Christmas Eve has long fascinated me because, at least in America, it's a holiday celebrated for being the day before a holiday.
I generally love the opportunity to acknowledge obscure things. I guess it's one of the reasons drawn to the runners-up, the also-rans. Everyone else wonders who was the first person to do something, who has the most of something. Quite often I find my mind who was the second person to do that, or who's second on that list? It's a way of celebrating the uncelebrated. Larry Doby was the second African-American to play modern baseball, Brent Strom was the second pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery...the list goes on.
Leaderboards are designed to make the #1's stand out -- I mean, it's in the name of the thing itself. But with baseball statistics, that can get a bit boring, because most casual baseball fans already know who's hit the most homers, or won the most games. But the second-place finishers are more mysterious, and are usually overlooked. Some are known because they once held a famous record since broken, while others I would've never guessed in a million years. It's just so interesting to me.
So that's why, in honor of Christmas Eve, I've put together a short list of some of the game's most famous second-place finishers -- the Baseball Eves.
Home Runs - Hank Aaron, 755 (#1 - Barry Bonds, 762)
Might as well get the unpleasantness out of the way now -- based on numbers and numbers alone, Hank Aaron is second on the all-time home run list, seven behind Barry Bonds's 762.
For obvious reasons, however, Hammerin' Hank's 755 is the more famous milestone -- I admit I even had to double-check Bonds's totals because that number has never quite stuck in my mind.
Batting Average - Rogers Hornsby, .358 (#1 - Ty Cobb, .366)
I feel like Rogers Hornsby is barely remembered these days, which seems criminal -- dude hit .358 for his career, second only to Ty Cobb, and an average we might not ever see topped in so much as a single season again.
Consider this: Hornsby set the modern-day single-season record for batting average when he hit .424 in 1924...and somehow that might not have even been his best year, considering he hit .401 with 42 homers just two years prior.
RBI - Albert Pujols, 2,100 (#1 - Hank Aaron, 2,297)
Somehow I missed that Albert Pujols is now Baseball's Eve in the RBI category -- I'm not sure how much longer he's planning on playing, but he seems to have at least an outside chance of passing Hank Aaron.
Hits - Ty Cobb, 4,189 (#1 - Pete Rose, 4,256)
In recent years, it's been discovered that one of Ty Cobb's games was actually counted twice towards his total stats, which means that he finished with 4,189 career hits -- and not the more famous 4,191 number that was recognized for so long.
So, then, Pete Rose didn't break Cobb's famous record with his famous 4,192nd hit against the Padres, and that it actually happened a few days earlier, before anyone had discovered the statistical blunder -- oops.
Games - Carl Yastrzemski, 3,308 (#1 - Pete Rose, 3,562)
I had a pretty good idea that Pete Rose was the all-time leader in games played, but I had absolutely no clue who was second on that list -- and it probably would've taken a while for me to guess it was Carl Yastrzemski.
What's more impressive, I think, is that Yaz played all 3,308 of those games with a single franchise, and that we never had to swallow the anguish of seeing him play his final couple seasons with the Blue Jays or something.
Stolen Bases - Lou Brock, 938 (#1 - Rickey Henderson, 1,406)
The stolen-base record has often been called unbreakable in modern baseball history -- Ty Cobb's 892 were considered set in stone until Lou Brock came along, and Brock's 938 were thought of as untouchable until Rickey demolished it.
With the way the game's played these days, though, I think it's pretty safe to say we'll never see anyone even approach the stolen-base record again -- the current active leader is Dee Gordon, with a whopping 333.
Walks - Rickey Henderson, 2,190 (#1 - Barry Bonds, 2,558)
Rickey may be the stolen-base king, but he's the Baseball Eve of walks, almost 400 behind Barry Bonds (of course).
But I'd like to see the stats of how many of those walks Rickey was able to turn into doubles or even triples by stealing second and/or third.
Wins - Walter Johnson, 417 (#1 - Cy Young, 511)
Moving on to Baseball's Eves of the pitcher's mound, we have yet another record that won't be challenged anytime soon.
The easy math shows that a guy could win 20 games for 25 straight years and still fall eleven wins short of Cy Young's famous number -- but even if that same guy managed to win 20 games in a mere 20 seasons, he'd fall 17 short of the second-place finisher on that list, Walter Johnson.
Losses - Pud Galvin, 308 (#1 - Cy Young, 316)
I'm fully on board with acknowledging pitcher wins and losses as archaic statistics, but I still find them fun as novelties.
Cy Young and fellow dead-ball star Pud Galvin are the only pitchers to lose 300 games in a career -- Pud was no slouch, however, also winning 360 games and punching a ticket to the Hall of Fame himself.
Innings Pitched - Pud Galvin, 5,941.1 (#1 - Cy Young, 7,354.2)
Poor Pud, so often a Baseball Eve thanks to Cy Young's otherworldly exploits.
(Also you've just seen the only two Pud Galvin cards I own, which makes me wish there were more Pud Galvin cards in the universe.)
Strikeouts - Randy Johnson, 4,875 (#1 - Nolan Ryan, 5,714)
It's almost hard to believe that even with Randy Johnson's accolades and dominance and general greatness...he still finished his career with almost a thousand less K's than Nolan Ryan.
Walks - Steve Carlton, 1,833 (#1 - Nolan Ryan, 2,795)
It seems like every pitching record is held by either Cy Young or Nolan Ryan, and that includes the bad ones.
Like his much more illustrious strikeout marks, Nolan Ryan ended his career with almost a thousand more walks than the second-place finisher -- another all-time great, Steve Carlton.
Appearances - Mike Stanton, 1,178 (#1 - Jesse Orosco, 1,252)
Mike Stanton's a bit of an oddball on this list, but to me he's one of the more fascinating Baseball Eves -- he's far from a legend, and played for eight different teams, but he still managed to appear in the second-most games in the game's long history.
Also unlike anything else on this list is the fact that I think this number could be broken in the somewhat near future, given the way relievers are unceasingly deployed nowadays -- I could see a rubber-armed reliever like Stanton making a play for the record.
Saves - Trevor Hoffman, 601 (#1 - Mariano Rivera, 652)
Saves are strange, in that they're a much more modern statistic, and a bit arbitrary as far as how and when one can earn a save (kinda like a win!).
This is the one entry on this list where I just plain don't know if anyone will ever challenge this number in my lifetime -- a guy could save 40 games a year for 15 seasons, and still fall one short of Trevor Hoffman's 601 saves, not to mention 52 short of Mariano Rivera.
World Series Championships - Cardinals, 11 (#1 - Yankees, 27)
Like 'em or not, there's little doubt that the Yankees are the most successful franchise in baseball history, if not in all of sports.
But if an entire team can qualify as a Baseball Eve, then I think the Cardinals do just that. Their 11 World Series titles are pretty darn impressive, but almost never get mentioned below the Yankees' colossal number. No other teams have posted double-digit World Series wins -- the Red Sox (9) and Dodgers (7) are the closest.
The Cardinals might be second on the list of baseball's great teams, but I'm sure anyone third and below on that list wouldn't mind switching places with them -- as is the blessing and curse of being a Baseball Eve.
Merry Christmas (Eve), all!