25.7.05

AN ENDLESS, MINDLESS, SUMMER ARGUMENT. Enroute home yesterday, I tuned into one of those sports call-in shows that rival a humanities seminar for learned disquisition on absolutely nothing, albeit without the pretentiousness. Topic du jour: does Lance Armstrong's seven straight Tour de France wins count as among the greatest accomplishment in sport?

Irrelevant radio argument number 1: Bicycle racing. Who cares? The dudes scarfing hot wings at the big screen tavern are only interested in accomplishments in basketball, baseball, football, and hockey (and likely in that order, as individuals are more likely to be able to do more for the team in roughly that order, and hockey comes close to being tinted with the same Continental brush that colors the local view of soccer and bike racing.)

Irrelevant radio argument number 2: OK, so the competitors have to do a lot of preparation. What do we know about how good the competition is? That's irrelevant because the best at any endeavor must prepare to be better than anybody else, and, as Buddy Melges concluded his book, skimping on preparation will mean somebody else crossing that finish ahead of you. It's safe to assume that the best in any competition will have invested whatever it takes in conditioning and practice to stay best.

So how, then, to identify a great accomplishment? Why not use a survival test? Mr Armstrong's seven straight wins are noteworthy because there are previous competitors with four or five or six wins, well within my lifetime. And that the radio guys would gripe that no wing-chomping dude could come up with Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault or Miguel Indurain and they might recognize Greg LeMond as the previous American hope is irrelevant. But note that over the past 30 years a racer that manages to sustain focus for repeated Tour wins is the norm.

Now consider my candidate, the consecutive game hitting streak in baseball. The supremum is 56 games in 1941; there is a 44 game streak as recently as 1978 and a 39 game streak in 1987. The most recent streak is 35 games in 2002.

Seven straight Tour wins? Good on ya, Lance. And props for keeping focus maneuvering in a crowded fleet for the better part of a month, for the seventh straight year. Definitely noteworthy. Let's watch the Tour for another sixty years and then put that streak in perspective.

This is an endless, mindless summer argument post. Your candidate events are welcome. Keep it civil.

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