Baseball Milestones Dwindle; Plus, Which Former Predictions Came True?

Ron KaplanContributor IApril 20, 2010

MIAMI - APRIL 11:  Third baseman Jorge Cantu #3 of the Florida Marlins follows through against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Sun Life Stadium on April 11, 2010 in Miami, Florida. The Marlins defeated the Dodgers 6-5.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Weathermen and sports pundits.

I’ve always said these are the top two professions where you can be wrong in your predictions a good part of the time and still keep your job.

I saw this piece on the “dwindlization” of milestones by Matthew Futterman on The Wall Street Journal site in which he writes:

  • “...this venerable game, which has been played in much the same form for more than a century, has come to a point few other organized professional sports have reached: There have been so many games and so many pitches thrown that just about every unusual event that is reasonably likely to happen already has. To find anything truly unique, historians have to slice the game so thinly that the most heralded achievements...are starting to seem a bit picayune.”
  • “The larger question for baseball is this: If enough time passes, can a sport effectively run out of history?”
  • “At the moment, this situation seems unique to baseball, which is one of the world’s most heavily played games. Through [April 15], there have been 173,383 games played since 1903, the year of the first modern World Series. In them, there had been some 50 million pitches thrown. ‘That’s a really large data set,’ said Ben Alamar, a sports-management professor at California’s Menlo College. ‘And if you’re talking about things happening in a single inning, multiply it by nine. Even in terms of anything happening in a particular game, we’re probably pretty much there.’”
  • “Given the size of Major League Baseball’s sample set, Phil Birnbaum, editor of ‘By the Numbers,’ a quarterly publication of the Society for American Baseball Research, calculated the average chances of events occurring in baseball that had never happened before at roughly one in 250,000. But the odds of certain events happening for the first time—a single player hitting five home runs in a game or a player hitting for the cycle in two consecutive games, for example—would be longer by several orders of magnitude.”

In a related item, Larry Granillo on rediscovered his copy of the old 2001 Bill James Presents Stats Inc. Major League Handbook and looked back at the chances some players had to hit major marks. Suffice it to say, they have not all come true, but it sure is fun to go back and see what people were writing about back in the day.

I think I’ll go through some of my baseball magazines from the '60s and '70s over the weekend, just to see what the “important issues” were for those seasons.