COLUMBIA - Some of baseball’s greatest minds have gathered in my inbox: Aaron Fitt of Baseball America, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, innumerable statisticians and sports information directors. The NCAA is in there, too.
None of them know. I thought I did.
It began with a tip: Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow was getting close. Very close. Although there was no official documentation — this will be a key distinction — Crow was apparently about to break the NCAA record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched of 38 1/3, held by former Central Florida pitcher Justin Pope. Last Friday, buoyed by a couple of affirming phone calls to UCF and a handful of published reports, I went ahead and wrote the story. At 42 2/3 scoreless innings, all indications were that Aaron Crow was the new record holder.
Had this story merely been incorrect, I would have only looked dumb, moved on and, I was sure, go unemployed for the rest of my adult life. Instead, because just such a story is impossible, I began a quest.
The infinitely wise NCAA does not list the Division I record for consecutive scoreless innings for one reason. It doesn’t know what it is, either. The people at the NCAA have been compiling records since 1957 and have had a record book since 1990, but they don’t receive box scores on a daily basis, and have never had a listing for individuals. They do, however, list Arizona State in 1972 as holding the team record. This is important, because it has given many people the impression that Eddie Bane, who threw 43 scoreless frames for that team, holds the record. Forty-three is good, plenty better than Justin Pope, but it isn’t good enough. Especially not for a record that doesn’t exist.
But because the NCAA tends not to do logical things, it does list the 54 scoreless innings Kyle Jones of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville threw in 2006 as the Division II record. Oh, and Joey Serfass’s 47 innings for Eastern Connecticut State in 2003 are listed as the Division III record, as well. Like I said, this makes sense.
After a week of digging, of pestering every person once rumored to know someone who knew something about it and scouring every record book I could find, this is what I know: Todd Helton — yes, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton — threw more consecutive scoreless innings than Crow, with 47 2/3 against 26 teams in 1994 for Tennessee. Ben McDonald, a former LSU pitcher, also threw more. And so did Creighton pitcher Pat Venditte, who last year had a streak of 43 2/3, which is thought to be a record for ambidextrous pitchers. Stat geeks across the nation are still trying to confirm this.
As I sat staring at all of the e-mails I have accrued during the past week, it finally occured to me that, though I’ve become obsessed, none of this really matters. So long as Aaron Crow wins his start today against visiting Texas, he isn’t going to care much about some phantom streak. And whether we like it or not, we’ll never know what the true record is, though if you’ve got the Internet and a lot of spare time, you could easily become the world’s foremost authority on the topic.
Of course to do that, you’ll probably have to explain how Crow has pitched not only 42 scoreless innings, but also 2/3 of a scoreless inning...which doesn’t make sense, because a run was scored in that same inning against California. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Major League Baseball wouldn’t count it (Don Drysdale, the former record holder, threw 58 2/3 instead of 58, if you’re willing to count outs made in innings in which runs are scored).
Oh, and according to the 2007 University of Vermont record book, you’ll need to find someone greater than former Catamounts great George Plender, who from 1954-1955 threw 60 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Please, someone, do it.
I give up.