'Iron men' are now an extinct species
What in the "iron man" names of Cal Ripken Jr., Lou Gehrig and Everett Scott is going on with baseball these days? Streaks for consecutive games played once were measured in years.
Now, we're talking about months and weeks.
Blame the usual suspects.
You have teams such as the New York Mets wishing to protect guys for the long run while playing a slew of games in a row. You have big money zapping away the desire of some players to spend long stretches in the lineup (you know, no matter what). You have more injuries than ever before involving areas such as the oblique.
Whatever the reason, players are sitting or being sat more on a regular basis -- to the detriment of playing streaks.
Prior to Wednesday night's game at Turner Field against the Florida Marlins, Michael Bourn had played not only in every game for the Atlanta Braves this season but in every inning. He is a high-energy guy, with an efficient bat, swift feet and solid glove.
Not only that, the word "slump" hasn't been part of Bourn's vocabulary since the early part of the season. Bourn was benched by Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.
"You have to rest [players] every once in a while, because you can't run these guys into the ground." said Gonzalez, shrugging in the Braves' dugout while explaining his reasoning,
That sounded like Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy, who decided it wasn't good this week that outfielder Michael Cuddyer hadn't left the lineup since way back in ... late April.
Said Tracy to reporters about sitting Cuddyer, "He's tired. He's not going to tell me he needs a day, and I respect that. But I can go by what my eyes are telling me."
Then there is Mets manager Terry Collins, who huddles with his coaching staff to plot in advance which players will get which games off for a given series on the Mets' schedule -- especially during grueling stretches such as their current one of 20 days in a row with a game.
Which begs a question: If Hall of Famer Billy Williams were in his prime today, would he come close to doing what he did for the Chicago Cubs from Sept. 22, 1963, to Sept. 2, 1970?
"I'm not sure," Williams said, pausing over the phone from his home in the Chicago area, recalling how he went through that stretch playing in 1,117 consecutive games, which was the National League record. "Could I do that now? I'm really not sure."
In case you're wondering, Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder entered Friday's action with the current longest streak for games played in the Major Leagues, at 219.
Two-hundred and nineteen? That's nothing -- well, if you join us in the old-school wing of baseball.
Worse, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto was a distant second behind Fielder at 164. Even worse, Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki were light years away from Votto at 138.
To be fair to new-school folks, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp had a streak of 399 consecutive games played before he joined the disabled list this week with a strained hamstring.
Still, Kemp's 399 compared to Williams' 1,117? We won't even mention Scott's 1,307 consecutive games played, or Gehrig's 2,130, which stood as the gold standard for 56 years.
There also is Ripken's all-time record of 2,632.
Those days of longevity have gone the way of teams traveling from city to city via the rails instead of the sky.
"When I first came up to the Major Leagues in 1959, we only played 154 games each season, and we'd have a doubleheader on Sunday, for instance, and then we would have Monday to regroup," Williams said. "Unlike today, we didn't have to play 20-something days in a row like some of these teams.
"The traveling, the scheduling, the length of the games, all of the media that you have to deal with nowadays -- it's different, and it starts pushing you [to need more rest] as a player."
True. It's just that you had a bunch of things unique to Williams' era that players overcame to stay in the lineup more often than not. Those slew of doubleheaders; the epidemic of artificial-surface stadiums during the 1970s; spikes-high opponents sliding into bases; folks who threw real knockdown pitches and dared you to say something about it.
It also was just the mindset back then.
"I can think of a couple of times when I had colds and stuff, and I didn't feel like playing, and I dragged myself to the ballpark," Williams said. "Once, I hit a ball off the top of my foot. I stayed in the game, though, and I hit a home run a couple of innings after that, but I could hardly run the bases. I would get a soft mattress on the road, and I'd wake up with a bad back and a stiff neck, but I played through those things.
"You also had just eight teams in the American League and eight teams in the National League at one point, and you had a bunch of good players down in Triple-A waiting to take your job. Therefore, whenever they threatened to take you out of the lineup back then, everybody would start to call you Wally Pipp. It made you want to stay in the lineup even more, because you didn't want to have that name."
Pipp spent a decade through the middle of the 1925 season as a prominent first baseman for the New York Yankees.
Then, Pipp was replaced by Gehrig.
You know the rest.
In addition to Gehrig's streak -- and those of Ripken, Scott and Williams, there was Steve Garvey eventually setting the NL record with 1,207 consecutive games played through July 1983.
Pete Rose operated as fearlessly as anybody in baseball history. He sprinted to first base after walks, slid headfirst into bases and dove for fly balls and ground balls. Even so, he played in 745 straight games through August 1983 while in his 40s.
Ernie Banks, Stan Musial, Nellie Fox -- they all joined Rose, Williams and the others with playing streaks of 700 games or more. In fact, out of the top 15 such streaks in baseball history, eight of those players are in Cooperstown.
Said Williams, speaking for himself and most of his peers, "I stayed in the lineup, not because I had to, I wanted to."
Oh, the good old days.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.