Some milestones may never fall

Joe DiMaggio’s 56 and Cal Ripken’s 2,632 streaks may last.



Babe Ruth’s career home run record lasted more than 38 years. Hank Aaron broke that in 1974 and his mark has been on the books ever since.

Soon, Barry Bonds will surpass Aaron and — on deck, Alex Rodriguez is already positioned to eclipse Bonds in a few years and become the next great home run champ.

With all the debate surrounding Bonds’ chase to his 756th career homer, which will put him ahead of Aaron and give him one of baseball’s most time-honored records, some questions arise about sports records in general: Which are the most impressive? Most venerable? Most difficult to break?

“We’re in a society of ‘big,’ ” said Joe Theismann, the retired quarterback whose streak of 163 straight starts for the Redskins ended when Lawrence Taylor gruesomely snapped his leg on “ABC’s Monday Night Football.”

“I live in my own little world of consistency and durability,” Theismann said.

Not surprisingly, the records that impress him most are Brett Favre’s streak of 237 straight starts for a quarterback, and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak back in 1941.

Two remaining definitive marks

When Bonds surpasses Aaron’s record, it figures that DiMaggio’s streak will stand with Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive games streak as the two remaining “definitive” records in baseball.

Cy Young’s record of 511 pitching victories is 96 years old and will probably never be broken, though the number itself isn’t part of the baseball lexicon the way DiMaggio’s is and the record Ripken broke — Lou Gehrig’s old consecutive-games streak of 2,130 — once was.

Both had to do with consistency more than power.

DiMaggio’s has stood the test of time; only one player, Pete Rose, has gotten past 40 in the 66 years since.

Gehrig’s record lasted 43 years, and when Ripken passed it and set the new mark, he posted a number that may never be broken.

Last month, Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada broke his wrist, snapping his 1,152-game streak. The longest current streak of games played now belongs to Juan Pierre, who was at 364 through last weekend.

“If I was able to do it, certainly somebody else can do it,” Ripken said. “I wasn’t Superman by any means, and it takes a special set of circumstances, a little bit of stubbornness and a lot of luck, and it can be done.”

Jeter says no

Not so, says Derek Jeter of the Yankees.

“I don’t think that can be broken,” Jeter said. “It’s hard enough to play for a week, man, let alone for 14 years.”

Of course, every sport defines record-setting greatness in different ways.

Among basketball’s greatest records are Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962 and Bill Walton’s 95 percent (21-for-22) shooting effort in the 1973 national title game. Walton’s feat came in the midst of another impressive record, albeit on the team level — UCLA’s 88-game winning streak from 1971-74.

“UCLA’s winning streak, that’s my greatest thrill,” said former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps, who, of course, coached the team that snapped the streak. “That and DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.”

Football has Favre’s consecutive-games streak, Dan Marino’s 61,361 yards passing and Jerry Rice’s 1,549 pass receptions (among other records). All, however, are relatively modern.

Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 yards rushing holds up well — it’s 23 years old and was accomplished during the 16-game-schedule era. Some, however, say O.J. Simpson’s 2,003 yards in 1973 were more impressive because they came in a 14-game season.

“I really just don’t know. I have no idea,” Rice said when asked which record impressed him the most.

Gretzky hockey leader

In hockey, Wayne Gretzky holds the record for most career goals with 894. Probably more impressive is that he holds the records for holding records: According to the latest count, he currently owns or shares 60 regular-season and playoff records.

In golf, the record most fans know about is Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors. Tiger Woods taped accounts of the Golden Bear’s accomplishments on his bedroom wall as a kid and dreamed of surpassing Nicklaus. He’s at 12 heading into this week’s British Open and it seems like only a matter of time before he breaks it.

The golf record that may never be broken, however, is Byron Nelson’s string of 11 consecutive wins on the PGA Tour back in 1945.

Woods made a run at that recently, but the enormity of the task was reinforced when the world’s best player had his streak snapped at seven by little-known Nick O’Hern at a match-play event in February. To be credited with a victory in that tournament, Woods would have had to have won six matches over five days.

Another amazing record was Bob Beamon’s long jump at the 1968 Olympics.

In an era before news of steroids clouded almost every track and field event, Beamon jumped 29 feet, 21⁄2 inches, breaking the old record by more than 21 inches. That it was in the thin air of Mexico City and that he had a tail wind behind him couldn’t fully explain the almost unexplainable feat — breaking a record that had increased by a grand total of 81⁄2 inches over the previous 33 years.

Not until 1991 did American Mike Powell break Beamon’s record. Powell’s record of 29 feet, 41⁄2 inches still stands today — longevity that could be considered every bit a testament to Beamon’s record as Powell’s.

Of course, so many track records that fall today come under a haze of steroid-induced suspicion.

It’s much the same with baseball and its soon-to-be eclipsed home run record.

It makes some of those other long-lasting records that much easier to appreciate.

Mark Spitz’s seven Olympic gold medals (which Michael Phelps could surpass next year in Beijing); the Dolphins’ undefeated 1972 season; Nolan Ryan’s seven no-hitters: All have stood the test of time, and made people wonder if all records really are made to be broken.

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