf championships in 1945? Maybe because of lot of other great golfers were in the military?

Posted by: hopeless pedant on April 4, 2006 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

Bond's record: HR*

Lance's record: 7*

Lance better not come to AZ...
I will throw a hypo at his weak white Texas ass.

Posted by: koreyel (chiral version) on April 4, 2006 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

That's funny Koreyel. Pretty brave, such an accusation comes close to blasphemy in American cycling circles. No wonder he does those Bristol Myer's Squibb commercials.

Posted by: Doug-E-Fresh on April 4, 2006 at 11:51 PM | PERMALINK

DiMaggio's record is a curiosity, raised to a fetish by his stardom. So he hit in 56 games in a row. Big deal. It's extremely hard to do, yes, but hit streaks are not productivity. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams are the most dominant baseball hitters ever and they didn't have a shot at it--because pitchers pitched around them and walked them too much. Why isn't consecutive games getting on base the big record? Or consecutive games scoring a run, or driving in a run? Does anyone even know who holds these records? No--because they're not terribly relevant to being a productive player overall. Just like a hitting streak. Oh, but "it shows consistency." That he had a very hot streak for 1/3 of the season? What if he failed to get a hit in game #29, but got an extra hit in game #30? Would he then be chopped liver?

I would love to see what happens if Rollins breaks the record: I guarandamntee you it will be instantly removed from contention as the Greatest Record in Sport.

Posted by: Calling All Toasters on April 4, 2006 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and the actual greatest record in baseball is the season when Ruth hit more home runs than any other team.

Posted by: Calling All Toasters on April 4, 2006 at 11:54 PM | PERMALINK


Take record

Multiply by 2 if it happened in your dad's childhood
Divide by 2 if it happened before your dad was born
Multiply by 10 if the player played mainly in New York City (LA, Boston or London: multiply by 5)


Presto! The Hallowedness Quotient!

Posted by: brooksfoe on April 5, 2006 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

Each sport to their own hallowed record. Sort of interesting I did not see an American Football post. Seeing the athlete/sportsman yourself adds extra thrill.

My vote, The Rocket Laver's sparkling play; he missed a number of prime years fighting to get pro tennis off the ground. But Connors guts, yeah! Petty, yes, but Schumacher NOOOOOOOO!

And so on. Staistics? Look up "Wisden" for cricket.

Baseball: what a shit Selig is. How long has drugs been around in sport? How long have we been talking about it in baseball? Then Selig gets on TV and announces he is going to have an enquiry because of a book by journalists. Give me a break. We already need to be looking at college, even highschool athletes because the pros (union included) did not take this seriously.

Posted by: notthere on April 5, 2006 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK


I'm not a huge fan of baseball, so you'll have to correct me here. I get the impression that the fielding has gotten better over the years, and many balls that would have been base-hits before are now being snagged by outfielders through some pretty athletic play.

Maybe that's where some of the .050-.067 goes?

Posted by: Dismayed Liberal on April 5, 2006 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK

Sir Donald Bradman's career batting average was 99.94. The next highest in the whole history of first-class cricket was Graham Pollock at 60.97.

Posted by: a on April 5, 2006 at 12:06 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks Toaster,

I'm completely with you on the hitting steak. Who cares? It's the stupidest hallowed record in all of sports. And I say this as a huge baseball fan. I think Orel Hershiser's 59 inning scoreless streak is easily more impressive and obviously had more of an impact on his team winning. Cy Youngs wins is probably the most unbreakable recored in any sport, although Cal Ripkens streak is pretty unbreakable too. Hank Aaron's homerun total is the most hallowed in the sport however. I hope Bonds doesn't break it.

In football, where there are really no hallowed records, the closest would have to be rushing yards, both season and career.

Posted by: kj on April 5, 2006 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe that's where some of the .050-.067 goes?

I don't see what's wrong with Stephen Jay Gould's thesis: averages based on competitive contests tend to fall over time, absent changes in external conditions (like rules). The batting average is a contest between hitters, who keep getting better (on average), and pitchers, who also keep getting better (on average). Hence the average converges towards the center. You've got a lot fewer guys in the majors batting .100, and a lot fewer batting .300; you've got a lot fewer 0-6 pitchers and a lot fewer 28-3 pitchers.

