For the holidays, I was given a Sports Illustrated desktop facts calendar -- it is one of those that you tear off a page after each day. I have gotten these sorts of calendars before -- Today in American History; Today in Birthdays; Today in New Wave Music; Today in Golf Tips -- but they have been pretty useless because I would forget to tear off the pages for, oh, seven or eight months. It would be August 27th, and my calendar would still show "January 23." And then I would remember about the calendar and tear away months and months of pages at one time, and I would never look at the facts, and then I would forget for another three or fourth months, and by that time the year was almost over, and the whole thing was just kind of pointless.
We're only 14 days into the new year, but this year I have actually been keeping up daily. Here's why: I cannot wait to see what utterly random sports fact I will turn up the next day in my SI calendar. The randomness has become a joyous part of my daily life. Every day, I go to my desk, and I can't wait to tear off the page and find a fact that has absolutely nothing to do with the season we're in, what day it's printed on, what sport people are actually playing. For instance, here's the January 6th fact:
"In 1959, it took three days for NASCAR officials to study a photograph of the first Daytona 500 finish between Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp before awarding the trophy to Petty."
What is that? My first thought: Is this the anniversary of that race? No. The race was held on Feb. 22. Then I thought: Is this the start of the NASCAR season? No. The season does not start for more than a month. At first I was baffled. The next day's fact didn't cease my bafflement:
The January 7th fact was this:
"Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox -- known as the greatest hitter who ever lived -- ended his famous 1941 season with a .406 batting average."
Ted Williams? In early January? And this "fact" seems kind of opinionated, doesn't it? Some people know Ted Williams as the greatest hitter who ever lived. Some don't. His .482 career on-base percentage is the highest of all time, which might have been a nice fact for the page. In fact, do you know how many players other than Williams had an on-base percentage higher than .482 in a single season? The answer: Nine. And that's in just one season. The list:
1. Babe Ruth (9 times)
2. Ted Williams (8 times)
3. Barry Bonds (4 times)
4. Rogers Hornsby (3 times)
5. Mickey Mantle (2 times)
6. Frank Thomas (1994)
7. Norm Cash (1961)
8. Arky Vaughan (1935)
9. Tris Speaker (1920)
10. Ty Cobb (1915)
A few things. One: Every player on the list except one had a Hall of Fame career on the field -- that one would be Norm Cash. And Cash, while I don't think he's quite a Hall of Famer because his career didn't last long enough, did have career numbers that are stunningly good including a 139 OPS+, which is higher than every single hitter voted into the Hall of Fame since Mike Schmidt in 1995. Cash's remarkable 1961 season was later dismissed because he admitted using a corked bat. After that, studies showed corking a bat doesn't really do anything. Around that time people started shooting themselves up with steroids which kind of put the whole corked bat controversy to bed.
Point is, that to have a .482 on-base percentage, even for a single season, is really a remarkable thing. Williams did it for a career.
Two: People really do under-appreciate Arky Vaughan's crazy-good 1935 season. He was, based on his reputation at the time, not a great defensive shortstop. But he was a shortstop and probably average or better defensively. And in 1935, he hit .385, led the league with 97 walks, banged 34 doubles, 10 triples, 19 home runs. He slugged .607. In the New Historical Abstract, which isn't so new anymore, Bill James wrote that it was the greatest offensive year for a shortstop other than Honus Wagner. I think even including Alex Rodriguez's amazing 2000 and 1996 seasons, even including Derek Jeter's best year (probably 1999), even including the best of Nomah (2000 when he hit .372) that remains true. I simply cannot imagine what the writers were thinking when they failed to vote in Arky Vaughan. I'm just glad I wasn't around because that would have meant an Internet barrage of words that would make my Blyleven-Morris oeuvre look like a postcard from the beach.
Three: I was stunned that Ty Cobb only reached the .482 on-base percentage line once -- and that was actually in a year when he "only" hit .369. For some reason, Cobb walked 118 times that year -- he had never before walked more than 64, and he would never again walk more than 85. I'm not sure why Cobb walked so much that year other than he just wanted to -- 1915 was also the year he stole 96 bases, which would be considered the modern record until broken by Maury Wills. He was caught 38 times, and that record would last even longer -- until broken by Rickey Henderson in 1982.
Anyway, you see what's happening here? This seemingly pointless fact on my SI calendar -- I'd say most adult baseball fans even passably interested in history know that Williams hit .406 in 1941 -- spurred me to go back and look up Arky Vaughan and Norm Cash and Ty Cobb and ...what at first seemed like an odd and random sports fact actually got me thinking about all sorts of things, not unlike the fortune in the fortune cookie.
