Something weird came up the other day in Denver. You probably know that Peyton Manning threw seven touchdown passes — first time anyone has done that in the NFL in 44 years. You might also know that Manning set or tied three fairly substantial quarterback records along the way.
When he threw his fourth TD pass of the game, he tied the NFL record for most 4-TD games. He and Brett Favre have 23.
When he threw his fifth TD pass of the game, he tied the NFL record for most 5-TD games. He and Drew Brees have seven.
When he threw his sixth TD pass of the game, he set the NFL record for most 6-TD games. Manning now has three of them.
The overall takeaway from this is that Peyton Manning has thrown A LOT of touchdown passes in his brilliant career, but a few people made the point that Manning did not actually SET the NFL record for six-touchdown games. He only tied it. Tom Brady also has three of those games. And they are right. Brady threw six touchdown passes against Miami in 2007, he did it again against Tennessee in 2009, and he did it a third time against Denver in 2012. Really, no matter how you count ‘em, it comes up three games.
Except it doesn’t.
The Denver game was in the playoffs. So it doesn’t count in the career stats.
Tom Tango and others have been harping on this lately, and I think they’re right: The way we treat postseason statistics in sports makes little sense. We are a postseason nation. We care way more about playoffs than just about any country in the world. We will call the Seattle Mariners’ extraordinary 116-victory season in 2001 a failure because they lost to the Yankees in a best-of-seven series in the playoffs. We put the New England Patriots remarkable 16-0 season in the discard pile because a guy caught a pass against his helmet and New England lost the Super Bowl. The Atlanta Braves won their division every single year (except the strike year) from 1991 to 2005, one of the most amazing achievements in baseball history, and yet we look at them as an underachiever because they won only one World Series.
And individual achievement? Sure, we think WAY more about what people do in the postseason. Reggie Jackson’s legendary three-home game only mattered because it was in the World Series. People remember Timmy Smith not because he ran for 204 yards in a game (so did, among others, Greg Bell, Greg Pruitt, LeShon Johnson, Frency Fuqua, Tony Collins and Jonathan Stewart … TWICE!) but because he did it in the Super Bowl. Michael Jordan isn’t considered by most to be the greatest basketball player ever because of his 10 scoring titles or career high 30.1 points per game, but because of what he did in the playoffs time and again.
This is who we are. I don’t think we’re ashamed of it. In England, they crown the Premier League champion based on regular season record. In America, we crown our NCAA basketball champion based a single elimination free-for-all every match. It’s in our character.
And yet, we have come on no consensus about postseason statistics and how they should be treated. This is especially true in baseball, where statistics are supposedly sacrosanct. For more than 40 years — until Henry Aaron came along — Babe Ruth’s 714 was perhaps the most hallowed number in all of American sports. That was how many home runs the Sultan of Swat hit. Only … it wasn’t. Those 714 home runs do not even include THE MOST FAMOUS home runs Babe Ruth hit. They do not include his called shot. They do not include the three home runs he hit in Game 4 of the 1926 World Series. They do not include his legendary performance in 1928, when he hit .625 and homered three times in the decisive game.
Babe Ruth his 729 home runs — not 714.
Then again, Henry Aaron hit 761 home runs — not 755.
And Barry Bonds actually hit 771 home runs — not 762.
There seems to be this theory that postseason statistics should be kept separate from the regular season because the postseason is quantifiably different (and not everybody gets a shot at the postseason) — and I can see that argument. But we’re not consistent about it. While Tom Brady’s six-touchdown pass game against Denver is not counted in the stats*, we do tend to count Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game. It’s strange.
*And it was a pivotal game — Brady threw six touchdown passes, New England destroyed Denver, the Broncos realized they could only go so far with Tim Tebow, the Broncos got Peyton Manning …
I think most people would agree that Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame because he hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history — the walk-off homer that clinched Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. He is not in the Hall of Fame SOLELY because of that home run, no, he might be the best defensive second baseman ever and he hit reasonably well for a second baseman in his time. But, as pointed out before, he and Frank White have virtually identical careers. I think it’s fair to say that without the home run, Maz would not be in the Hall of Fame.
Jack Morris is on the cusp of the Hall of Fame because of his amazing Game 7 in the 1991 World Series. Again, he has other credentials — the 254 regular season wins, the most-wins-in-the-1980s thing, the almost freakish durability, the reputation as a bulldog. But without that Game 7, I believe, he would have fallen off the ballot a long time ago the way Orel Hershiser and David Cone and Kevin Brown and Dave Stieb did.
