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THE RECORD COMPANY
Jack McCallum
January 08, 1990
SOME SPORTS MARKS ARE NO SOONER ESTABLISHED THAN THEY ARE BROKEN. BUT OTHERS, LIKE THE ONES SET BY THE ATHLETES SHOWN HERE, ARE CERTAIN TO LAST FOREVER. MAYBE
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January 08, 1990

The Record Company

SOME SPORTS MARKS ARE NO SOONER ESTABLISHED THAN THEY ARE BROKEN. BUT OTHERS, LIKE THE ONES SET BY THE ATHLETES SHOWN HERE, ARE CERTAIN TO LAST FOREVER. MAYBE

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10) The total of 3,858 points scored by Budweiser Beer of St. Louis in a 15-game series against Pulaski Savings on March 12, 1958. Don't be a snob. Team bowling used to be big time in the U.S., yet the closest any team ever came to Bud's mark was 3,820. True, bowling is no longer a major sport, but that doesn't make any difference, because no team could ever top this record anyway. Budweiser's lineup on that evening was Don Carter, Dick Weber, Ray Bluth, Pat Patterson and Tom Hennessey, five of the finest bowlers in history.

SINGLE-SEASON RECORDS

1) Babe Ruth's slugging average of .847 in 1920. No one pays much attention to slugging averages (compiled by dividing total bases by total at bats), partly because no one has come close to doing what Ruth did in 1920. And no one ever will. Consider: Last season's slugging-average leader was Kevin Mitchell, with .635, and no one has reached .700 since Ted Williams's .731 in 1957. Not that slugging averages were that much higher in 1920—the Babe's average was .215 higher than second-place George Sisler's .632, and Sisler batted .407 that year. In an astonishing show of extra-base versatility, Ruth hit 36 doubles, nine triples and 54 home runs—and did it in only 458 at bats. Over his career, Ruth's slugging average was an incredible .690, .056 higher than Ted Williams's second-place .634.

2) Chamberlain's season scoring average of 50.4 in 1961-62. In any era, in any league, against any competition, it would be remarkable. Michael Jordan dominates many games offensively, yet he averaged "only" 37.1 points per game in his best scoring season (1986-87), and that was the fifth-best season scoring average ever. The three numbers between Jordan's and Chamberlain's (37.6, 38.4, 44.8) were all registered by—who else?—Chamberlain himself.

3) DiMaggio's consecutive-game hitting streak of 56. Un-American, you say, to place only third what might be the most famous sports record of all time? I'm not trying to be controversial or needlessly revisionist. There is every indication that the record will stand forever. Hitters have whacked away at it without success for 48 seasons, and the closest anyone has come is Rose's 44 in 1978—which, truth to tell, is not all that close. Besides, the oppressive media attention focused on any player who gets within sniffing distance of the record—commentators these days start to call attention to hitting streaks of 15 games—is a far greater burden for the hitter than a two-strike slider down and away.

And that last point is significant: Whatever pressures DiMaggio had to endure—and accounts vary on that score—the hitting streak was not nearly as remarkable in 1941 as it would be in 1990. And that is why I place it third.

4) The Los Angeles Lakers' 33-game winning streak, from Nov. 5, 1971, to Jan. 7, 1972. Two facts put this underappreciated accomplishment into proper perspective: The longest single-season winning streak since the Lakers' has been Boston's 18 in 1982, and the second-longest streak in NBA history is only 20, by the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—led Milwaukee Bucks in 1971. True, the league did not have as many good teams then as it has today, but that does not diminish the accomplishment of coach Bill Sharman's Lakers. No other dynasty, no matter how formidable—neither the Minneapolis Lakers of the '50s nor the Boston Celtics of the '60s—was able to approach that mark.

An interesting sidelight is that during the entire '71-72 season the Lakers had only seven personal-foul disqualifications (three for John Trapp, two for Flynn Robinson and two for Happy Hairston—the only starter to foul out). Atlanta had the next-fewest (14), followed by New York (15), which lost to the Lakers 4-1 in the championship series. But avoidance of foul trouble was not, of course, the reason L.A. was a steamroller—its starting lineup of Hairston and Jim McMillian at forward, Chamberlain at center and Jerry West and Gail Goodrich in the backcourt was among the greatest of all time.

5) Maris's 61-homer season in '61. Willie Mays (52 home runs in '65) and George Foster (52 in '77) are the only players to come close to 61 since that unforgettable year when Maris sent Tracy Stallard's fastball into the rightfield seats in Yankee Stadium on Oct. 1. Kevin Mitchell led the majors in home runs in 1989, and he hit only 47. "I'm not sure anyone will ever break Maris's record," says Pirate manager Jim Leyland. At the least, it would take one of those live-ball years that come along every once in a while. No record has ever been more shot at and spit on: It was an expansion year; he had Mantle hitting behind him; he couldn't carry Ruth's cleats, etc. But the larger point is that he did it, and he did it under unimaginable pressure.

6) Byron Nelson's 11 straight PGA tournament victories in 1945. Yes, we know that the distinguished Mr. Nelson could not have done it today, not on a circuit in which dozens of players have the tools to win in any given week. And he did set the mark in a year when World War II played havoc with the Tour. But that wasn't Nelson's fault. Winning is winning, pressure is pressure, and to be better than everyone in 11 straight golf tournaments—from the Miami Four Ball to the Canadian Open—is a stupendous performance in any era.

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