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Ryan Lewis: The Great Debate of the 1916 New York Giants, and why either answer won't diminish the 2017 Indians' accomplishment

In this 1910 file photo,  New York Giants star pitcher Christy Mathewson, who won 373 games during his career which spanned 17 years, from 1900 to 1916. poses with a baseball. The New York Giants in 1916 were an extremely streaky team. They offset a 2-13 start with 17 consecutive wins on the road, then later set a major league record with 26 straight wins during a 31-game homestand at the Polo Grounds. (AP Photo/File) NY150

In this 1910 file photo, New York Giants star pitcher Christy Mathewson, who won 373 games during his career which spanned 17 years, from 1900 to 1916. poses with a baseball. The New York Giants in 1916 were an extremely streaky team. They offset a 2-13 start with 17 consecutive wins on the road, then later set a major league record with 26 straight wins during a 31-game homestand at the Polo Grounds. (AP Photo/File) NY150

CLEVELAND — One baseball game played on Sept. 18, 1916, has become the center of a hotly contested, record-keeping debate 101 years later.

That is, in part, a testament to the poetry of baseball.

On that date more than a century ago, roughly six months before the United States entered World War I, the Pittsburgh Pirates met the New York Giants for the second game of a doubleheader at the Polo Grounds. The Giants were riding a 12-game winning streak.

The Pirates' Honus Wagner drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning and, shortly after, the game was called because of rain in a 1-1 tie. Once it was able to be resumed, it had become too dark, since the Polo Grounds didn't have lights like the stadiums of today.

Following the rules of that time, that game needed to be replayed. The two teams came back the next day and played a doubleheader. The Giants won both games, including the makeup, then went on to win 12 more after that to extend their winning streak to 26 games.

But that 1-1 tie on Sept. 18 remained in the record books — at least, Baseball Reference still has record of it. Those eight innings played in New York more than 100 years ago resurfaced into the forefront of the baseball world, as the Indians passed every other streak in baseball history by winning 22 games in a row — except that one by the 1916 Giants, as recognized by MLB.

Maybe. Probably?

This question has really become more of a debate around how those records were kept and how certain entities view that game than the validity of the actual streak in terms of what the Giants accomplished.

Major League Baseball and the Elias Sports Bureau both recognize the 26-game streak as valid because that's how games that couldn't be finished because of rain or darkness were viewed at that time. They replayed the game, and that's the one that counted, in their eyes. Steve Hirdt, the executive vice president of Elias, explained the thinking to the Associated Press.

"A tie was never an acceptable result of a baseball game," Hirdt said to the AP. "If one happens because of darkness or rain or some certain circumstance, the game was played over."

In other words, he's essentially saying the governing bodies of baseball refuse to recognize a tie like other sports might. Didn't finish the game? Come back tomorrow and replay it. A game has a winner or a loser or it is replayed until there is one. No ties.

It is understandable that the initial reaction to the Sept. 18, 1916, game is, "Well, they couldn't complete and win that game, so it is only an unbeaten streak." MLB views it more as it's just incomplete. It is almost viewed like a game today that only goes three innings before being rained out — or snowed out, which happened to the Indians in their 2007 home opener. Those innings and stats would be wiped away, and the game is replayed.

So why can we look up that game's stats, and why does it show up as a tie on Baseball Reference? That's the discrepancy and, really, the center of the debate. If that game was truly wiped out as to not count toward a winning streak, the individual stats shouldn't count, either. We really shouldn't know that Wagner's sacrifice fly in the eighth tied it, or that Benny Kauff put the Giants up 1-0 by slugging a home run in the sixth, but we do.

It's a difference in how Baseball Reference keeps its records and what MLB and Elias recognize as official. The debate certainly hasn't been settled but, officially, it will be 26 games. Unofficially, there are people who won't view it as the real record.

The conversation has even turned political. Last week, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, wrote to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred seeking to have the league change the ruling.

When this all started, it seemed like there might be more merit in viewing it as a 27-game unbeaten streak, since the tie was counted on Baseball Reference. But if MLB viewed those eight innings like they would three innings today, before the rains and darkness forced the game's postponement, then it's hard to argue with the official word. It's just an oddity that the game is listed and the box score is viewable.

It could be viewed in a similar light as Barry Bonds as the home run king. The vast majority of the baseball-viewing world believes most of his numbers were steroid-driven. But if MLB recognizes it? As long as you can view MLB's official rankings, and Bonds' name is at the top, then he's the guy to beat. That's why the Indians, officially, will be credited with the second-longest streak of all time.

No matter what you choose, it won't take anything away from what the Indians just accomplished, a genuine once-in-a-lifetime feat. It is the longest winning streak in the last century. It is the longest streak in American League history. And while maybe not the longest, there's an argument that it was the greatest streak the game has ever seen.

First, there's the fact that the Indians posted a run differential of +105, winning games by an average of 4.77 runs. The Giants' run differential was +86, or an average margin of 3.31 runs. The Giants also played all 26 games in the streak as part of a monster 31-game homestand. The Indians split their streak between 11 games both at home and on the road.

And perhaps the most ridiculous figure from the streak: the Indians trailed for a total of eight innings in 22 games, and half of those came in their come-from-behind, walkoff win Thursday night No. 22. They played 199 innings at the highest level of baseball and trailed for four percent of them.

Regardless of where it stands with the Giants' streak of 101 years ago, what the Indians pulled off was one of the better and more rare team accomplishments in baseball history. And it was something worthy of being remembered by both Indians and general baseball fans for another 101 years. The argument might take that long, anyway.

Ryan Lewis: The Great Debate of the 1916 New York Giants, and why either answer won't diminish the 2017 Indians' accomplishment 09/18/17 [Last modified: Sunday, September 17, 2017 9:28pm]
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