During much of the 20th century, The Sporting News called itself the "Bible of Baseball" with good reason. Based in St. Louis and issued weekly, the venerable publication was the only place where fans could get stories and stats on all major and minor league teams ad infinitum.
Nowadays, however, Sporting News (the "the" in its title has vanished) is a slick monthly published by a Charlotte, N.C., outfit called American Business Journals. And so much for being baseball's "Bible." Its latest number reeks more of heresy.
During the past year or so, Sporting News has anointed the best of everything in virtually every sporting activity except T-shirt tossing. Because all polls and rating are subjective, I had no problem with most of the magazine's selections. Until, that is, it purported to list "Sports' Greatest Records."
Guess what's missing? I'll give you a hint or two. The number involved is 2,632, and its owner is the best shortstop in Baltimore Orioles history.
Unbelievably, Calvin Edward Ripken Jr. is nowhere to be found on this lousy list. As far as the "Bible of Baseball" is concerned, No. 8 is about as important as, say, former O's journeyman Kiko Garcia (.232 batting average, nine home runs, 78 RBI from 1976 to 1980).
Forget Cal's other significant accomplishments such as 3,184 hits, 403 home runs, 19 All-Star Games and two MVPs. All that matters in this context is The Streak. How in the name of longtime publisher J.G. Taylor Spink could Sporting News turn the best player in modern Orioles history into a non-person? And though it's not really pertinent here, the best person in Orioles history, or at least this side of the sainted Brooks Robinson.
This off-field error ranks right down there with one perpetrated awhile back by members of the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) who voted Ty Cobb (lifetime B.A.: .366) the seventh-best player in history. What fools these mortals be!
Granted, "Best Records" is a tough club to crack. Who do we omit to get Ripken on the list? I'd block out Bill Russell, all 6 feet, 10 inches.
Nobody admires Big Russ more than I do, as an athlete and as a man, but he doesn't belong here. Those 11 titles were team rather than individual accomplishments. Remember Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, John Havlicek, Frank Ramsey, Tom Heinsohn, et al? Not to mention a guy named Red spitting out strategy and cigar smoke on the bench.
So let's have Ripken, a talented amateur hoopster in his own right, outjump Russell for a spot on the SN rankings despite a height disadvantage of 5 inches or so. Cal belongs, no question.
For 17 seasons - man and boy, 1981 to 1998 — Ripken never missed a day of work or play. Forget sprains, headaches, spike wounds, aching muscles, colds and flu. Cal was the last of a tough breed who took the field every day and night no matter how they felt. Now, managers sit 24-year-olds after a week because they're worn out mentally and/or physically.
Everybody knows Ripken eclipsed Lou Gehrig's hallowed streak of 2,130 games on the memorable evening of Sept. 6, 1995, at Camden Yards. The current leader in consecutive games played is free agent Prince Fielder with 435, or about 16.5 percent of Cal's total. If my shaky calculations are correct, that means he could pass Ripken in 2025, when he would be 41.
Don't hold your breath.
In fact, Ripken's record is more unbreakable than the most unbreakable, as determined by Sporting News. True, Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak has stood since 1941, but Pete Rose came within 12 games in 1978 and Paul Molitor within 15 in 1987. That's a lot nearer than anybody will ever get to Ripken's 2,632.
Those nitwits at Sporting News need to do a group mea culpa. If this is the "Bible of Baseball," it's enough to make you a nonbeliever.
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