The HR records, on the other hand, rely on pure power, which has increased with the advent of scientific weight training and steroids. There's nothing inherently competitive about how far the ball flies once you've hit it. Batting averages are a struggle between a hitter and a pitcher; a home run is a struggle between a hitter and a wall. So it's not surprising that HR records still get topped, but .400 doesn't.

Posted by: brooksfoe on April 5, 2006 at 12:13 AM | PERMALINK

I think Orel Hershiser's 59 inning scoreless streak is easily more impressive

And considering it happened in LA, it should indeed be at least semi-hallowed. What's wrong with you Dodger fans? Not up to hallowing a record anymore?

Posted by: brooksfoe on April 5, 2006 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

St George's 13 premierships in a row in the NSWRL.

Bradman's 99.96 test average.

Tony Lockett's 1360 career goals in Australian Rules (average 4 goals a game and you'll win the league scoring award most years. Play 300 games of league footy and old hard men from the 1930s will say you'd have got a run back then. Do both and you are still 160 goals behind Plugger).

Ian Whitchurch

Posted by: Ian Whitchurch on April 5, 2006 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

In tennis, my pick would be Rod Laver winning two Grand Slams seven years apart. A close second would be Martina Navratilova's career 167 singles titles and 175 (and counting) doubles titles.

Posted by: dropshot on April 5, 2006 at 12:22 AM | PERMALINK

With regards to records that are literally impossible to break, the NHL goalie Glenn Hall played 502 consecutive games, just over seven complete hockey seasons. No goalie has played all the games for his team in a single season (let alone seven) in 40 years.

Posted by: Richard on April 5, 2006 at 12:22 AM | PERMALINK

Johnny Vander Meer's record of two consecutive no-hitters will never be broken -- you have to pitch three to do it.

I believe Whitey Ford started Game 1 of the World Series 8 times. That one would be tough to break.

Posted by: Martin on April 5, 2006 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

And considering it happened in LA, it should indeed be at least semi-hallowed. What's wrong with you Dodger fans? Not up to hallowing a record anymore?

Hallowed be our records.

Posted by: craigie on April 5, 2006 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

What about eight straight titles for the Celtics?

Nah. The Bulls would have matched it if Jordan hadn't decided to play baseball.

Posted by: Al on April 5, 2006 at 12:29 AM | PERMALINK

Cy Young's 749 complete games is much less likely to be beaten than his 511 wins.

Posted by: Keith on April 5, 2006 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

Barry Bonds hitting over 500 home runs and stealing over 500 bases. Nobody will ever touch that.

Posted by: smedleybutler on April 5, 2006 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

I read at on point that Joltin' Joe's record was the most statistically unlikely baseball record. I have too much work to do the calculation myself or look it up but the probably of hitting in 56 consecutive games with a .400 batting average is pretty striking.

What is impressive about Aaron's record was his consistency and longevity. It was pretty damn obvious that Bonds and a significant portion of MLB were using steroids in the late 90s. I grew up OBSESSED with baseball and statistics. No one gains as much muscle as Bonds did in one year at such a late age. Anyone who doubts or didn't know is deluding themselves--WMD reference almost averted.

Cy Young's 511 is not really accurate. Wins and losses were determined differently at that point in time. The pitching record I find most amazing is Nolan Ryan's no-hitter at 43 (or some astonishingly old age for a pitcher). That was amazing.

Gretzky is also astonishing. I'm interested in how Peyton Manning finishes his career. I'm routing for 75,000.

Oh yeah, and the '73 Dolphins and the 2001 Mariners (I had to give away my ticket for the record tieing game because I had to come to grad school. !)

Posted by: gq on April 5, 2006 at 1:02 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with the Aussies here. Definitely Bradman's batting average average of 99.94 in cricket is the most "hallowed" record of all time. Its equivalent in baseball would be hitting a homerun every game (ie it will NEVER be surpassed)

Posted by: Yaramah on April 5, 2006 at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK

The most hallowed record in golf is Nicklaus's 19 majors. Bobby Jones's grand slam is a close second, Tiger's Modern Slam is a distant third.

