Ran across a debate online the other that made me gag because of its inherent silliness and the fact that the principal element of any significance was entirely missing from the discussion.
As the headline suggests, the topic du jour was deciding whose consecutive game streak was the more impressive: Brett Favre’s ongoing 291-game streak or Cal Ripken’s MLB record of 26,532 games or whatever the hell it is.
Geez, won’t somebody please start putting Ripken’s admittedly historic streak into some kind of useful perspective?
Here goes. The main goal for a professional athlete – or an amateur one, for that matter – is to win games. Period. Not throw strikeouts, or touchdowns, or hit home runs. Or even show up for work every day. Winning – in this context – is truly the only thing.
Brett Favre showing up for work on 291 consecutive Sundays – no quibbling, please – had an enormous impact on his team’s chances of winning in every one of those 291 games.
Cal Ripken having his name penciled into the lineup all 162 games every year for nearly 17 years is a remarkable achievement but – like Joe DiMaggio’s similarly exalted 56-game hitting streak in 1941 – it did very little to enhance his team’s chances of winning ball games.
I’ve often referred to both records as little more than parlor tricks, a bit of hyperbole designed to draw attention to the fact that almost nobody looks at those two streaks with anything remotely resembling clinical detachment.
Instead, everybody pictures Gary Cooper giving the “luckiest man” speech in the movie version, or Ripken himself jogging around the stadium and waving to fans now apparently willing to forgive and forget about that crappy strike. And hardly anybody stops to ask what all this meant to the larger question of winning ball games.
In the case of DiMaggio’s streak, the level of emotional attachment is seemingly even greater, but that doesn’t mean the parlor trick analogy is incorrect.
If Brett Favre had missed – hypothetically – one game per year during each of his 19 years, the odds of the Packers-Jets-Vikings winning those particular games would have been substantially diminished.
If Cal Ripken had taken one lazy July Tuesday off every year for each of his 17 seasons, the mathematical changes in terms of his team’s chances of winning would have been so infinitesimal that it would be hardly worth mentioning. If you wanted to be intentionally argumentative, a case could be made – and was frequently by pundits at the time – that a day off might have actually helped simply from giving the workhorse a bit of a extra rest.
Folks kibitzing about Favre vs. Ripken often hit on the obvious differences but ignore the reality that the baseball mark is intrinsically vastly less significant than the football one, rendering these heated discussions to being little more than a waste of time.
I would also point out the obvious mathematical reality that a single NFL game represents 1/16th of the whole year’s schedule; a single MLB game is 1/162nd of that team’s total. The next jump would be to say that solitary NFL game is 10 times more important than an MLB contest, but that would still dramatically understate the case.
The simple truth is that there’s no comparison between what Ripken and Favre have done. Ripken’s streak makes for wonderful baseball lore and legend and, of course, is a hallmark of a remarkably durable and effective player.
Favre’s streak is just unfathomable. Period.
And just because Joe DiMaggio’s streak may never be broken doesn’t mean that it isn’t the most overrated record in all of professional sports. It is.
(456, but not consecutively)