And yet, at the end, when we separate out their postseason stats, they often just get lost. Curt Schilling’s career has become two totally different sets of numbers, his career stats and his postseason stats, and nobody seems entirely sure how much to weigh each side. It seems kind of ridiculous that these games that people regard as so crucial are not counted when we add up all the statistics at the end of their careers.
In a weird way, I do think football handles the postseason statistics better than baseball because football is not driven by statistics the way baseball is. Football has no magical number like 10,000 career rushing yards or 300 passing touchdowns or 1,000 career receptions. They COULD have those magical numbers — there have been 27 running backs with 10,000 yards, seven quarterbacks with 300 passing touchdowns (John Elway with exactly 300), eight receivers with 1,000 catches (Hines Ward with exactly 1,000) — but football fans are skeptical of any numbers that don’t help their fantasy team. Even Manning’s extraordinary career statistics are looked at unevenly by many people because he has only won one Super Bowl.
But baseball players — at least until the Steroid Era — are often defined by their career numbers. Lou Gehrig hit exactly 493 home runs. Baseball fans know this. But it isn’t true. Gehrig actually hit 503 career home runs. There is absolutely no doubt that Gehrig should be in the 500 homer club — it’s ludicrous that he is not.
Every Tigers fan knows that Al Kaline fell just short of 400 homers, he is credited with 399. But that isn’t true either. He hit three in World Series games, so he actually hit 402 home runs. Every real baseball fan knows that Roberto Clemente finished with exactly 3,000 hits, a heroic number for a true hero, except Clemente actually had 3,034 career hits.
And so on. I am aware, of course, of the arguments against counting postseason statistics in players totals. It’s not fair. Ernie Banks never played in a single postseason game while Derek Jeter has played in 158 of them. Mickey Mantle got 65 World Series games and hit 18 home runs in them.* Ted Williams got seven World Series games and hit 0 homers.
*If you ever want a fun trivia question ask a version of this: What Hall of Famer hit fewer World Series home runs than his namesake? The answer: Willie Mays. He hit one World Series home run. Willie Mays Aikens hit four in the 1980 World Series.
Also, we have just come to think of postseason games as being apart of the regular season. But this is the point. Statistics are just tools to enrich the games. And it’s never a bad idea to look at things from a slightly different angle.
Here, then are a couple of our all-time baseball leader boards re-imagined with postseason statistics included:
1. Pete Rose, 4,342
2. Ty Cobb, 4,206
3, Hank Aaron, 3,796
4. Stan Musial, 3,652*
5. Tris Speaker, 3,536
6. Derek Jeter, 3,516
*This does kind of ruin the great Musial statistic of him having 1,815 hits on the road and 1,815 hits at home. In the World Series, Musial had eight hits at home and 14 on the road. However, five of those road hits were in St. Louis against the Browns, so those were sot of home hits as well.
Most home runs
1. Barry Bonds, 771
2. Henry Aaron, 761
3. Babe Ruth, 729
4. Alex Rodriguez, 664
5. Willie Mays, 661
Yes, this way would mean that A-Rod has already passed Willie Mays. So … yeah … ugh.
Postseason adjusted statistics for a few players:
— Jack Morris: 261-190, 3.90 ERA, 29 shutouts, 2,542 Ks, 1,422 walks.
— Andy Pettitte: 274-162, 3.86 ERA, 4 shutouts, 2,612 Ks, 1,101 walks.
— Curt Schilling: 227-148, 3.41 ERA, 22 shutouts, 3,236 Ks, 736 walks.
— John Smoltz: 228-159, 3.29 ERA, 17 shutouts, 3,283 Ks, 1,077 walks, 58 saves.
— Mariano Rivera: 89-61, 2.07 ERA, 691 saves, 1,279 Ks, 307 walks.
— Chipper Jones: .303/.402/.528, 567 doubles, 38 triples, 481 homers, 1,677 runs, 1,670 RBIs.
— Carlos Beltran: .285/.362/.502, 453 doubles, 77 triples, 371 homers, 1,381 runs, 1,343 RBIs, 319 stolen bases, 48 caught stealing.
— MannyBManny: .312/.410/.583, 566 doubles, 20 triples, 584 homers, 1,581 runs, 1,909 RBIs.