Posted by: Justin on April 5, 2006 at 1:13 AM | PERMALINK

Like it or not, folks (and that includes you, Matt), records mean a lot more in baseball than they do in other sports, and baseball records mean a lot more than other sports records. You might like another sport more than baseball, but it's still a fact.

In baseball, home run records are the most cherished records (I like "cherished" more than the quasi-religious "hallowed"), and the career home run record ranks supreme.

I was watching SportsCenter when they said it and I didn't have any argument with it. I don't know why anyone would.

Posted by: JJF on April 5, 2006 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, I think there's an interesting subtext to Kevin's post that's gone unremarked: That the nativism and ignorance of American sportscasters might just about surpass that of the Republican party! It's an absolute commonplace to hear a Sportscaster remark on some individual or team accomplishment as being "the greatest ever" or some such, when anybody who has even a modicum of knowledge of the sporting WORLD in toto, can name a dozen counter-examples without breaking a sweat. The Dolphins went undefeated in a 14 game season/ Big whoop! How many games in a row did Arsenal rack up a couple of years ago? The Celtics won x titles in a row...yes, but Glasgow Celtic won x + a fairly substantial y...and so on. The comments on this thread about how only baseball fans obsess about statistics typifies this. Cricket is just as bad (or wonderful, depending upon your viewpoint) in this regard - although AFAIK cricket lacks a Bill James. And lastly, Bradman's career 99.94 test (not first class, as was written above) average is absolutely sui generis - perhaps the only comparable single-game feat was Wilt's 100pt game (to put this in context, no two teammates have ever *combined* for 100 pts in a game!!

Posted by: The Sophist on April 5, 2006 at 1:33 AM | PERMALINK

Just a note, Jordan didn't decide to pay baseball, he was caught up in a gambling sceme and backed out to protect the game. The whitest black american icon that saved the NBA was about to bring the sport WAY down and he "decided" to "play" baseball to save face. He was a truly great talent on the court, however he is just as flawed as the rest of us.

Posted by: imbroglio on April 5, 2006 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK

BTW what's with Yglesias's "wreaks of"? Things "reek of" or "wreak havoc". He's usually more careful than that.

Posted by: brooksfoe on April 5, 2006 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK

We Dodgers fans like Orel's streak, but to some degree it was a fluke. Orel was a very good pitcher, but he wasn't always that good. DiMag hit in 56 straight, and then in 17 more in a row after he got stopped, but he also maintained a very good BA for his entire career.

For pitchers I'll take Koufax over those final six years of his career. He was absolutely astonishing, even to the guys he was playing against.

Posted by: Linkmeister on April 5, 2006 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK

Johnny Vander Meer's record is certainly and absolutely the most unbeatable record in sports. The undefeated season Arsenal had a few years back can only be beaten in terms of most points earned out of a 38 game season.

Posted by: Steve L on April 5, 2006 at 2:17 AM | PERMALINK

I also second Nolan Ryan's 7 no hitters.

But for pure "no way this is in any way beatable" status, it is Vander Meer's record.

Also, no one has ever hit for the "Home Run Cycle" of a solo homer, 2-run homer, 3-run homer and grand slam in one game.

Posted by: Steve L on April 5, 2006 at 2:30 AM | PERMALINK

Gibson's 1.12 era?

Cy's 700+ complete games also. thats the equivalent of ATLEAST 6300 innings...most starters now are ecstatic to get to 200 innings a year. Thats approximately 31 years straight of pitching, let alone all the games you get shelled in the first inning.

Posted by: Steve L on April 5, 2006 at 2:35 AM | PERMALINK

And um...Rocky's record of 6 boxing movies. Yes, there will be a sixth coming out this year. I'm sorry.

Posted by: Steve L on April 5, 2006 at 2:37 AM | PERMALINK

An earlier poster said it first, but Ruth's 714 was, and probably still is, baseball's most 'hallowed' record.

Yes, Aaron surpassed it, but to America's shame, his accomplishments were never considered on a par with Ruth's.

DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak is arguably the most difficult batting record to break, but it's not hallowed. Don't believe me? OK, you get to pick which record you get to hold; career home runs, or consecutive games with a hit. Which one do you choose? That's what I thought.

