Friday, May 11, 2007

Move Over Jack Taylor, Here Comes Barry Bonds

You're probably thinking that headline is a mistake. Surely, you surmise, I meant to say, “Move Over Hank Aaron, Here Comes Barry Bonds”. It is, after all, Hank Aaron whose career Home Run record Barry Bonds will soon be breaking.

No, I meant Jack Taylor – the holder of the single most unbreakable record in major league baseball although that’s not the reason for the comparison.

You probably haven’t heard of Jack Taylor because, due to changes in the conditions of the game, his record is now almost meaningless just like the career Home Run record is about to be.

Taylor pitched in the major leagues for 10 years in the first decade of the 20th century, mostly for the Chicago Cubs, then a powerhouse team.

Four years Taylor won 20 games, but that’s not his record. He was a decent enough hitter that he even played 15 games at 3B, but that’s not his record.

His unequaled feat is that from 1901 to 1906 Jack Taylor pitched 185 consecutive Complete Games.

As an addendum to that record, Jack Taylor also holds the record for the highest percentage of career Complete Games pitched at 97.2% (278 Complete Games out of 286 total Games Pitched).

So why isn’t Jack Taylor in the Hall of Fame? Why isn’t the best pitcher award called the Jack Taylor Award? Why isn’t Jack Taylor touted for the pitching ironman record the way Cal Ripken, Jr. and Lou Gehrig are held up today as the top two all-time record holders for Consecutive Games played by position players?

After all, Taylor TWICE pitched both halves of a doubleheader, and once eclipsed that by pitching a complete game in a 19-inning extra-inning affair.

But we don’t celebrate Taylor, a fine pitcher of his day, for his records because almost no one pitches Complete Games today. The record has become a yawn. Pitchers today face conditions far different from 100 years ago.

Pitchers today throw harder to be more effective while they’re in the game. Pitchers 100 years ago threw more for movement and location, but saved something on their velocity so they could go longer in games. The ball wasn't wound as tightly so Home Runs were much less common in the dead-ball era before 1919.

Rosters today carry 10 to 12 pitchers per game to allow for frequent replacements. Rosters 100 years ago carried six or seven pitchers because there wasn’t enough talent to go around.

The last time a pitcher threw as many as four consecutive Complete Games was Roy Halladay in 2003. Halladay would have had to do that 45 more times in a row to get close to Taylor.

Likewise, the conditions of the game played by Barry Bonds are completely different from those played by Hank Aaron.

Bonds has never denied the accusations of two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who wrote a book detailing illegal cheating by Bonds with steroid and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) abuse.

If you think basbeall's steroid and HGH cheating are all in the past, think again. Human Growth Hormone is STILL NOT TESTED by Major League Baseball.

In 2006, Barry Bonds announced he was going to play for the United States in the World Baseball Classic tournament. He pulled out shortly after the tournament announced it would test for Human Growth Hormone.

From the time Hank Aaron came up in the 1950s, and throughout his brilliant career into the 1970s, he never had breakthrough years going from 20 home runs to 70 home runs in a season. Aaron never gained 40 pounds of pure muscle. Aaron never went from a size 10 shoe to a size 13½. Aaron never gained several hat sizes.

Aaron relied on great talent and hard work. Aaron was able to face hateful and racist remarks from Babe Ruth admirers with quiet dignity and self-respect when he eclispsed the Ruth's career Home Run mark.

Accusations against Bonds of wife-cheating, tax-cheating, and baseball-cheating combined with his disdain for the media and fans have long since claimed any respect due from either himself or from those who love the game.

It bears repeating. Human Growth Hormone is STILL NOT TESTED by Major League Baseball.

Records are made to be broken, and the falling of Aaron’s mark was inevitable. As the career Home Run record is overcome by Barry Bonds, we don’t mourn the passing of the memories of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, or their names in past record books.

What we mourn is the passing of the formerly time-honored record’s importance.

Barry Bonds has not only diminished the value of this once-revered record, but he has also become as relevant as Jack Taylor, the holder of a record that just doesn’t mean as much anymore.

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