Jared Wyllys.jpg

There are a few records in baseball that I don't think will be touched, like Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak or Ted Williams hitting .406 in 1941. The one I think is least likely to be broken is Cal Ripken, Jr.'s consecutive games streak. He played 2,632 games in a row, spanning from May 30, 1982 to September 19, 1998. The current active consecutive games leader is Whit Merrifield, whose streak sits well below 400 games.

I don't think anyone, Merrifield included, stands a chance of breaking Ripken's streak because of the way modern baseball is played. Rest and injury prevention is too highly prioritized for anyone to go 16 years without missing a game.

But even in Ripken's day -- or Lou Gehrig's, who held the record before Ripken -- they knew that players needed a break sometimes. So the thing I often wonder about guys like Gehrig and Ripken is how far into their consecutive games streak they went before they felt like it mattered.

Gehrig or Ripken could have taken a game off after a few hundred in a row without a huge impact on either player's legacy. Gehrig would still have been a Hall of Famer, and Ripken had over 3,000 hits, 400 home runs, was the MVP twice, and played in the All-Star game every year of his career from 1982-2001, so he'd be in Cooperstown too.

All the same, both guys kept going, day after day. Even after Gehrig broke the previous record held by Everett Scott, he kept playing for about 800 more games in a row. Ripken was the same way; he broke Gehrig's record in 1995 but didn't take a day off for three more years.

That's the part that interests me the most. The record is broken, but they keep going anyway. 

I think that's an indicator of the kind of person both guys were. It's one thing to play so many games in a row because you want to set a record, but it's another thing to do it because that's just who you are.

That's the question I'm trying to answer more for myself lately: When or why does this matter? Am I doing this because I'm hoping for something external, or am I doing it because it's a part of who I am?

Outside validation is nice, but it's not something we can control, and if it's what we're relying on to feel like what we're doing matters, I suspect that we find after a while that there's never enough of it. But continuing on or following through when no one's paying attention is what weaves good character.

I wonder how many people going to Orioles games in 1996 or 1997 thought much about Ripken's streak. When he finally sat out late in the 1998 season, the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race was still in its fever pitch. As a 16-year-old baseball fan that year, I can't say I remember knowing that Ripken had finally taken a day off, but I was sure tracking the newspaper box scores of McGwire and Sosa.

There's a lot of toiling unseen in life. A lot of working and doing the right thing without external reward. A lot of continuing on after people have stopped paying attention. But if we keep suiting up every day anyway, that's when it matters. 

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