Posted by: SteveK on April 5, 2006 at 3:11 AM | PERMALINK

Sophist, this is nitpicking but Glasgow Celtic only won 9 titles in a row (which Rangers later matched but neither club could pull off a 10th straight championship).

And yes, I'd have to second what others have said above- individual statistics and records traditionally haven't been that important in soccer. That may be changing slightly just because the amount of press devoted to the game has grown so much in recent years (even in England where one would think it had already hit the saturation point). They've got to fill up the pages and broadcast minutes with something.

Posted by: Ricky Barnhart on April 5, 2006 at 3:17 AM | PERMALINK

The most hallowed has to be in soccer: how many hundred MILLIONS young boys dream of a record, if not in soccer?
Of the top of my head, the 1000+ goals of Pele.
Romario, who has a shot at it right now, still plays at over 40 only to give it a try....

Just Fontaine's 14 goals in one world cup (not to be reached anymore) is not hallowed, because it was before the mass-TV era and the media hype.

Posted by: Baseball-atheist on April 5, 2006 at 4:13 AM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Nancy Irving on April 5, 2006 at 5:34 AM | PERMALINK

Australian Cricket and the Scottish Premier League?
The topic was hallowed records not statistical annomalies from the far reaches of the empire.

Posted by: Pax Brittania on April 5, 2006 at 5:55 AM | PERMALINK

I second Steve L on Gibson's 1.12 ERA.

I believe that he and Koufax caused a rules change. Baseball was getting too boring even for baseball fans.

I've tried to find out if Gibson ever pitched against Koufax. That would have been one boring game!

Posted by: Humble blogger on April 5, 2006 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

The wikipedia article on batting average has a histogram of cricket Test career batting averages, so you can see how freakish it is. I don't think there is anything like it in any other sport.

Posted by: Tim Lambert on April 5, 2006 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

Given that, why, exactly, do you not have the occasional .400 hitter? How come through a combination of luck and skill we so rarely see anyone top that mark?

Night games.

Posted by: rob on April 5, 2006 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

I'm glad to see that some people have mentioned Sir Donald Bradman, who was surely the greatest individual performer in any sport. What's perfect about his test average was that he only needed six runs in his final innings to average 100 and was bowled for a duck. The cricket gods spoke.

Posted by: Michael on April 5, 2006 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

All of these things happened on Halloween? Weird...

Posted by: w on April 5, 2006 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

a yank here, and i vote for the don's 99.96 too.

to put it in baseball perspective (hard to do) it is if he'd played in 20 big playoff and series games every year for 20 years, while maintaining a consistant .499 batting average along with five rbi's and ten runs scored per game.

oh and his career was interrupted by ww2...

Posted by: jag on April 5, 2006 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

Ruth and DiMaggio's records--through no fault of their own--will have to be considered tainted because of their being set during the age of segregated baseball, like the Olympic medals won the year that the Russians boycotted them.
I mean it's just sports, guys. There's a reason it's caled the Toy Department in newspapers.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on April 5, 2006 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with the poster who cited Cy Young's win totals. A player with that many decisions is rare, much less Ws.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on April 5, 2006 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

No records matter as much as baseball records (except maybe track and field). There are many reasons for this. Baseball has been played for 130 years and good records were kept the entire period. Baseball fans love to talk about the past. And the rules of baseball have been consistent. Football changes the rules every year, baseball has had no major rule changes since 1893. There was some minor tinkering in the 20s and 30s -- no spitballs, sacrifice fly doesn't count against batting average, and a bounce over the fence became a double, not a HR -- but the game is basically the same one that Ruth played in 1915. In 1915, the rules of basketball didn't permit a shot following a dribble.

As for why nobody hits 400 anymore, there are a lot of reasons. Fielders are much better, and teams use relief pitchers. If you read interviews of old time pitchers, they admit that they didn't throw their best stuff every pitch but saved it for the tight spots, otherwise they couldn't have pitched 9 innings every 4 days. Now starters throw just 100 pitches every 5 days, and don't hold back a thing.

Posted by: pj on April 5, 2006 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Two words: Wayne Gretzky

Posted by: kidneystones on April 5, 2006 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

I like that word "hallowed" to describe sports records. I think that what we put the most time and money into accurately reflects our spiritual values, and Americans devote vast numbers of hours and vast amounts of money to entertainment--watching sports, TV shows and movies, playing video games and listening to popular music.

