At about 12:30 a.m. last Thursday, long after the fans and players had gone home, 3,631 balloons were released into the sky above Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The balloons were supposed to have gone aloft when Pete Rose passed Stan Musial on the alltime National League hit list, but Rose had gotten only a lone single off Houston's Nolan Ryan that night, just enough to tie Stan the Man at 3,630. There was no reason to keep the balloons around because they would deflate long before the baseball strike ran out of gas. Everyone expected the strike to start the next day.
Though Rose will certainly get his record as soon as play resumes—whenever that will be—a lot of other potential marks may have flown away last week. Montreal rookie Tim Raines already had 50 stolen bases in the Expos' 55 games, which would have been enough to lead the National League in 46 different seasons since 1900 and every year from 1924 through 1961. At that pace, Raines would have swiped 147 bases this season, 29 more than the record set by Lou Brock in 1974. Brock didn't steal his 50th that year until the 69th game. Raines still could catch Brock—if the strike lasts a month or less.
Baseball's other sensational newcomer, Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers, had two rookie marks within easy reach. With less than two-thirds of the season remaining, his five shutouts were three shy of the modern major league record set in 1913 by Ewell Russell, and his 103 whiffs had given him a good start on Herb Score's rookie strikeout mark of 245, established in 1955. Valenzuela also had a shot at the major league record for shutouts in a season by a lefthander—11, set by Sandy Koufax in 1963.
Among other non-rookie marks that seemed likely to fall until the strike started was John Hiller's 38 saves for Detroit in 1973. The Yankees' Rich Gossage already had 17.
June 21, 1981
Musial was also about to be passed in another category: consecutive games played. Steve Garvey was only three games short of tying Stan the Man at 895, fifth best on the alltime list. But even without the strike, Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 seems unbeatable: Garvey would have had to play every game through 1988 to pass him on the last day of the season. "As for now," says Garvey, "the streak has just been put on hold."
Also holding is Gaylord Perry, whose five wins for Atlanta this year leave him only six away from the very exclusive 300-victory club. And the strike put a halt to his assault on Walter Johnson's career record of 3,508 strikeouts. Perry is next with 3,308. In hot pursuit, too, are Nolan Ryan (3,185), Steve Carlton (3,063) and Tom Seaver (3,040).
The strike, though, may have been a godsend for the Blue Jays, Cubs and Twins, all of whom were headed toward the worst seasons in their history. And at the pace he was going, Atlanta's Tommy Boggs would have finished 1981 with a 3-30 record.
At the Elias Sports Bureau, where Seymour Siwoff stands sentinel over baseball's statistics, business was not as usual. "I'm not appreciating any of this rest," said Siwoff. "I don't want to even think about it. I'm just trying to escape by cleaning up and keeping busy. Because, if I think about it...this isn't real. But it is real, isn't it?"