Records were meant to broken. Those that can be broken, that is.
It seems that every time the Olympics roll around, another sprinter breaks the world record for the 100-meters in track. And it feels like Michael Phelps breaks his own world records every time he swims in a race. Those records seem – and are – breakable.
In the NBA, the important records revolve around team wins, whether that be the record for the most wins in a regular season – 72 by the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls – or world championships – 17 titles for the Boston Celtics and 11 titles for Bill Russell.
In the NFL, the salient records are in yardage and touchdowns during a single game, a regular season or over the course of a player’s career. Again, these are all breakable records, as each one of them has been broken on numerous occasions.
In recent memory, Tom Brady broke the single-season touchdown pass record (50 in 2007) and Emmitt Smith broke Walter Payton’s career rushing yardage record with 18,355.
However, Major League Baseball is in possession of two records that will never be broken.
Andre Ethier’s current 29-game hit streak is the second longest by a Dodger in history – Willie Davis holds the franchise record with 31 straight games in 1969 – yet he still sits 27 games behind the record for the longest hitting streak of all time.
In all likelihood, Ethier will fall far short of Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. In fact, only a handful of players in history have hitting streaks over 30 games, and only four have streaks above 40.
Dimaggio’s streak is an incredible accomplishment, and for a long time, it was considered the most unbreakable streak in all of sports.
But there is another record out there that is now more unbreakable: the single-season home run record.
Now, it’s very possible that no one will ever break Dimaggio’s record. In fact, it’s almost probable that no one will ever break it. Maybe 56 games is such a long stretch that when a player begins to get close to it, the mounting pressure will prove too much.
However, theoretically, hitting safely in 56 straight games is still possible. That’s the important thing to consider. Possibility.
Breaking Barry Bonds’ record of 73 home runs in a season, which translates to about one home run for almost every two games – is impossible.
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa may have saved baseball after the strike when they competed against one another in the home run race during one of the most memorable summers in history.
But McGwire and Sosa, along with Barry Bonds and so many other juiced sluggers, completely and permanently tainted the record books, as all of their aberrantly high home run counts during those seasons were all fraudulent.
As the league has cracked down on the use of performance enhancing drugs (PED) – the same drug use MLB commissioner Bud Selig probably knew about all along but wasn’t going to object to as they saved his league – home run numbers have vastly decreased over the last few years.
Just take a look at the last decade of home run leaders at the end of the season.
2010: Jose Bautista 54, 2009: Albert Pujols 47, 2008: Ryan Howard 48, 2007: Alex Rodriguez 54, 2006: Ryan Howard 58, 2005: Andruw Jones 51, 2004: Adrian Beltre 48, 2003: Alex Rodriguez 47, 2002: Alex Rodriguez 57, 2001: Barry Bonds 73.
Not one player in the last ten years has even broken Roger Maris’ old record of 61 home runs in a single season without the help of PED’s.
These are some of the best hitters, playing in the prime of their careers, and they weren’t even able to reach 60. It’s unequivocal how much PED’s helped hitters in the late 90’s and early 00’s.
PED’s have made the home run record unattainable, inscrutable and impossible. The really unfortunate part of it is that statistics and records are such an integral part of the game of baseball.
The history of baseball is entrenched in records, trends and figures. It’s the only sport where mathematicians can be incredibly important parts of a front office.
And for the rest of time, depending on how the Hall of Fame decides to handle the “steroid era” – which really should be called “Bug Selig’s Blind Eye Era” – the record for the most home runs in a single season will be a record that no player has even remotely a chance to break.
Dimaggio’s record is outrageous, but at least it is physically, anatomically and feasibly possible to break it. Barry Bonds*’ home run record is none of those things.