Entertainment, hallowed be the name.

Posted by: cowalker on April 5, 2006 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

Cal Ripken's record does not even come close to either of Cy Young's records (complete games/wins) in terms of being unbreakable. It's inconceiveable that any pitchers will come close to Young's records given the way the nature of pitching has changed. On the other hand, Miguel Tejada of the Orioles is closing in on 1,000 consecutive games and could break Ripken's record if he stays productive and healthy until age 40.

Posted by: Peter on April 5, 2006 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Random thoughts.

1) As a baseball fan, I say disregard everything prior to 1950. Before the game was integrated, they didn't have all the top players competing. Ted Williams wouldn't have hit so well with Satchel Paige throwing at him. Lefty Grove would have had more problems with Josh Gibson and other sluggers. Those pre-integration records are curiousities not "great", "hallowed" achivements.

2) The great records that stand out are:
a) Gretzky and the Montreal Canadiens in ice hockey.
b) Pele's 1,000 goals and Real Madrid's numerous titles in soccer.
c) Bart Starr's phenomenal playoff records and the Packers in football,
d) Chamberlin and Jordan's records and the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics' streaks in basketball.


But what hits me on all of these is how hard they really are to compare. Because a great achievement has to take into account the competition, the drama, and all those hard to pin down factors.

But, Kevin's right, baseball's almost insufferable. Especially Selig - how many ways can he spit on his own game and still make money?

Posted by: Samuel Knight on April 5, 2006 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

For the record, using the metric of fans in attendance per game, Major League Baseball is more popular today than at any other time in its history.

Posted by: Horatio on April 5, 2006 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Even more unapproachable than Young's career complete games record are some of the 19th century single-season pitching records: Will White's 680 innings and 75 complete games in 1879, or Hoss Radbourne's 59(!) wins in 1884. It's hard to imagine someone even getting to half those numbers these days.

(In his 59-win season, Radbourne also started all 3 games of the World Series, throwing 3 shutouts.)

For a more recent record, it's hard to imagine anyone catching Rickey Henderson's career steals record.

Posted by: Tom Scudder on April 5, 2006 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

There is a big distinction between hollowed, important, and statistically improbable. Sticking to baseball, Babe Ruth's is probably the most hallowed with 714 -- as mentioned above -- an especially good example of the distinction between hallowed and the rest.

The most statistically improbable is clearly DiMaggio's hitting streak, but it is almost completely unimportant (if in one of those 56 games he did not get a hit, it would not have made much of a difference to anything but the record.

The most important stats are probably Bonds' outrageous On Base + Slugging Average of those couple of years when he just exploded. No comment on any asterix.

The actual most important stat is the hated Yankees 25 World Series victories in a century - once every four years. Although an annoying record, that is what it is all about. I take solace that they have not won in this Century, or Millenium, and that the 25 record will likely be broken by the Red Sox, this century (on pace if they win again this year), and the Yankees will probably not win again until at least 86 years after they signed ARod. :)

Posted by: theCoach on April 5, 2006 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

Nothing comes close to Spiculus' record; 74 fights, 72 wins. Retarius, Secutor, Murmillo - he could take any role and win. He was a god with the gladius. Now that's 'hallowed'.

Nero even gave him a palace, although of course that came back to bite him later.

Posted by: S Ra on April 5, 2006 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with the Aussies: it's Bradman's batting average. No-one is ever going to come within a country mile of that mark. It's hard for modern cricket lovers to even imagine that level of consistency and excellence from a Test batsman.

Posted by: ahem on April 5, 2006 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

diamggio's hitting streak is the only single
stat he has that is unique. but the reason, i
think, he is so revered, is this: he played
13 seasons. in those 13 seasons, the yankees
won 10 pennants. in those 10 world series, the
yankees won NINE. no one, no one has ever approached that.

Posted by: daveminnj on April 5, 2006 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

I follow the international football (i.e. soccer) scene fairly regularly, and I will definitely back up trifecta in that people don't just talk about records as much.

As with cricket, there are many more international matches today, which means that goal-scoring and appearance records are mutable. Comparing Shevchenko's 'record' of Champions League goals to Eusebio's and di Stefano's in the pure-knockout European Cup is apples and oranges. Still, Brian Clough's 251 goals in 274 club matches is something that won't be emulated again in the top tier.