The January 8 and 9 sports fact: "Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees also took the 1941 season to new heights with a 56-game hitting streak, the best of all time."
OK, first off, and I say this with great love: What, we can't get a new sports fact for each weekend day?
But then, I had to look it up -- here are the longest hitting streaks each year the last 20 years:
2010: Josh Hamilton (23)
2009: Ryan Zimmerman (30)
2008: Ian Kinsler (25)
2007: Moises Alou (30)
2006: Chase Utley (35)
2005: Jimmy Rollins (38)
2004: Carlos Lee (28)
2003: Albert Pujols (30)
2002: Luis Castillo (35)
2001: Moises Alou and Ichiro (23)
2000: Gabe Kapler (28)
1999: Vlad Guerrero (31)
1998: Eric Davis (30)
1997: Nomar Garciaparra and Eric Davis (30)
1996: Hal Morris (32)
1995: Jim Edmonds (23)
1994: Rafael Palmeiro (24)
1993: John Olerud (26)
1992: Lance Johnson (25)
1991: Brett Butler (23)
I think, looking at that, you can get a good feel for how difficult -- and how random -- a hitting streak can be. Nobody has come even close to challenging DiMaggio, of course, and most years nobody even gets to 30. I've had a this discussion with various people in the game: When does a hitting streak become news? I will hear announcers or writers refer to a "modest six-game hitting streak" and I will think "Yeah, modest enough you shouldn't have mentioned it."
I say that for local fans, a hitting streak probably begins around 10 -- that is, if someone on your favorite team gets a streak to 10, you probably would like to know.
For regional fans, you probably have to get it up above 15 -- that is, if someone in your division (or on your fantasy team) gets a hitting streak to 16 or 17, that's fairly interesting.
For national fans, I think you need to get it higher than 20. I don't think it is even worth mention on Baseball Tonight until it's at least 21 or 22 games. It's not worth getting on SportsCenter until 25 or more.
And for non-baseball fans -- people only interested in baseball when something outsized happens -- I think you need to get it to about 35. At 35, people who don't care much about baseball might take notice. There have only been two non-baseball-fan streaks in the last 20 years -- Luis Castillo's 35-gamer in 2002 and Jimmy Rollins' 38 gamer in 2005.
OK, so where does my mind go from here? Exactly: Who has the longest consecutive game streak for getting on base? Glad to know we're thinking together. I've often wondered about this, but I never went back and actually looked at the numbers. Baseball Reference's remarkable Play Index goes back to 1920 so this does not include, say, Ty Cobb's amazing 1915 season when he probably got on base 60 or 70 games in a row. But since 1920, players have gotten on base in 56 straight games in a single season* 18 different times. Ted Williams has done it twice.
*Derek Jeter has pulled off the feat twice -- but not in one season. From the end of 2006 to the beginning of 2007, he reached base 65 times in a row. From the end 1988 to the beginning of 1999 he reached base 57 times in a row. Others have also pulled off the feat over two years. But we're going to stick with single season feats for now.
It will not surprise you to know that the record (since 1920) for most consecutive games reached belongs to Ted Williams, who reached base in a preposterous 84 straight games in 1949. His record was almost reached by Wade Boggs in 1985, when the Chicken Man reached base in 81 straight games. The most amazing thing about both of these records is that I don't remember ever hearing about either. The Boggs thing is particularly amazing because I was a particularly eager baseball fan in 1985. I remember hearing all sorts of crazy facts about Boggs then 0- one year he didn't pop-up in the infield, one year he hit .310 with two strikes on him, stuff like that. I had no idea he reached base in 81 straight games.
People have done the math on DiMaggio hitting in 56 straight games ... I am right now reading the excellent Kostya Kennedy's upcoming book about DiMaggio's streak. I suspect the math would be about as impressive for Ted Williams' 84-game on-base streak, or Wade Boggs' 81-gamer or -- and how about this for an amazing streak -- DALE MURPHY's 74-game on-base streak in 1987. Yes. Dale Murphy's streak for reaching base in 1987 was exactly as long as DiMaggio's in 1941.
Here is a list of all the on-base streaks that were 56-games or longer.
