"I'm hoping someday that some kid, black or white, will hit more home runs than myself. Whoever it is, I'd be pulling for him."
— Hank Aaron
It was April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron flicked his wrists and sent the ball sailing over the left-field wall.
It was something he had done hundreds of times before, but this one was special. It was the 715th home run of his career, and it had broken the most-hallowed of all baseball records, a record held by the legendary Babe Ruth, a record that had stood for 39 years.
Aaron would go on to add 40 more home runs to his record, retiring in 1976 with 755. An amazing example of consistency and longevity, Aaron had to average 33 home runs a season over his 23-year career to set the record. If not hopelessly out of reach, his record certainly seemed secure.
Then again, Babe Ruth fans probably thought the same. They couldn’t have predicted Aaron would come along.
And then again, who could have predicted Barry Bonds?
Bonds, the surly slugger whose father Bobby was a contemporary of Aaron’s, brought an incredible combination of raw power, dazzling bat speed, and a surgeon’s eye to the game. Sparked by his amazing 73-homer season in 2001 (another record), he ended Aaron’s home run reign in 2007, and finished his career with 762.
There are plenty of questions about how Bonds attained the home run record, with many people believing he used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. (In his trial this year, a jury couldn’t decide if Bonds lied to a grand jury about his drug use, though he was convicted of obstruction of justice in the case.)
But regardless of how Bonds got there, the record remains. Now the only question is will anyone ever break it?
“Seventy-three home runs will probably never be done again,” says Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto, a two-time All-Star with 118 home runs in five seasons, “and the (career) home run record will probably never be done again, at least in the next 100 years.”
Maybe so, but as Bonds’ proved, you never know for sure.
Records are made to be broken, the old saying goes. Babe Ruth found out the saying was true, and Hank Aaron predicted it would be, but is that really the case?
Let’s take a look at some of the other great achievements in baseball, and with the help of input from the players themselves, attempt to predict which marks will fall, and which will stand the test of time.
CAL RIPKEN JR.’S STREAK OF 2,632 CONSECUTIVE GAMES PLAYED
Imagine going 17 years without missing a single day of work. Now Imagine your job description includes turning double plays as base-runners try to knock you on your backside, taking countless sprints around the bases, and dodging the occasional 95-mph fastball aimed at your ribs, knee, elbow, and hands. Now you have an idea what Cal Ripken Jr., who spent most of his career at the demanding position of shortstop, had to go through to break Lou Gehrig’s record.
“Even if you do stay healthy, you get tired. To be in the lineup every day, 162 games, is almost unheard of. You might last a couple years, but not 12 or 14 years.”
Ripken broke Gehrig’s 56-year-old record of 2,130 in 1995, then proceeded to add another whopping 501 games to his total.
To put it in perspective, only seven players have even played more than 1,000 games in a row, and the man in third place all-time – Everett Scott – compiled fewer than half as many as Ripken (1,307).
“It’s amazing what Cal Ripken did,” says Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann. “I can’t even put into words how hard that is. To never have anything go wrong. Luck was on his side and he had the determination to go out there and perform every day. You put those things together and it’s amazing what he did.”
Verdict: Will anyone break Ripken’s record? “I don’t see it happening,” says Beltre. We agree.
JOE DIMAGGIO’S 56-GAME HITTING STREAK/HITTING .400
We’ve included these two together because it’s been 60 years since either happened. It was 1941 when Yankees great Joe DiMaggio set his record. DiMaggio’s rival, Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams, hit .406 that same year, and neither mark has been touched since. A Yankee and a Red Sox. Two amazing achievements that haven’t been matched in 60 years. It just seems right to keep them together.
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Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56-straight games in 1941.
There are a number of reasons that will make it difficult for anyone to top either record, including an increasing reliance on specialist relievers out of the bullpen and the intense focus of attention from the modern-day 24-hour news cycle, neither of which DiMaggio or Williams had to face.
“If Ichiro can’t get it, nobody can get it,” says Votto, describing the type of player it would take to break DiMaggio’s streak. “You can’t be a guy who walks, you can’t be a guy that strikes out. You can’t be a guy who is too deep in the order, because you’ll lose opportunities. And with the way the bullpens work now, if you’re at game 40, you’re facing some specialists-times-two, innings six-through-nine, for your last two at-bats. Good luck, you know?”
Beltre agrees. “It would take a contact hitter, a hitter kind of like Ichiro. A guy who can get a dribbler for a hit, who can get a blooper for a hit, a guy who doesn’t walk a lot, but he can get a hit any time.”
As far as hitting .400 goes, it would likely take the opposite kind of hitter, the kind who has a more discerning eye at the plate and is willing to be patient and wait for a good pitch to hit.
“It would take a lot of walks, a lot of walks, and a lot of walks,” says Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. “You gotta make sure you get at least two hits, or one hit and go 1-for-2. You gotta get two hits, or one hit and a lot of walks. Then you could do it.”
Verdict: Either mark could be reached under the right circumstances, but the planets would have to align in an almost unprecedented way. As Votto says, “the pressure media wise and the overall attention will be exponentially more than anything Joe DiMaggio dealt with or Pete Rose dealt with. It’s too much.” That’s probably a big reason neither mark has been touched in 60 years.
HBT: Robinson Cano homered twice while David Phelps had the longest outing of his career as the Yankees topped the Blue Jays 7-2 this afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
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