And yes, cricket makes baseball stats-heads look like pikers.

Posted by: ahem on April 5, 2006 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Many excellent points above, however, I would vote to include the true Champion of horse racing, Secretariat.

Not only won the Triple Crown with the Derby, a spectacular move in the Preakness, but demolished the field in setting a world mile and a half dirt track record, 2:24, in the Belmont and winning by an astonishing 31 lengths.

Big Red was a true champ.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on April 5, 2006 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

although AFAIK cricket lacks a Bill James.

Well, it does have a Bill Frindall, aka the 'Bearded Wonder'. But trying to draw scientific conclusions a la James just isn't cricket, really; they're there as a trigger for anecdotes over a rather nice cake delivered to the TMS box.

Posted by: ahem on April 5, 2006 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

I would like to know why, on the one hand, it is so terrible that baseball players to enhance their performance through steriods while, on the other, it is ok for golfers or tennis players to enhance theirs by high tech clubs or tennis rackets.

If there were any consistency here - and surprise, surprise, surprise, there is not - then a vigorous movement would be afoot to standardize sports equipment so nobody would gain any unfair advantages and hallowed records would remain intact, etc..

Posted by: Thinker on April 5, 2006 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Home runs, shmome runs. Ted Williams' .406 should be the most hallowed record in baseball.

Posted by: mattS

I agree, Matt; and close behind is Hack Wilson's 190 RBIs. (these are records that could be broken, unlike 511 wins, etc., which makes them much more interesting. Of course, The Kid didn't have to hit the slider in 1941.

As a baseball player, does anyone compare with Ruth: both a pitcher and a hitter? Aaron is not known for it, but he was also a great fielder and baserunner.

Posted by: Ace Franze on April 5, 2006 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

The other great cricket record is Jim Laker's 19 wickets in a match for England against Australia. It's great because it's beatable but has stood for 50 years unequalled.

Posted by: P on April 5, 2006 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

I suspect Randy Barnes world record in the shotput of 75 feet 10.2 inches in 1990 will hold up for awhile.

Now that they've really started cracking down on steroids.

Posted by: Tripp on April 5, 2006 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK


I suspect the difference has to do with enhancing the athlete's body versus enhancing the equipment.


Selling new equipment is GOOD!

Posted by: Tripp on April 5, 2006 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Golf's my game, and of perfect games, the last one was in 1956.

But for Baseball, Aaron's record is hallowed because it's home runs which is the score, and the thing that's strove for the most. Sure, it takes more skill to pitch a perfect game, but that only works if your team scores a run.

Modern times works against these records being surpassed because of levelling between teams, and less time on the field per player.

Posted by: Crissa on April 5, 2006 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

I think Kevin overestimates the value other nations put on Sport statistics. Something about Americans make you more eager to put things in historic perspective, and we just don't see the same fanatic interest in European soccer statistics.

I recently saw an American baseball movie, I forgot the title but it was with Wesley Snipes and I turned the channel real quick, where the translator turned his .310 batting average into 3/10.

Where American sports are so much about numbers 156.3 quarterback rating, era, batting averages, our sports are more about the feelings and emotions of the game and information is relayed through descriptions and narratives instead of numbers.

Posted by: Lars on April 5, 2006 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Now that Japan is the rightful owner of the title "World Champion" of baseball, we can't forget that
"The all-time career record for home runs in a professional career is held by Japan's Sadaharu Oh with 868" (Wikipedia).

We do however hold the World record for arrogant self-delusion, one not likely to be broken anytime soon.

Posted by: eel on April 5, 2006 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Now that Japan is the World Champion of baseball, can we continue to deny that the true home run record holder is Japan's Sadaharu Oh with 868?

We do however still maintain the record for arrogance induced nation-wide self delusion, not likely to be broken soon.

Posted by: ee on April 5, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

To understand the "hallowed" thing you have to understand the place baseball has in American history. Go watch the Ken Burns series. If you don't get it after that, you're never going to get it.