1. Ted Williams 84 (1949)
2. Wade Boggs 81 (1985)
3. Dale Murphy 74 (1987)
Joe DiMaggio 74 (1941)
5. Ted Williams 73 (1941)
6. Jimmy Wynn 66 (1969)
7. Orlando Cabrera 63 (2006)
8. Solly Hemus 60 (1953)
9. Joey Votto 58 (2010)
Duke Snider 58 (1954)
11. Johnny Damon 57 (2005)
Barry Bonds 57 (2003)
Ryan Klesko 57 (2002)
Billy Goodman 57 (1955)
George Kell 57 (1950)
16. Tony Gwynn 56 (1987)
Carl Yastrzemski 56 (1969)
Arky Vaughan 56 (1936)
Orlando Cabrera's 63-game on-base streak in 2006 is the longest of the last 20 years and the most unlikely since Cabrera's lifetime on-base percentage is .320. DURING THE STREAK his on-base percentage was only .372. But it was uncanny. Look: T he streak lasted from April 25 to July 6.
April 25-30: 5-game hitting streak
May 1: Walk
May 2-5: 4-game hitting streak
May 6: Two walks.
May 7-13: 6-game hitting streak
May 14: Walk
May 16: Three hits.
May 17: Walk
May 18-31: 12-game hitting streak.
June 2: Two walks.
June 3-9: 6-game hitting streak
June 10: Walk
June 11-13: 3-game hitting streak, all multiple hits.
June 14: Walk
June 15-16: 2-game hitting streak
June 17: Walk
June 19: Walk
June 20-28: 8-game hitting streak
June 30: Hit by pitch
July 1: Walk
July 2-6: 5-game hitting streak.
And there you go -- 63 straight games of reaching base. I don't remember hearing a word about it.
See what these SI facts do to me? Today's SI fact is what got me started with this blog post in the first place:
January 14: In 2000, Mark Calcavecchia became 10th golfer in PGA Tour history to surpass $10 million in career earnings.
Now, your first reaction might be: What? Who cares? What does that even mean? Ah, but it's clear you have not come to appreciate the genius of this SI sports calendar. Because as soon as I saw that, I immediately thought: Wait, that was 10 years ago. How many golfers have now won $10 million on the PGA Tour?
I'm glad you asked: The answer is 105. Yes. That's right. There are now 105 golfers who have won $10 million or more on the tour, and these include Pat Perez and Chris Riley, who I have never heard of. I'm sure right now every member of the Pat Perez and Chris Riley fan clubs are writing in angrily to scold me for not knowing about them and to give me many fascinating details about Pat Perez' and Chris Riley's golfing careers, and they are right, I should have heard of him, I'll be glad to hear about them now. I feel sure I should have heard of them because in between two on the career money list -- just above Pat Perez and just below Chris Riley -- is a golfer I have heard of, I think, a guy by the name of Tom Watson.
It's inanely fogeyish to talk about how much more money players make today than they did many years ago -- fogeyish and generally wrong-headed since each individual dollar is worth quite a bit less now than it was long ago, and golf as a professional sports industry makes many, many many times more than it made years ago. Still, it's kind of fun. David Toms has long been one of my favorite golfers because we got to know each other a little bit when we were both starting out band because he was born four-days before I was born. I have followed his career pretty closely because of this. I had no idea that he has made more than $33 million on the PGA Tour.
Justin Leonard, who I have always thought of as golf's Michael Chang -- won the British Open when he was young, looked like he might overcome his relative size disadvantage and become one of the best in the world, popped up every now and again to win a tournament but never won another major -- has made more than $30 million on the Tour. The Top 20 has Appleby AND Allenby AND Oglivy. Mark Calcavecchia -- who I unfairly will always think of as the guy sniping at Arnold Palmer for playing at Augusta at age 70* -- has made more than $23 million.
*Calcavecchia snapped off about Arnie after playing a slow and poor round with Palmer at Augusta ... Calcavecchia suggested it might be time for the King to hang 'em up. I was there when he did it. Mark apologized madly for a long while after that and wrote a long and reportedly heartfelt apology letter to Palmer. I do think he was sincere in his apology and had really just mouthed off because he was mad at himself for playing a lousy round. I don't think anyone should hold any hard feelings against the guy. I certainly don't. But, still, when I hear the name Calcavecchia, that's the image that pops into my mind. That's the problem with having a terrible public moment. It stands out in the mind and never quite goes away.A
Tiger Woods, of course, is the all-time leader with more than $94 million. There are, as mentioned, 105 golfers who have made $10 million. There are 179 that have made more than $6 million. Here are a few of the others:
189. Jack Nicklaus ($5.7 million)
249. Lee Trevino ($3.4 million)
278. Johnny Miller ($2.7 million)
327. Arnold Palmer ($1.8 million)*
332. Gary Player ($1.8 million)
*He's not even close to the highest paid Palmer -- Ryan Palmer has made more than $9 million.
This means absolutely nothing. But maybe that's missing the point. When you're looking at the SI Sports Facts, I have finally figured out, you're not looking for meaning. You're looking for something help you get through the day.