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|Tuesday, February 25
Updated: February 28, 5:03 PM ET
The Phoniest Records in Sports
By Jeff Merron
Without true competition, without both sides doing everything they can to win, ballgames would be just exhibitions -- and who wants to watch a sports exhibition? Yet that's exactly what we get when athletes and coaches manipulate the action to make sure that certain records are achieved, or protected.
With Kobe Bryant pushing the limits of the team game to keep his streak of 40-point games alive, we thought we should take a moment to recognize some of the athletes who have gone above and beyond -- and out of bounds -- to make sure their names are in the record books.
Yes, there's more to life than just winning and losing -- there's also manipulating the game for selfish reasons. And we don't like it.
1. Pete Rose plays himself
So what's wrong with this picture? Rose was the worst everyday player in the National League, that's what. He was a 44-year-old first baseman with a "slugging" percentage of .319.
In 1985, manager Pete Rose gave first baseman Pete Rose 500 plate appearances, and he hit two home runs. Of course, he also had 91 singles, and, in the eyes of Rose, trying desperately to reach Ty Cobb's record of 4,191 base hits, a single was as good as a homer.
And who was on the bench as Rose pursued the record? Only budding stars Nick Esasky and Eric Davis, who would finish the year slugging .465 and .519, respectively, while getting fewer plate appearances than Rose.
But what's the harm, right? Well, the Reds finished in second place, 5.5 games behind the Dodgers. Another 500 plate appearances by Esasky and Davis might have made all the difference.
Was Rose betting against his own team when he broke Cobb's record? We don't know, but with a manager like Pete Rose, he should have been.
2. Oh, how unfair!
In 1985, Randy Bass went into the final series of the season with 54 homers. But the opposing Tokyo Giants, managed by Sadaharu Oh, didn't allow Bass' bat to get anywhere near a baseball. They intentionally walked Bass in every at bat in the final two games, and he ended the season one shy of the record.
In 2001, it looked like a rerun. Tuffy Rhodes managed to tie Oh's mark, hitting 55 for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, but then faced another Oh-managed team that refused to give him anything to hit. Oh's pitching coach, Yoshiharu Wakana, admitted, "I didn't want a foreigner to break the record."
In 2002, another repeat -- this time with Alex Cabrera, who also hit 55 with plenty of time left in the season. He'd remain at 55 -- and Oh would remain in the record book. "They didn't want me to get the record," Cabrera said. "The last 20 at-bats of the season, I think I only saw one strike. All records are for the Japanese."
3. Strahan "sacks" Favre
4. UConn cons fans with farce
Sales hit the bucket, breaking the Huskies' career scoring record, which had been held by Kerry Bascom.
Folks took notice. "What A Farce" read a headline in the next day's Hartford Courant.
5. Skywalker vs. the Iceman
On the last day of the 1977-78 season, in two separate games, Denver's David "Skywalker" Thompson and San Antonio's George "Iceman" Gervin put up 87 field goal attempts and 40 free throw attempts between them, all in the effort to steal the NBA scoring title from the other.
Going into the day, Thompson was averaging 26.6, just behind Gervin's 26.8. Thompson scored 32 in the first, a record for a quarter, and just kept firing, finishing with 73 points (albeit on stellar shooting of 28-for-38 from the field and 17-for-20 from the line).
That night, Gervin knew he needed 58 points to take back the scoring title, and his teammates fed him the ball until he got it -- a remarkable 63 points in 33 minutes, including a record 33 in a single quarter. He shot 23-for-49 from the field and 17-for 20 from the line.
"It took all 12 guys to want me to do it in order for it to happen," Gervin said after the game. "I was very nervous and missed my first six shots. But, my teammates encouraged me and lit a fire under me. They were just as excited about it as I was. It's that relationship that made that moment so very special."
6. The Florida flop
But it was a blowout, so Florida's defense literally fell down on purpose, allowing Miami to score a meaningless TD and getting the ball back for Reaves. Then, Reaves broke Plunkett's record with 50 ticks left, on a 15-yard pass.
"I guess they just wanted to humiliate us, and they did," said Miami coach Fran Curci.
"My respect for John Reaves at that point changed," Chuck Foreman, who played on the Hurricanes offense at the time, told ESPN years later. "I didn't respect him because of the way he got the record, because the record, to me, still belonged to Jim Plunkett."
7. Second-rate D2 shenanigans
Troy State smashed its own record for most points scored by a team -- set the year before, against DeVry.
And the teams blew out a slew of other offensive records.
Legit records? We don't think so. "The guys were really loose going into the game," said DeVry coach George Trawick. "We made up our minds to see if we could get the recognition."
He meant the recognition both schools got when news of the game hit SportsCenter and the rest of the national media.
"It's tough to imagine such numbers unless there was a little cooperation going on," wrote Memphis Commercial Appeal sports editor Al Dunning. He also quoted a reader who had called in: ''The only way to score that many points is to throw the ball to each other and get out the way. No team scores 258 points unless the other guys let 'em.''
FYI, the NCAA records set:
8. Ump gives Drysdale a do-over
We don't know what Scully said next, but we know what happened -- Drysdale hit Dietz with a pitch, apparently forcing in a run and ending Drysdale's streak. But umpire Harry Wendelstedt said Dietz didn't try to avoid the pitch, and didn't award him first base. Giants coach Herman Franks contested vehemently and was tossed. Drysdale got out Dietz and the next two batters, and the streak stayed alive at 45, eventually topping out at a major league-record 58 innings.
But what goes around sometimes comes around. As it turns out, Orel Hersheiser, who broke Drysdale's record in the waning days of the 1988 season, had a little help, too. In the game before he eclipsed the old mark, it looked like the Giants had managed to score a run off of him. But Brett Butler was called for interference, and the run was disallowed. Inning over. Streak intact.
9. Feelin' groovy
Thanks to his good friend Denny McLain, he did.
Mantle's official web site had Phil Rizzuto's call of the Sept. 19, 1968 Tigers-Yankees game:
"(Denny McLain's) thinking, 'I laid one in for you, hit it!' And sometimes when you know what's comin' it's tough to hit it. They're all grinnin' -- Mickey, McLain, and all of 'em, and all of the, uh, rather, the catcher, Freehan, and OH BOY! THERE IT GOES! IT'S A FAIR BALL AND VERY DEEP! Aw, you gotta give that McLain some credit, I wanna tell ya. He's grinning a mile wide. Boy I tell you, you think these ball players don't have heart, Frank, and then -- THERE'S MICKEY NODDING TO HIM! THANKING HIM! AND BOY, I TELL YOU, I HAVEN'T SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS IN MY LIFE! Mantle has now gone ahead of Jimmie Foxx with 535 home runs. And now McLain is -- Pepitone says, 'Lay one in for me!' and McLain shakes his head at him and says, 'No, Sir!'"
10. Lou Gehrig, "shortstop"
We're not even going to mention that thing about Cal Ripken Jr., Kevin Costner, Ripken's wife, the savage fistfight, and the subsequent O's game cancelled because of "electrical failure." Oops, we just did. It's a good story, but it ain't true.