'Streak' takes in-depth look at Gehrig, Ripken

September 27th, 2017

It's been more than 20 years since Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's record by playing in his 2,131st consecutive game. That, in turn, was a mark that had stood for nearly six decades.

After all this time, then, what more is there to say about two of the most iconic players in baseball history? What's left to be written about two of the sport's most scrutinized Hall of Famers?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

In "The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball's Most Historic Record," Baltimore-based journalist John Eisenberg compares and contrasts men who have become synonymous with reliability, consistency and dependability. Which, by itself, would be a solid piece of work.

Eisenberg doesn't stop there, though. He skillfully weaves together a story with three strands, one on each of the principals and a crucial third element that encompasses just about everything else there is to know about playing in every game for years at a time.

There are in-depth looks at early ironmen, such as George Pinkney, Fred Luderas and Joe Sewell. And Yankees shortstop Everett Scott, who played in 1,307 straight games before being benched in May 1925.

This includes a terrific anecdote about the lengths Scott went to keep his streak alive three years earlier, a tale that illustrates the detail contained in these pages. It seems that after spending an off-day with his family, the train that was taking him to Chicago to rejoin the team broke down. He roused a farmer, found a driver, then hopped a trolley and taxi to make it to Comiskey Park. He made it in time to play the last two innings in the field.

What's also significant about Scott is that, less than a month later, his teammate Gehrig started his own streak, the one that's remembered to this day.

There are also in-depth looks at more modern ironmen, including Steve Garvey, Billy Williams, Stan Musial, Gus Suhr, Miguel Tejada and Pete Rose.

The results of prodigious research is evident throughout the text. One small but delightful example: Both Gehrig and Ripken were scouted as pitchers.

Along the way, Eisenberg allows himself to mediate on larger philosophical questions. What defines an ironman, anyway? How important is it for players to not miss a single game? Would players benefit from an occasional rest? Would the team be better served if they did? Is it sporting to have a player participate just long enough to get credit for a game played?

The last question is one that gets a lot of attention. There's even a full chapter titled "Shenanigans," which details the various gimmicks and dubious maneuvers that have been used to give players credit for a game played when, under any other circumstance, he would almost certainly have been given a day off.

A natural extension of that topic is a comprehensive look of how some of the longer streaks ended, and times Gehrig or Ripken came close to having to sit out a game.

There's even background on why the public finds durability so fascinating, tracing its origins from 490 B.C. to 19th century feats of endurance, such as running 100 miles a day while carrying a 60-pound bar of lead to marathon boxing matches in the early 1900s.

And of course, there are Ripken and Gehrig. Eisenberg thoroughly chronicles their accomplishments and ponders which man's longevity was more difficult to achieve. He also adds insight into why each was driven to be in the lineup every day.

Before the epilogue, the final chapter examines the pantheon of supposedly unbreakable records and the factors that make it unlikely -- but not impossible -- that Ripken's will ever be surpassed.

This is a look at the remarkable careers of two players -- plus, just about every other conceivable angle about long playing streaks.