Crunching the numbers. Composite photo by Jack Brame
Here's why the Tampa Bay Rays have taken two straight from the Astros in the ALCS, and it's the only possible explanation – the Rays are used to playing in front of tens of thousands of empty seats.
In 2019, the Rays finished in 29th place (out of 30 MLB teams) in attendance, averaging only 14,731 fans at home in crappy, desolate Tropicana Field. In 2018, next to last again, averaging 14,259 fans. Both times, the only team to draw fewer fans was that disaster down the Tamiami Trail in Florida, the Miami Marlins.
In 2017, the Rays grabbed the gold ring, dead last in the big leagues, averaging only 15,670 fans. That's the sound of one hand clapping.
Over the same three-year period, the Astros averaged 35,276 fans (2019), 36,796 fans (2018) and 29,674 (2017) in beautiful Minute Maid Park.
I know, the attendance excuse is scraping, but desperate times …
Meant to be broken?
During the French Open final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the Tennis Channel put up a graphic of "unbreakable" sports records:
Rafael Nadal's 12 French Open titles (now 13).
Chris Evert's 125 consecutive victories on clay.
Steffi Graf's Golden Slam: winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Olympic gold medal in 1988.
Bill Russell's 11 NBA titles.
Michael Phelps' 23 Olympic gold medals.
Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
I'm not certain that some of these records are "unbreakable." Actually I'm surprised that a slap hitter, batting leadoff so he gets five at bats a game, hasn't already topped Joe D's hit streak. The baseball record that defies all boundaries of the modern game, and is 100-percent guaranteed never to be broken, is pitcher Cy Young's 511 wins. Let's crunch the numbers. If a pitcher won 20 games for 25 seasons, he'd still need 11 more wins to match Cy Young. Consider that in 2019, only two pitchers in all of baseball won 20 games, and they both happened to be Houston Astros – Justin Verlander with 21 wins and Gerrit Cole with 20. The active pitcher with the most wins in Verlander with 226 wins, followed by Zack Greinke with 208 wins. Both are well into their 30s, and they're not even halfway to Cy Young. As baseball historians and nerds know, Cy Young also holds the all-time mark for losses with 315 L's. If you really want to stump Charlie Pallilo, ask him how many shutouts Young tossed. Answer: 46. For comparison, Verlander has pitched 16 seasons. He has nine career shutouts.
At some point, a tennis player could match Graf's Golden Slam. I'm a little surprised that Serena Williams hasn't done it.
For sheer "no chance, never ever gonna happen," the sports record that stands alone atop Mount Olympus is Joey Chestnut's 13 victories in the July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest, regarded as the Super Bowl of Competitive Eating. There's no telling how many Yellow Mustard Belts Chestnut will win before he retires. He's still at the top of his game, shattering his own record in 2020 by inhaling 75 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. The second place finisher, Darron Breedon, consumed "only" 42 dogs.
Here are a few non-sports records that I believe will never be approached:
Robert Wadlow holds the record of being the world's tallest man in Earth's history: 8 feet 11 inches (and counting). He died in 1940 at age 22 and still growing. The tallest players ever in the NBA are Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan, both 7 feet 7 inches – more than Subway footlong shorter than Wadlow. The tallest current player is Tacko Fall at 7 feet 5 inches, or as Wadlow would call him, "Shorty."
The heaviest man in history is Jon Brower Minnoch of Washington State, who tipped the scales, presumably at a truck station, at 1,400 pounds. He once went on a diet and lost 924 pounds, also a record. Think of it this way, he dropped more weight than the entire Houston Texans defensive line. However, less than a year later, he yoyo'd back over 1,000 pounds. He weighed 798 pounds at the time of his death in 1983.
Tazio Gavioli of Italy did 36 chin-ups using only his pinkies in 2018.
NFL star defensive back Patrick Peterson holds the record for taking the most selfies in one hour – 1,449. He took photos with the entire student body of Dear Valley High School in Glendale, Arizona, one at a time, in January, 2018. Obviously, as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, he had lots of free time in January.
If tennis wanted to save fans a lot of time and money, they'd just have Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic play a round-robin tournament at the Grand Slams. The only reason that Dominic Thiem snuck into the winner's circle at the U.S. Open this year was because Federer was out with an injury, Nadal chose not to come to New York and Djokovic was disqualified after accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball.
While we're at it, college football should just have Alabama play Clemson one game, winner-take-all, for the national championship.