Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Streak by John Eisenberg

Why I Read It: Ripken breaking Gehrig's record was a remarkable moment for baseball, and it occurred during my lifetime, making it an interesting historical topic for me personally.

Summary: Gehrig, Ripken, and all the others who have tried to break their consecutive games played streaks.

My Thoughts: When you think about it, an iron man streak is a precarious thing. A player can, at times, seem invincible, heroic; at others, he can be seen as the most selfish man in the majors. When averages are up, runs are being knocked in and the position is being fielded cleanly, it's all good. When the average heads for the Mendoza line, fans begin calling for heads.

So it should be no surprise that it took two Hall of Famers to set the records.

But Eisenberg reminds us that Gehrig's streak was by no means the first, and Ripken's was by no means the last - more on that in a minute. The story of the streak predates Gehrig by decades, and continues today. Between the Iron Horse and Cal came a long list of pretenders who never made the grade, for various reasons. Eisenberg shows how health, a dedicated team trainer, sympathetic managers and even luck need to come together to play the game for more than 2,000 consecutive appearances.

But what is an appearance? Is batting lead off and being pulled from the game considered an appearance? What about pinch running? Just playing defense? As you can imagine, it has been debated through time, and even appears in the Major League Baseball rule book.

This record is one that may never be broken. Yes, it's cliche to say that, and also to say, "Never say never," but the fact is that with today's game the rationale no longer exists. Current belief states that players are better with occasional rest, that the 162-game grind is beyond human capacity, if a team truly believes in fielding its best nine every day. Rarely do players play all 162 any more; stringing together 18 consecutive 162s seems utterly comical.

But, the fact is, Ripken set his record just twenty years ago, and in this ageless game, one never knows what will happen next. Still, Ripken and Gehrig are the only two to break 2,000 (Sachio Kinugasa did so in Japan), and Everett Scott's 1,307 was less than half Ripken's total.

Eisenberg examines all angles, bringing us back to the 19th century to seek the genesis of the iron man streak. He turns over every rock in the life of Gehrig to figure out why he did it, and does the same with Ripken's story. When one considers it's been 19 years since the record was broken, this side-by-side telling of their stories was long overdue.

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