Posted by: boy of summer on April 5, 2006 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I think one of the things that made 714 such a hallowed record was that it was held by Ruth, easily the most imposing figure in baseball history. I don't mean to take anything away from Aaron, who was, obviously, a marvelous player and an under rated hitter (take away the home runs and he still has 3000 hits), but he wasn't as significant overall to his sport as Ruth was. Everything Ruth did was was larger than life; his pitching, hitting, home runs, off field activities. I think this was a rare, maybe unique, occasion when the person holding the record gave as much significance to the record as the record gave to the person holding it.

Posted by: mrgumby2u on April 5, 2006 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

The most unbreakable record in sports in Mario Lemieux's five goals scored five different ways in one game. Even strength, power play, shorthanded, penalty shot, and empty net.

Posted by: Vladi G on April 5, 2006 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

The 1973 Dolphins had a weak bracket; Little Sisters of the Poor, etc., played each one twice.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on April 5, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Ruth's 714 home runs is the most "hallowed" for the reasons KDR gave. But for the most unbreakable record, I'd suggest one that still continues, John Gagliardi's wins as a college football coach: 432 and counting. He's been a head coach since the Truman Administration, averaging 7.5 wins a year, the last 53 years at the same school. Unless the structure of the game changes significantly (say, playing two games a week), no one will be able to rack up that many games as a head coach, much less do it well.

Posted by: David Weigel on April 5, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

I am late on this and my thoughts echo what has been said a few different ways.

714 was the most hallowed record. Ruth was the most popular player of his era and the best. Aaron was never popular and never considered the best player at any given point of his career. He earned respect and admiration but his greatness was defined by longevity not brilliance. If Willie Mays had endured and broken the record it would have been recieved differently. He was ahead of Aaron unitl the very end of their careers and was popular and was considered the best player in the game for a number of years in his prime. Willie just didn't last long enough to overcome his time in the service.

I believe the most hallowed record in sports today is Jack Nickalus' record of major golf championships. Like Ruth's record it defines the player widely recognized as the greatest of all time.

Posted by: phg on April 5, 2006 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

None of these records are "hallowed." This is sports we're talking about, people.

Posted by: sullijan on April 5, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: chris from boca on April 5, 2006 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

On SportsCenter just now they're talking about Barry Bonds on the career home runs list and calling Hank Aaron's record "the most hallowed record in all of sports." Most hallowed according to who? No doubt there's some soccer record of some sort that's extremely hallowed outside the USA.

Two word for the soccer ignorant: Pele and 1,281

Ya'll have heard of him haven't you? Over the course of his professional career he scored a world record 1,281 goals in 1360 first level matches. That's nearly 1 goal per game. Only one other professional soccer player in history has broken the 1000 goal barrier in a career and that was Arthur Friedenreich, another Brazilian who played during the pre-modern era from 1910-34 in Brazil and scored 1239 goals. Pele also has a world record 92 hat tricks and during international play scored 97 goals during his 92 international games. He also won 3 world cup titles for Brazil (3/5ths of Brazil's total) which equals the best efforts of the next two best countries over the past century: Germany and Italy.

No modern professional player has ever come close to breaking the 1,000 goal barrier set by Pele and no current player stands any chance of breaking it. Just for the sake of contrast, the most well-known international socer superstar of today is probably David Beckham. Since reaching the premier level in 1993 he has scored a grand total of 87 goals in 438 professional matches including a total of 16 international goals in his 86 professional matches. Of course at age 30 his career is still ongoing. He has only 1,194 goals to go to tie Pele.

Pele was voted Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee in 1999 yet never participated in the Olympics. Say what you want about any of your baseball heroes, it is doubtful we'll ever see a career like Pele's again. Not just in soccer. In any major sport.

Posted by: Kent on April 5, 2006 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Everybody's just dancing around the problem that if Barry Bonds wasn't the poster boy for Better Living Through Cork-tipped Bats, Drug Abuse And Cheating, he'd be nowhere near the record.

That and the fact he's the kind of guy who makes Ty Cobb seem like a Completely Decent Human Being.

Posted by: TCinLA on April 5, 2006 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Pele's record is probably the most impressive. But hallowed? If nobody knows the number, it isn't hallowed. Five people mentioned the record on this thread before anybody came up with the actual number.

No one would ever write "Hank Aaron's 750+ home runs." That's why 755 is a hallowed number.


