3) Henry Aaron's 755 home runs. What would a young home run hitter need to do to beat it? Consider Oakland's Jose Canseco, who has averaged 30.75 home runs in his first four seasons. Rounding it off to 31 per year, Canseco would have to average that for the next 20 seasons to reach 756. The Hammer's phenomenal consistency and durability—he hit 40 homers in 1973, when he was 39—will never be equaled.
4) Edwin Moses's streak of 122 consecutive victories in the 400-meter hurdles. Moses won every time he stepped onto the track between Sept. 2, 1977, and June 4, 1987. Mind-boggling. I rank this career record below the first three only because it was achieved over fewer years. No one else in track history casts such a large shadow over a single event—Moses's closest rival is Parry O'Brien, who won 116 straight shot-put events from 1952 to '56—and we will never see Moses's like again.
5) Another tie: UCLA's 88-game winning streak in college basketball and the University of Oklahoma's 47-game streak in college football. UCLA's achievement is, no doubt, superior, but in the big picture, these two records are really different sides of the same coin. They represent eras that are gone forever from big-time college sports. Although changing groups of players forged these streaks—UCLA's lasted parts of three seasons, from 1971-72 to 1973-74; Oklahoma's, nearly five seasons, from 1953 to '57—they are really testaments to the coaching genius of the Bruins' John Wooden and the Sooners' Bud Wilkinson. Wooden also won seven straight NCAA championships, a feat that could be listed here just as easily as UCLA's game-winning streak.
6) Johnny Unitas's completion of at least one touchdown pass in 47 straight games for the Baltimore Colts. Credit goes to Golden and Wasil for unearthing this one; it is sometimes overlooked because it's a "partial career" record that Unitas set between 1956, his rookie year, and 1960. I don't like it quite as much as the computer gurus do (they rank it first in career records, just ahead of Ruth's .690 slugging average) because of the extenuating circumstances: Unitas had receivers like Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore to throw to, and the Colts had the kind of ferocious defense that got Unitas the ball often and in scoring position.
But the record is entirely worthy, not least because the man who set it is football's paragon of consistent, accurate passing. Next-best is Marino's 30 straight games with at least one touchdown pass, followed by Dave Krieg's 28. No one will touch Unitas's mark. After all, these days keeping a quarterback healthy for 47 straight games is a feat in itself.
7) Lou Gehrig's 2,130 consecutive games. Of all the records for endurance, this is the best. On the unassailability scale, it is as solid as any record in the books—the second-best mark is a mere 1,307 consecutive games, set from 1916 to 1925 by Everett Scott, a shortstop for the Red Sox and Yankees. Gehrig's record ranks high in worthiness too, because of his talent. From June 1, 1925, to May 2, 1939, through fractures and spasms and aches and pains of all kinds, the Iron Horse played in every game and was probably a major factor in most of them. The story goes that Gehrig's wife, Eleanor, wanted him to stop the historic streak at 1,999 games, because 1,999 was a number that no one would ever forget. Well, in the records game, 2,130 is a number that no one will ever forget, either.
8) Cy Young's 511 victories, 824 career decisions and 751 complete games. These are the oldest records on the list—Young's last season was 1911—but they belong. Sure, the game was different then: Starting pitchers were rarely given relief, and for the first three years of his career, Young pitched only 50 feet from the plate. But he was no less effective from 60'6", and he had to be awfully good to get the call as many times as he did in his 22 years on the mound. Though many major league pitchers are employed into ripe old age these days, none will ever catch Young. The benchmark for greatness in a pitcher, after all, is 300 wins, and it takes 20 25-win seasons to reach 500. Or would it be easier to have 25 20-win seasons? No doubt about it: Cy Young is the right name for the trophy that goes annually to the best pitcher in each of the major leagues.
9) Tie again: Abdul-Jabbar's NBA point total (38,387), George Blanda's NFL point total (2,002) and Rose's hit total (4,256). O.K., so Chamberlain was a more potent scorer than Abdul-Jab-bar; Lou Groza, among others, was a better placekicker than Blanda; and Cobb, among others, was a better hitter than Rose. It doesn't matter. All three records reflect sustained excellence over long periods of time (20 years for Abdul-Jabbar, 26 for Blanda, 24 for Rose) as well as the mental and physical commitment to stay on top of one's game. Only Abdul-Jabbar's mark seems vulnerable when one scans the contemporary horizon. Jordan's season scoring average of 32.6 is appreciably higher than Abdul-Jabbar's 24.6. But Jordan plays a strength-sapping 94-foot game that he cannot still be playing 10 years from now.
10) Glenn Hall's 503 straight games as a starting goalie. True, it's another "circumstance" record. Today's hockey goalies, who are judged on game appearances, not starts, have it tougher, what with more slap shooters, more shots per game and more exhaustion from travel. Consequently they are shuffled in and out of play much more frequently. Last year's appearance leader, the Los Angeles Kings' Kelly Hrudey (traded late in the season from the New York Islanders), played in 66 of 80 games. Montreal's Patrick Roy, who won the Vezina Trophy last season as the top goalie in the NHL, appeared in 48 games. But from Oct. 6, 1955, through Nov. 7, 1962, Hall started in the crease for the Detroit Red Wings and, later, the Chicago Black Hawks, a Gehrigesque achievement. And he still had enough left to earn the Vezina Trophy in 1967 and 1969, years after the streak ended.
I cringe when I think of the names that are missing. Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bobby Orr, Koufax, Oscar Robertson, Bjorn Borg, Gretzky—athletes Hirdt calls "transcendental," because each fundamentally changed the way his sport was played. I could have worked them in by inventing a few categories. No other NBA player will walk away with 11 championship rings in 13 years, as Russell did between '57 and '69. No other NHL player will win eight straight MVP awards, as Gretzky did between '80 and '87. No other male tennis player will win five straight Wimbledon singles titles, as Borg did between '76 and '80. But this is a piece about records, not feats. Often they are two different things.