With his streak of 49 consecutive shutout innings, Orel Hershiser has done more than challenge Don Drysdale's major league record.
He has prompted a clarification regarding the length of Drysdale's record and brought the sometimes hazy nature of baseball's record-keeping into focus.
Hershiser, by pitching a sixth straight shutout in his next scheduled start Wednesday night in San Diego, can equal Drysdale's record of 58 innings.
Many, however, including the Dodgers and Drysdale himself, thought the record was 58 innings.
The Sporting News' record book listed it that way until 1981. The Dodger media guide still lists it that way. Pick up any two record books and you may find different interpretationsw.
Seymour Siwoff, the respected head of the Elias News Bureau, official statistician for the American and National leagues, informed the Dodgers before Hershiser's last start in San Francisco that the record should be 58, period.
That's the way it has been listed in the Elias' record book--generally considered the most authoritative in a sport that has no official book--since Drysdale set the record in 1968.
"We didn't just do this. It's been there for 20 years. Where have these people been?" Siwoff said of critics of last week's interpretation.
Siwoff said he did not act arbitrarily in 1968, nor has he now. He said that his initial interpretation was based on a decision by the Baseball Writers Assn. of America, unofficial guardians of baseball's performance records, at the 1968 World Series.
The writers decided that in terms of a scoreless or hitless streak a starting pitcher should not be credited with a partial inning if the opposition scores in that inning.
The writers have long served as an ad hoc adjunct to baseball's scoring and rules committee, which, on Siwoff's urging, formally endorsed the original interpretation in 1980, the year that the Sporting News' record book dropped the fraction from 58.
Ironically, Walter Johnson's American League record, long listed at 56 consecutive scoreless innings, is now 55 innings in the Sporting News and Elias books. Siwoff said that recent research showed Johnson made two relief appearances in scoreless innings and that there is no way to reflect that except by the fraction.
If Drysdale had been lifted for a relief pitcher after the first out of the fifth inning of his start June 8, 1968, against the Philadelphia Phillies, and that inning had remained scoreless, he, too, would have been credited with the fraction. Drysdale finished the inning, his streak ending when Howie Bedell hit a sacrifice fly to score Tony Taylor. Bedell's fly was the second out. Thus, Drysdale never really pitched 58 scoreless innings in the first place. He pitched 58.
Or 58, if you agree with the rules interpretation.
"It's all a question of semantics," said Leonard Koppett, who played an active role in the original decision as a writer with the New York Times and recently retired as sports editor of the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto, Calif.
"For a purist, there is no such thing as a partial scoreless inning if the pitcher gives up a run in it," he said. "If you want to talk about batters retired in order or how long he pitched between runs, that's different."
"The game is made up of thirds of an inning," he said. "It takes three thirds to make a whole. I thought I pitched 58 scoreless innings and it seems kind of funny now that someone can say I only pitched 58. But nothing surprises me. You've got guys in the game who never played, who know nothing about it. You've got guys sitting around in a suit making a ruling."
Drysdale added, however, that he didn't want to leave the impression that he is bitter. He said he is rooting for Hershiser.
"He's got a hell of a chance," Drysdale said. "He's pitching well and he's in a great frame of mind. He's such a great kid that I'm having fun watching him. I'm happy for him. I'm glad I'm around to see him do this. Besides, he's a guy with a high uniform number (55) like I had (53). The clubhouse guys never thought either of us would stay around."
Hershiser, of course, has a chance to go into postseason competition with a remarkable string of shutout innings, but postseason records are different entirely. If he ties the regular-season record, what about next year?
Said statistician Siwoff:
"Well, it would be my feeling that the consecutive scoreless innings record would be listed as a tie between Drysdale and Hershiser, and that Hershiser would then have a new record of his own--consecutive scoreless innings over two seasons. It would be unfair to credit him with continuing the one streak after a 6-month rest."
DRYSDALE'S 1968 SCORELESS-INNINGS STREAK
DATE OPPONENT/SITE INN. H R ER BB SO SCORE May 14 Chicago (Home) 9 2 0 0 3 7 1-0 May 18 Houston (Home) 9 5 0 0 2 6 1-0 May 22 St. Louis (Road) 9 5 0 0 0 8 2-0 May 26 Houston (Road) 9 6 0 0 2 6 5-0 May 31 San Francisco (Home) 9 6 0 0 2 7 3-0 June 4 Pittsburgh (Home) 9 3 0 0 0 8 5-0
--Streak ended with 4 scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory over Philadelphia on June 8, 1968.
--Drysdale pitched 8 shutouts in 1968.
HERSHISER'S SCORELESS-INNINGS STREAK
DATE OPPONENT/SITE INN. H R ER BB SO SCORE Sept. 5 Atlanta (Road) 9 4 0 0 1 8 3-0 Sept. 10 Cincinnati (Home) 9 7 0 0 3 8 5-0 Sept. 14 Atlanta (Home) 9 6 0 0 2 8 1-0 Sept. 19 Houston (Road) 9 4 0 0 0 5 1-0 Sept. 23 San Francisco (Road) 9 5 0 0 2 2 3-0
--Streak began with 4 scoreless innings in a 4-2 victory over Montreal on Aug. 30
--Hershiser has pitched 6 shutouts this season.