Friday, August 10, 2007

Hallowed be what numbers?

One day I would like to conduct a test. I would like to stand on a street corner and yell numbers at the top of my lungs at complete strangers.

"56!"
"511!"
"191!"

According to many baseball scribes such as Jayson Stark of ESPN, the strangers should smile, give a wave, and reply with "Joe Dimaggio's hit streak, Cy Young's win total, and Hack Wilson's single-season RBI record."

My guess is that the common person on the street would actually sooner have me arrested for being a nuisance than know the baseball significance of the aforementioned numbers.

Sorry to break the news, folks, but there is no such thing as a "hallowed number". In sports, as well as in society, there are hallowed dates, such as the day Babe Ruth supposedly called his shot, the day Jackie Robinson took the field for the first time in a big league uniform, and the day Joe Cowley started a game by striking out the first seven batters he faced. Well, maybe not the last example. But my point is to call a number "hallowed" is a joke. It is just a way for baseball writers (read: old white guys) to preach about how great they think the game was at a certain point in time. Before Tuesday night, Hank Aaron's 755 home runs meant as much as Rickey Henderson's 1,406 stolen bases or Reggie Jackson's 2,597 strikeouts or Pete Rose's 3,215 singles. Merely numbers. Numbers that measured greatness, yes, but numbers nonetheless.

I wish someone could tell me what makes a baseball number more "holy" than a number in any other sport? What about Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points in one game? Why is that not a "hallowed" mark? Or Kareem's all-time points record?

Don't get me wrong, I am a huge baseball fan. Have been for years. I can recite the last 30 or so World Series champions, tell you all about the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, and recall the Florida Marlins' Inaugural Opening Day Lineup. I just don't understand the pretentiousness that a baseball number can supposedly transcend the sport and bleed into our national subconsciousness. I don't believe it. Final case in point, if I yelled "SEVEN" at you, are you more likely to respond with A) "Eleven", B) "Up", or C) "the amount of career no-hitters thrown by Nolan Ryan"?

I rest my case.

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