This one's for you, Tim Kurkijan.
How does one define greatness in sports?
When you look back at the careers of Walter Payton, or for you younger guys, Emmit Smith, you think of amazing rushes and piles of touchdowns.
What about Kareem or Wilt? We've seen miles of footage of sky hooks and dunks. And how about the Great One? We might never see 894 goals again, unless they keep tampering with the rules.
And then there's 762.
Whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, Barry Bonds is the home run king. There were plenty of guys who did not want to accept the fact that Ruth's two biggest numbers—61 and 714—were no longer the apex of baseball's power statistic, but they eventually got over it.
If Bonds's records can withstand the likes of A-Rod and Pujols, then it will certainly have its place among the greatest records of all time.
But this post isn't about those numbers.
This is dedicated to the numbers we as sports fans hold in too high esteem, numbers that when you think about them and their relevance to today's sports culture, you're left shaking your head in perplexity.
So let's look at some numbers in the four major professional sports—the NBA, the NHL, the NFL and baseball—that should be put in a large capsule and buried under ground until the apocalypse.
Most Points in a NFL Career (2,544) by Morten Andersen
This is a record that is obviously only held by kickers. And depending on what circle you're in, kickers may not even be considered football players.
Sure the very name of the sport has biological ties to the lowliest position on the field, but that's only because "passball," "rushball," and "tackleball" don't roll off the tongue as well.
Kickers have made huge contributions to some of the greatest highlights in NFL history. But would we miss out if teams had to go for two-point conversions instead? Besides, if you counted touchdown passes, the record would belong to Brett Luscious Favre—hi David ;)—with 2,784.
Highest Career Rating (96.8) by a NFL Quarterback by Steve Young
I teach all grade levels of high school mathematics, and I still can't tell you how they come up with this stat. The funny thing about statistics is if you tickle the numbers enough, you can come up with a number that supports whatever conjecture you have.
That being said, how can you value this record when you can't tell how it's achieved?
Highest Scoring Average (50.4) in a NBA Season by Wilt Chamberlein
No discredit to one of the top three centers of all time, but what?
In 1961-1962, Wilt Chamberlein obviously had one of the greatest seasons in sports history. It was in this season he also scored an untouchable record of 100 points in a game.
But herein lies the problem: Wilt was the largest human on the face of the earth at the time, standing seven feet tall and weighing 275 pounds. At that time, basketball had not seen anything like that.
There was also no three-point line, so the game was oriented more to what went on directly underneath the goal. And who or what large mass took up most of the paint beneath the goal?
I figure if I can't average 50 in a six-year-old YMCA league, I have no business being out there.
Most Career Assists (1963) by a NHL Player by Wayne Gretzky
If an assist was made up of only the assister and scorer, then maybe this record holds a little more weight. But an assist to a goal can go to two players. So if a defenseman clears the puck, it's picked up by a teammate, the teammate shoots, it's saved, another teammate shoots the rebound, and it goes in, all three players earn a point, with the defenseman and the second player to touch the puck credited with an assist.
Translate that to basketball:
Magic passes to Worthy, Worthy shoots, misses, Kareem scores on a put back. Do either Magic or Worthy deserve an assist? Not to take away from Gretzky, who is probably the greatest athlete of the '80s, but if we didn't count this record, would it really hurt his legacy?
Batting Average in a Season (.406) by Ted Williams
Batting .406 is a great accomplishment. Only one thing wrong with this—it's not a record!
Teddy Baseball is simply the last player to bat over .400 for a season. So why do we hold this number in such high regard?
If, in the next 30 years, no player is able to bat over .350, are we going to replace .406 with .364 by Larry "Chipper" Jones? That, to me, sounds less like a yardstick for greatness and more like a lowering of standards.
A Benz isn't quite a Benz if a McDonald's employee can afford one.
Any Distinction Between the Live-ball Era and Pre-1920 in Major League Baseball
Again, if you tamper with numbers well enough, you can get the desired stat. Why should we differentiate records in baseball based on eras? Oh wait! Aren't they trying to do that now? Look here, gods of baseball. By tampering with records and choosing which numbers you are going to acknowledge, you are making more of a mockery out of these numbers than any chemical can do.
As a mathematician, I know how we as human beings invest a lot of reaction into certain numbers in life. A quantity of one million subconsciously sets off a hormonal reaction when we try to fathom that amount of anything. Advertisers exclaim a product is worth $999.99 and for a split second we forget that it's only one measly cent less than $1,000.
There's nothing wrong with tying numbers to certain things because it provides a conventional reaction. The problem exists when the numbers are separated from the very entity they are supposed to represent.
When we remove the athletes from the remarkable feats they set, we forget about all the hard work, commitment, and luck these athletes demonstrated to reach such levels, and that's what makes sports so appealing to all of us.
I leave the floor open to you. What other numbers should we banish from the sports records books?
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