Posted by: Ape Man on April 5, 2006 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

Re: Armstrong in the TDF: when you have proof besides someone's say-so that Lance was using AND when you have proof that he was using something that no one else in the field was using (i.e. that he got a performance advantage that no one else had out of it), then you can slam his record. Quite honestly, I don't buy the steroid and doping allegations in his case. So there's no * on that 7. I do consider that one of the records that will never be touched.

Re: "714 was the most hallowed record. Ruth was the most popular player of his era and the best."

Actually, we have no way of knowing whether he was the best. We do know that Ruth's power game was transformative in terms of how the game was played. However, his HR record was set in a league where a large part of the potential competition was banned. Would Ruth have hit that many HRs with the higher talent level that would have fill the majors if blacks had been allowed to play? Hard to say.

So culturally, I'd agree with you. Aaron was never particularly popular (although this was at least in part because of race, it wasn't the sole reason; remember the pressure on Maris as he closed in on Ruth's single season record), Bonds is clearly not popular, and Americans in general really only care about cycling when it's an American kicking all the fur-ners collective ass. As to whether Ruth's records deserve(d) that status, well, it doesn't really matter, does it?

Posted by: Rick on April 5, 2006 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Has anybody in track & Field come close to:

Edwin Moses 107 straight wins in the 400 meter hurdles.

Posted by: natural cynic on April 5, 2006 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

Has anybody in track & Field come close to:

Edwin Moses 107 straight wins in the 400 meter hurdles.

Posted by: natural cynic on April 5, 2006 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

Given that, why, exactly, do you not have the occasional .400 hitter? How come through a combination of luck and skill we so rarely see anyone top that mark?
Posted by: hank on April 4, 2006 at 11:34 PM
Alot of different variables enter into it: better kept fields diminishing unpredictable ground balls, much larger gloves for all fielders, the disappearance of the bunt as a weapon in every hitters arsenal, and an overall greater emphasis on hitting for power. Also, you have the more modern reliance on relief pitchers with starters rarely completing a game they way they did right up until WW II. A flagging starter was a great boon to your average.

Posted by: fignaz on April 5, 2006 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

Late but for the record:
Did anyone say:
Jack Johnson, heavyweight champ '08-15, had to wait years for his chance at the white champ avoiding him, unbeatable, black and fought innumerable times and all "great white hopes", lived high and faced down racism.
Muhammad Ali, only champ to claim Heavyweight title 3 times between June '64 and June '79 (rtd.), (did he hold it for about 7 years in all?), spent 3 years(?) out of the game, some in prison as conscientious objector to Vietnam, beautiful to watch, entertaining to hear, changed the fight game (for a time); retired at 37 years old, same as JJ above.

Gotta agree on Edwin Moses. How about Emil Zatopek, Paavo Nurmi, Ron Clarke, Sebastian Coe, Sergei Bubka, Al Urte? (did I spell that right?) Jesse Owens, icon and 100m record stood 16 years or so; Roger Bannister, 4-minute mile record breaker (young'uns probably aren't impressed; it was a BIG deal).

Racing: Fangio, Clark, Hill (trifector), Fittipaldi?

Gymnastics: Korbet (the 10s), more?

Surprised, or maybe not at narrow tastes. But then it looks like my proposals are pretty sexist.

Tennis: Navratilova already mentioned, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert? But I have to add Bjorn Borg.

Swimmmers other than Spitz, anyone? Women?

At this point I want to start in on Rugby Union Football--not quite so esoteric as Aussie Rules or Gaelic--but I'd better stop.

Posted by: notthere on April 6, 2006 at 6:18 AM | PERMALINK

Kareem Abdul Jabbar scoring in double figures in every single game for over a 10 year period. That's awesome. That means that he was able to score against every player the NBA could come up with, no matter how well or badly his own team was doing, and no matter how well or badly he himself was feeling. If the team was great he helped them. If they weren't on, he did it himself. But he's the only sports figure who ALWAYS managed to score. No matter what.

Posted by: mike on April 6, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yes, extremely tricky question, yes, I must ponder it very deeply. Grow up, you fucking dolts.

Posted by: SqueakyRat on April 6, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: comment on April 7, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK



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