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56 Might Not Be The Toughest Record to Beat

By Mike Silva ~ March 13th, 2011. Filed under: Mike Silva.

Let’s take a break from the mundane days of spring training to bring up an old debate: Joe DiMaggio‘s 56 game hitting streak.

Kostya Kennedy of Sports Illustrated just released a book called “56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports.” In the book Kennedy gets inside the numbers, and gives and modern day perspective of the difficulty of such a feat. What puts this in perspective is the fact that performance enhancing drugs helped defeat the home run record, but the closest any player of the “steroid era” has come to DiMaggio was Paul Molitor‘s streak of 39 games in 1987.

Back in 2005, USA Today asked its readers what is the hardest thing to do in sports. Hitting a baseball was number one of that list ahead of driving a race car. When you factor in the difficulty of hitting a baseball, coupled with travel, bullpen utilization, and advanced scouting, a player breaking DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak might be near impossible. I have tended to agree with this assessment throughout the years. However a Peter Vecsey column in the NY Post this morning got me to rethink that position.

Take this quote from Vecsey:

At a time when we’re being bombarded with the claim Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is the greatest last-standing sports record of all-time, one that purportedly will never be broken, here we have Oscar’s (Robertson) unreal triple-double achievement and Chamberlain’s 227 consecutive double-doubles.

Although this is a baseball site, I have a great appreciate for the NBA. I realize this view isn’t held by many- especially the last decade in New York- but that league may possess some of the best athletes on the planet. Anyone can play baseball. For every “Adonis” like Alex Rodriguez achieving greatness, there are average athletes like Pete Rose making a mark. In the NBA an average talent can be good (i.e. Steve Kerr), but will never achieve the greatness of Jordan, Chamberlain, Shaq, or Lebron James.

I started to think about Robertson’s 1961-1962 season with the Cincinnati Royals. That year he became the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double. That is at least ten a game of points, assists, and rebounds. That year he scored 30.8 PPG, with 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.

No one has achieved the feat since that season. Many think Lebron James has the ability, but even in his best season he came up three short in assists and rebounds. Could this be the hardest record in sports to break? I am starting to believe it may dwarf the 56 game streak of DiMaggio.

As difficult as hitting a baseball is, all you are asking a player to do is reach base via a hit once a game. This could be of any variety- bunt, infield single, solid line drive- its consistency, but not at its highest form. The triple-double is an average, meaning a player couldn’t afford any bad nights in an 82 game schedule.

Yes, Robertson did this in a time when the league wasn’t a “big” as today. He did it pre ABA, pre expansion, and only competing against eight teams, but it’s still a feat nonetheless. Anyone can monopolize the ball and score, but it takes effort to rebound, and skill to be at the top of the league in assists. Basketball, unlike baseball, is also a game that relies on others to complete a play. A hitter doesn’t have to worry about his teammate getting on base to continue the streak. If someone misses a layup the assist goes away.

Maybe that triple-double season is underrated. Taking it one step further from a baseball perspective, perhaps the triple crown should be the ultimate achievement in the game. We often hear about DiMaggio’s streak, but how often do we hear about Carl Yastrzemski’s triple crown in 1967? Still, that is leading the league in a category, not an average over the season like Robertson.

Taking nothing away from DiMaggio or Yastrzemski, but I am starting to believe the ultimate record in sports history might be the triple-double season by Oscar Robertson in 1962. For as hard as it is to hit a baseball, averaging double digits in the three top categories in a game reliant on your teammates might be near impossible in the modern NBA.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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3 Responses to 56 Might Not Be The Toughest Record to Beat

  1. Brandon

    Let’s do the math. Lebron was only short three assists and rebounds to match Robertson’s record. The closest anyone has come to Dimaggio’s record was when Pete Rose hit 44 straight, which was only 78% of the way there. How could you say Robertson’s record was harder when Lebron got closer then the man with the most hits of all time did to Dimaggio’s record? Doesn’t make any sense.

  2. Russ

    The most unbeatable record in sports is Cy Young’s 511 career wins. With 300 becoming harder than ever, no one will ever get near that.

    Somehow, this is never mentioned.

  3. Michael O'Daniel

    Thanks for giving The Big O props for what he did. However, minor correction, he did not lead the league in both assists and rebounds the year he averaged the triple double. His 12.5 RPG was, however, the highest rebound average ever for a guard. He was the only guard ever to lead his team in rebounding (which he did twice) and is the NBA’s all-time leader in rebounds for a guard.

    But I would also agree that the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit major league pitching.

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